One of the most important relationships you can have with an inanimate object is with food. It can be both nourishment and the means to your own self destruction. At times, you can either have a wonderful, happy and healthy appreciation for it and other times you can view a once favorite meal as a source of shame and as a trigger for self-loathing.
Food is one of the few material things in this world that, as a category, can elicit the intense outpouring of emotion that it does. So it should really come as no surprise that it’s often used by directors and writers to catalyze certain events or reveal personality traits in characters.
Yes, in many ways, you are what you eat. The following list of 10 great food moments in movies is evidence of that, as it runs the gamut of human emotion and experience. From the absurdly funny to the depths of dark despair, read on to relive some of your favorite food-centric scenes.
1. Sideways: The Pinot Noir Speech
It’s easy to gloss over that whole “list of favorites” part of any getting-to-know-you sort of conversation. Things like favorite colors, food and leisure activities seem so boilerplate to mention that they often get lost among other topics of small talk, like the weather.
The great thing about Paul Giamatti’s Pinot Noir wine monologue is that it takes what would normally be a banal first date conversation and magnifies it to show us just how something as small a preference in wine type can be significant. The way Giamatti’s character, Miles, speaks so passionately about this one wine varietal, tells us far more about Miles than it does about the wine. His wine monologue also reveals to us how Miles loves and, more importantly, how he’d like to be loved. Like the grape he describes, Miles is “temperamental” and craves the “constant care and attention” that only “the most patient and nurturing of growers” could provide.
2. Annie Hall: The Lobster Scene
It’s a culinary paradox of sorts: How can a dish, normally regarded as a high-class special-occasion splurge for most people, also have such a gruesomely awkward, creepy-crawly preparation? If you’re preparing lobster at home, rather than dining out for it, you’re essentially dropping what looks like a giant ocean-bug into boiling hot water while it is still alive. It’s this contradiction and how each of the principal characters in Annie Hall handle it that makes this iconic scene so enjoyable to watch.
It’s not just how both Diane Keaton and Woody Allen struggle to work with the very much alive and kicking lobsters that’s so funny. It’s also each character’s distinct way of handling the novel experience of cooking lobsters at home. The neurotic Alvy worries about touching them, both running from and chasing after them. The laid-back Annie is far more open to the experience; laughing and taking pictures of the whole mess. Their different responses combine to create a very endearing depiction of a common human experience: trying and failing at new things. Throw in food and the captivating chemistry between Allen and Keaton and you’ve got a scene to which everyone can relate.
3. GoodFellas: The Prison Feast Scene
No respectable list of great food moments in movies would be complete without an entry on the prison feast scene in GoodFellas. It’s a fictional feast that has been widely re-created, no doubt in large part due to its mouthwatering traditional Italian fare. There’s an almost eccentric attention to detail here, and you’d be hard pressed to find a scene that better marries brotherhood and food together than the GoodFellas prison feast. This scene also has a dry, absurd humor: That somehow, their wiseguy connections and shall we say, methods of persuasion, are enough to secure a relatively comfortable “apartment” within a prison, as well as imported cheeses and assorted meats.
Also, you’ll never be able to get that image out of your head: The one of Paulie slicing garlic into paper-thin pieces with a tiny razor. Never. (Because it looks too cool not to try it on your own.)
4. The Breakfast Club: The Lunch Scene
The kinds of food a person chooses to stuff their faces with come lunchtime can be reflective of the kind of person they are. Sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich. But in this John Hughes movie, a box of sushi represents Claire’s parent-fueled lifestyle of wealth that allows her to explore other cultures. (There’s also an air of condescension in Claire’s voice as she explains sushi to Bender. It’s a talk that reeks of Oh dear, you’re not as worldly as I am, let me help you understand how awesome this dish is.) The sheer quantity of food in Andrew the Jock’s lunchbox is a stark contrast to John Bender’s utter lack of lunch. For these guys, a difference in lunch is not only a difference in social standing at school.
Even though Andrew’s massive amount of food can be explained away by the fact that he’s a popular athlete who needs to consume a lot of calories, why is Bender left without a lunch? Surely loners eat too. There’s another difference between the two guys: their parents, specifically their fathers. Bender’s father is physically abusive and often neglects him, and so it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t have a lunch. At home, no one cares to make him one, or at least provide the materials he’d need to make one for himself. Andrew has the opposite problem: He’s got a father that’s too involved, especially in regards to his high school wrestling career. Andrew’s father micro-manages him and pressures him to be No. 1, so it makes sense that he’d be inundated with food as much fatherly attention as he is. Brian’s lunch (PB&J with the crusts cut off) is kind of the nerd-version of Andrew’s: though instead of being micro-managed by his father, that role is taken by his overbearing mother. And instead of pressuring Brian to succeed in athletics, his mother pushes him to do well in academics.
