Using Food to Describe Race: Yay or Nay?

A few weeks ago, a few writers had questions about writing POC characters. I put in my two cents, but a few people claimed they heard it wasn’t good to use food comparisons. Finally, I looked it up.

There are points I agree with, but I mostly disagree.

Let me start off where I agree.

Using food is generic.

Well, they aren’t wrong. I’m guilty of it, but I have a lot of books and a ton of characters. However, people use food because it’s so easily identifiable. You want to be different, but you also want to write what you feel is appropriate for your character.

That’s pretty much it for where I agree. Let’s move on to the “kind of.”

It’s fetishy.

I suppose it can be. If someone was writing erotica and described a woman as a tall class of chocolate milk or something, it may be appropriate for that genre. Context always matter, and I’m gonna be generous and assume the writer can make their meaning clear. You can tell someone, “I’m gonna eat you up,” and have it taken a few ways. It may be cute if you’re saying it to a child. It may be sexy or creepy if said to an older woman. It can be especially sinister if it’s said by a cannibal. We’re mature enough to gauge the situation.

I’ve written some steamy scenes, but I certainly don’t use food comparisons when I want to express some sort of sexual fantasy. In the Queen, I make comparisons to honey, but my story was inspired by bees.

Sometimes, it’s simply a color comparison, and we should take it as such.

And now we move on to where I can’t agree.

It’s dehumanizing.

It’s a simile/metaphor. It’s not evil to do that unless the actual comparison is insulting. If “solid like a rock” is uttered, is that compliment dehumanizing? If someone talked about loving mocha skin, I should feel less like a human? Maybe it’s a cringey and awkward compliment, but it shouldn’t make anyone feel less than human.

It’s racist.

People use food comparisons that are not exclusive to people of color, such as “cherry lips.” People also use creamy, milky, peach, etc. It’s not exclusive to race.

It’s a connection to slavery.

That’s super reaching. Because slaves used to pick crops? I didn’t stop watching dance battle movies and TV shows just because plantation owners used to make their slaves dance against one another. Slavery is a part of world history. We could possibly relate anything back to it, but shouldn’t we weigh intention while reading? Do we have to attribute the worst possible motive at all times? I don’t believe that’s necessary.

But that’s only my opinion!

In conclusion, I would use food comparisons sparsely. You’re a writer. You can think outside of the box. In the end, you’re the creator and can do whatever you like with your story. Be responsible with your content though. Common sense will take you a long way.