An update from our eighteenth Weekly Writing Workshop!
A summary of the workshop, plus some of the output published below
The Stone Soup Weekly Writing Workshop is open to all Stone Soup contributors and subscribers. Every Friday, we meet for an hour-and-a-half via Zoom to respond to a new writing challenge, write together in our virtual room, and then share what we have written with one another.
Our conversation on July 31 was joined by writers from across the US, and in Canada, as well. Our topic was “writing about food,” and using food to display character traits in our writing. We started our session with an excerpt from Winnie the Pooh, and an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland. In both of those, we discussed how the food mentioned in the excerpt gave us a better sense of what the character in the scene was like. Next, we moved on to an excerpt from Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the fifth book in the Narnia series), where magical elements were combined with the presence of a dinner in order to give us, the readers, a better sense of the setting and the uncanny mix of strange (the place and the creatures) and ordinary (the food and the mealtime). Our fourth excerpt was from Heidi, which is about a girl who lives in the Alps with her grandparents, and is taken away to the city to live with a wealthy family where she is very unhappy. In Heidi, we examined the chapter in which Heidi is sent back to the mountains to be reunited with her grandparents, and the way that food is woven through it to contrast rich and poor, city and country–Heidis brings her grandmother soft white rolls in contrast to her usual hard dark bread–and the joy of tasting and smelling home (for Heidi, goat milk). Finally, we looked at an excerpt from the diary of Samuel Pepys, in which Pepys describes the Great Fire of London, and how he and his friend decided to save some cheeses and wine; and also at an excerpt from writing by Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, where she uses food to tell a family story, and reflect on her childhood. After this, we set to writing our own piece using food as a core component of the narrative. Read on to experience some of the powerful writing we were given a glimpse of in our workshop!
The Writing Challenge: Write a story where food plays a key role.
The Participants: Shreya, Simran, Janani, Ever, Liam, Heather, Peri, Madeline, Vishnu, Suman, Aditi, James, Charlotte, Maddie, Shel, Ma’ayan, Sasha, Lena, Kanav, Hera, and more...
The Unfair Meal
Peri Gordon, 10
When Chester reported to dinner, he found Ana already eating with their host, Mrs. Ray, and not thinking twice about it. When Mrs. Ray spotted him, she seemed to give him a slight scowl. She served him noticeably smaller portions than Ana was getting, and his soup was cold. Chester knew that his sister was always the favored guest over him, being more charismatic than he was and creating no sort of trouble for the host, but Mrs. Ray was taking this too far. He couldn’t wait to get back to his parents, who loved both their children and gave them equal and equally good portions of food.
The Highlander and the Hunt
Liam Hancock, 12
His whisper comes from immediately behind me yet from a thousand miles away. As far as I’m concerned, all there is in the world are these caves, these spirits, and my leather boots that hike up to my knees. Worn, leather boots. The kind that I’ve casually slipped into since I could first walk and lift them from the ground and into the air and shoot an arrow and bring home a fattened ox so that we could finally have dinner after a long dust bowl in the summer.
I feel his hand on my shoulder. I’ve never before noticed how strong, how heavy his hands are when they’re holding something other than a spear or a hide. Because when they’re holding my two shoulders, it’s easy to forget where he came from. It’s much too easy. To forget he’s a Highlander, and that Highlanders hurt and they slaughter and they throw rocks into our sticks until they feel satisfied with the kill count for the day.
Hesitantly, I look up to him. He’s turned away from the cliffside, from the caves. Behind his own build, there’s the Seamstress, gilded with ancient chiseled boulders and carved by time. Never mind what I’ve thought before. Now, the world is back with me. I can’t hold it in my fingers or watch it slip away with the cruel whisper of mountain air. I’m alive. He’s alive.
We’re both alive. It’s all I’ve ever needed.
The two of us, best friends forever, up on the cliffside hunting for the oxen and hawk that our starving families need.
“It’s okay,” I whisper back, afraid that a raised voice will shatter this valley after all it’s years of work. “Let’s move on.”