And Allison’s PixyStix and cereal sandwich. That’s less a representation of her parents, than it is just gross. For all of the people out there that wanted to try it: Did you not notice that her sugary sandwich filling combo was placed upon pieces of bread smeared with mayonnaisse? Ew.
5. Ratatouille: The Moment When the Food Critic Takes a Bite of Remy’s Ratatouille
People often forget that food is really an art. Especially in the sense that a meal has the capacity to move us emotionally in profound ways much like paintings, music and books can. Sometimes all it takes is a bite and suddenly there’s a flood of memories and we feel, just for a few seconds, transported back to different times in our lives. The animated film Ratatouille does a wonderful job of portraying that feeling in a climactic scene featuring an antagonistic food critic. The titular dish, a simple meal of tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini, triggers a rush of memories and brings the critic back to his humble beginnings as a child. It can be difficult to visually depict such an abstract feeling, but the creators of Ratatouille accomplished just that with the vivid and compelling imagery of this scene.
6. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: The Feast at White Castle
This scene is on our list because the burger feast at White Castle was the whole point of the movie. Harold and Kumar go on a crazy adventure all for this one singular moment. They’re covered in cuts, scrapes and dirt and they don’t care. After all they’ve been through to get to White Castle, this moment is so meaningful to them that they even synchronize the first bites of their meal. At one point, they even cry from the sheer joy of this moment, this feast of burgers, fries and bubbly sodas. It’s an absurdly over-the-top scene, a hilarious ode to fast-food.
7. Notting Hill: The Last Brownie Contest
A single brownie acts as a catalyst for one of the most insightful scenes of this movie. In this lighthearted competition for the last brownie at a dinner party, several of the characters, including the two principal ones, Anna and William, open up a bit and the audience gets interesting tidbits about the characters’ pasts and/or a better sense of how each character views the world and their own futures.
Julia Roberts’ character in particular, Anna, steals the show in this scene, with her surprising candor, as she competes for the saddest story to get the brownie. Anna admits to being a victim of physical abuse in a past romantic relationship and to having multiple plastic surgeries. Her mini-reality-check speech shows that there is a dark side to being the most famous actress in the world. And it all starts with a brownie and Anna’s admission that she has been on a diet for the past decade.
8. Inglourious Basterds: Strudel and Milk Scene with Col. Landa
Pastries and milk are normally a celebratory meal. Or a happy way to start the day. Here they’re a symbol of suspense. And a subtle reminder to Shosanna, that the man sitting with her, eating strudel, is Col. Hans Landa, the one who ordered her family to be machine-gunned to death.
The scene is a striking juxtaposition: an innocent, happy-looking delicate pastry topped with a fluffy white whipped cream is soon devoured by Landa, a ruthless, quietly snarling animal.
9. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Pure Imagination” Scene
This scene doesn’t just introduce us to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And it isn’t just a a vivid look at an entirely edible world of confection. It’s also a musical number and a glimpse into how all the characters (even the parents) act when thrown into a place that is the stuff of every child’s dreams. Most importantly, though, it’s a brief explanation as to why Willy Wonka built the factory in the first place. This is the first scene where you really get a sense of what is truly important to Wonka and why.
(Plus, the giant chocolate waterfall, jumbo gummi bears and edible buttercups are pretty cool on their own too.)
10. Waitress: Ol’ Joe’s Ode To Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie
It’s the only scene on this list in which food isn’t actually visually present. But Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis pie doesn’t have to be. Ol’ Joe, played by Andy Griffith, provides us with a stunning ode to his favorite pie which is one of Jenna’s (the movie’s protagonist) creations.
For Ol’ Joe, that pie, “could solve all of the problems of the world.” The scene is a lovely, darkly funny representation of the unique friendship Jenna has with the often- cantankerous Ol’ Joe. And praise like that, coming from someone as fussy a customer as Joe is, is really high praise. His description of that pie is something most chefs (both at-home and restaurant) would want to hear. And more importantly, it’s something Jenna needs to hear. As rough as her life is at that point, she needs to hear that something, for once, is actually going right.