By Alessandra Bulow, Food & Wine
There are so many reasons to anticipate The Hunger Games movie, which is based on the first book in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The heroine is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a tomboy who lives in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society and is forced to participate in a brutal to-the-death game that's televised by the evil, superficial and wealthy Capitol.
But from a food-world perspective, the message of the story is almost as exciting as Katniss's big screen quest to make it through the deadly arena with her humanity (and head!) intact.
Many fans understandably celebrate the enticing food imagery throughout the book, especially when Katniss is introduced to foods she's never tasted or heard of before, like hot chocolate: "I take a sip of the hot, sweet, creamy liquid and a shudder runs through me. Even though the rest of my meal beckons, I ignore it until I've drained my cup." When asked what impresses her most about the Capitol, she responds, "the lamb stew with dried plums."
At home in the oppressive District 12, however, almost everyone Katniss knows battles starvation everyday, so while the feasts appear to be the only saving grace to her dismal fate, it soon becomes clear that the decadent food is just a distraction, a small part of a carefully crafted veneer that hides an inhumane and wasteful regime.
She becomes angry while demoing her survival tactics, when a group of judges seems more interested in a roast pig on a lavish buffet. "Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they don't even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I'm being upstaged by a dead pig." In her first outward act of dissent, she shoots an arrow through an apple in the pig's mouth, pinning it to the wall behind it.
In an already densely allegorical tale, Katniss begins to emerge as a poster child for sustainability. Even before sacrificing herself to participate in the Hunger Games, she rebelled by illegally hunting game, catching fish and foraging—selling her bounty on the black market so she could feed her mother and her little sister, Prim. During an elaborate meal in the Capitol, she imagines how hard it would be to assemble the ingredients for these dishes at home. She was clearly at her happiest as a hunter-gatherer and when eating homemade food like the fresh cheese her sister makes with milk from the family goat.
Although initially seduced by luxurious meals that come out at the push of a button, Katniss realizes that the abundance comes at a hefty price: the natural resources of the surrounding districts and, we discover, slavery. While the books are fantasy, such lessons don't go unnoticed by young and adult readers. It will be interesting to see which ones made it into the movie.