Gluttony. One of the seven deadly sins. And as such, a fitting device for horror tales. There are plenty of them that play into the sin of overindulgence. If you closed your eyes for just a few moments, I’m sure you could think of innumerable stories in which vampires sought to slake their unquenchable thirst. In which children have been sacrificed to gluttonous monsters. In which zombies have staggered around, moaning about their hangry hankering for braaaaaiiiiins.
And then there are the stories where mere mortals have been punished for their various appetites: for food…for wealth…for lust.
There is even a whole sub-genre of horror devoted to that very particular craving for human flesh. Fellow Book Rioter Liberty Hardy put together a whole post on books about cannibalism and, my god, the hunger for such tales never seems to give out. Even now, I’m making my way through a new comic series called Eat the Rich, which comes at the genre from what feels like a fresh angle.
But what about books where the meals are less monstrous? Where the food takes a back seat to the main plot, but is nevertheless described with great care? Or where the food is a main thread but, instead of filling readers with disgust, makes their mouths water? And what about those titles in which a protagonist’s obsession with food inspires them to abstain, to the point where those in their lives fear for their safety?
Some recent reads have made me think about the appeal of such books. The way they inspire gluttony in the reader. The way they lead to unhealthy preoccupations with it. The way they perhaps even make the reader complicit in the horrors described therein.
Intrigued? Here are nine horror books for foodies that will make your stomachs growl despite yourselves.
A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers
I know I said this list wasn’t about cannibalism. But before succumbing to her unspeakable appetites, the protagonist of this book is your average food critic, pushing for success in a male-dominated field. As the author dives into themes of gender and sexual desire and the ways our hunger(s) can consume us, we’re also treated to lush descriptions of high-end food and drink. A satire of foodie-ism as much as it is a critique of gender essentialism, this book is the quintessential horror title for foodies.
Cackle by Rachel Harrison
I’m such a fan of Harrison’s work, so I’m always looking for an excuse to include it in my book lists. Cackle is Harrison’s latest and, in it, we’re introduced to Annie, a woman going through a low point in her life. She moves to a remote village, hoping for a fresh start, and quickly latches onto a new bestie in a relationship that seems increasingly codependent. It’s clear to the reader, long before it’s clear to Annie, that her new friend is a witch. They continue to grow close, though, making elaborate meals together, baking delicious cakes, sipping tea, and solidifying what could be a bond that lasts forever.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Billed more as a supernatural fantasy than as a horror, I nevertheless feel compelled to include this story of a Nigerian girl who struggles to fit in anywhere…until she discovers some latent magical powers. A number of food bloggers have pointed out how this first book in the Akata Witch duology is filled with delicious foods, from fufu, egg stew, and okra soup to jollof rice, spicy chicken, and plantain. Foods also pop up in chapter titles and character names, and there’s even a full recipe for Tainted Pepper Soup and a guide to cookery. Come for the magic. Stay for the fantastic dinner ideas.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
This book of short stories is by an author who often uses food as a means of signaling character development. But the titular story in this collection is the one that most intrigues me. In it, two ancient vampires who have been together for a very long time struggle to find ways to keep their marriage exciting. At the same time, they also seek out different drinks that might serve to sate their blood lust. And so, they travel the globe, sucking the juice from apples, sipping mint tea, throwing back cherry Coke floats, and more. Eventually, after drinking a pitcher of lemonade in the grove of Santa Francesca in Sorrento, they decide that lemons are the drink they’ve been searching for, and so they settle by the lemon grove for the long haul. Feeling thirsty?
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
A book of magical realism tied up in a dark fairytale, I find this story unsettling enough to include in a list of horror for foodies. And in this one, the food in question — gingerbread — takes center stage. It’s difficult to pin down the plot of this book, but what I can say is that a family with a gingerbread recipe that’s popular in certain parts of the world serves as a thread that takes us through this tale of legacy and tradition and what makes a family.
Supper Club by Lara Williams
This dark satire is built around a supper club formed by two women who decide to spit in the face of society’s expectations for women and embrace their appetites. And so, they bring together a group of women in celebration of food and their changing bodies, breaking into empty buildings, feasting until they’re sick, leaving absolute carnage in their wake. But how far will they go to break out of the constraints of proper womanhood?
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
To be fair, this book is more about the food one gives up rather than the food one consumes. The woman at the center of this book suffers from violent, bloody dreams and gives up eating meat. Throughout the book, her husband and his extended family attempt to force her to return to more carnivorous habits, but she refuses. In the end, she gives up food altogether, coming to lose her connection not only to her family but to herself.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Part of the appeal of this book — at least to me — is the way in which Machado celebrates the appetites of women. Particularly their sexual desire. But much like the tale above, one of these stories is about the renunciation of food though, in this case, it’s in an attempt to control the protagonist’s expanding body. In “Eight Bites,” the protagonist — who struggles with body dysmorphia and an eating disorder — undergoes bariatric surgery. But the ghost of her former, overweight self continues to haunt her, leading her to become even more obsessed with food and the body.
Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda
Finally, there’s the book that inspired me to put together a list of horror for foodies in the first place. In this book that’s been billed as a Millennial vampire novel, Lydia, the vampire in question, leaves her mother in a nursing home so she can strike out on her own and pursue her artist dreams. Being both tri-racial (Japanese, English and Malaysian) and a vampire, Lydia has often felt that she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. For her, this often manifests in her cravings for Japanese food, cuisine she feels would make her feel closer to the father she never met, but which she is unable to eat. The way food wends its way throughout this piece, even as Lydia attempts to subsist on blood sausage powder and to ignore her pull toward human blood, is such a fascinating way to explore hunger, various appetites, and even identity. I regret to inform you that this one’s not out until the spring, but I believe it’s well worth the preorder.