I press on forward, keeping my eyes drawn to the loose trail we’ve treaded since the fall brought us hunger. Gripping hunger. Even as a midlander, I was left grasping for something, anything that could fit into my throat. And even as a highlander, he knew that the cities couldn’t provide for him anymore. For us.
“The oxen will probably be up on the Splat,” he warns, pointing in the general direction of the cliff’s edge. “I’ve heard the grass is growing rather fruitfully up there this season.”
I nod silently and slice cleanly through a thicket of oasis brush. I’ve never much liked the Splat, especially for hunting, but it’s a necessary evil if we have a hankering for oxen. They can’t get enough of the place. As we wade through Forgery Pond, a frigid little pocket of snowmelt that seems never to warm up, even in the sweltering summer heat, I glance back at the boy following me.
I quickly look away, though, when he meets my gaze. Somehow, I still fear him. Centuries of torture and violence has instilled some horrible, nonsensical fear into me that I’m never able to shake.
I squelch up into the clearing. “You’re not like the rest,” I say quietly.
He keels over to cough up the water he’s got in his lungs. “Glad you could notice,” he responds, looking just over my shoulder. “I can see the cows from here. They’re looking primed for the hunt.”
“What did they do to you?” I ask, completely ignoring him. “I… I mean, why don’t you just follow the norms? Why wouldn’t you just kill me off and take the meat with you?”
He pauses, midway through holsetering his sopping boots back onto his leg. He shrugs. “The Highlanders… they took everything,” he said, his voice pained. “My sisters, my father, my mother. All I had was myself to fend for. When your mother came up, she told me your family needed help. And… and how could I fall into the Highlander’s trap? How could I let myself become one of them, shunning Midlanders and Lower-downs? Killing them off, walling them into caves? It didn’t seem right.”
I leaned on my spear, wedged into the matted mud. “But they gave you all you needed,” I pressed. “They gave you food, and water, and bandages, and a home. Why would you leave?”
He sighs. Leans forward. “But that’s where you’re wrong,” he says breathlessly. “They didn’t give me someone to trust. And that was all I ever wanted.”
A soft smile spreads across my face, and only then do I notice that my arms are around his waist and we’re hugging and laughing and cursing the Highlanders for all they’ve done. The cows saunter over, and I stare them over. How could I kill them, like they Highlanders killed us? I had all I needed myself. Food could wait. I had friendship, I had a family. I had something to live for.
And now, I told myself, I’d make sure that he did too.
Dinner with the Family
Kanav Kachoria, 12
Ah, dinner with the family. Such a wonderful thing. I set up the table, putting silverware, placemats, and napkins neatly for our spectacular dinner. The smell of pasta sauce and garlic bread fills the air. The spaghetti is already cooked and it is in the strainer ready to be served on a plate. My sister does the drinks, pouring milk for the two of us and water for our parents. My mom is busy, fixing up her homemade turkey tomato sauce for the spaghetti. My dad puts the garlic bread in the toaster oven, waiting there for 15 minutes until it’s ready. As dinner time gets closer, I get out the plates and put it on the island where we set all of our food up to take. Our stomachs growl, wanting to eat very much, but also wanting to spend time with each other and relax.
“Dinner is served,” my mom says in a joyful voice, “take what you want.” I take a pile of spaghetti and spread the sauce evenly all over it. My dad gives me a piece of garlic bread. Before I go to the table and sit down, I thank all my family members for setting up and making dinner.
“You’re welcome. Thanks to you too!” they say. I turn on the TV and put on Family Feud. Family Feud makes dinner more fun since we all laugh at it and try to guess the answers. We get ready to eat. Dinner is not just about eating though. The true meaning of dinner is that it brings families together.
Excerpt from Unwritten Novel
Madeline Kline, 12
Mia sat down at the kitchen table, but it felt empty with her brother in the hospital. Cancer ruined even the best meals, with lush red tomatoes stuffed with taboule egg salad that took mom two hours to make. Two hours. With Jake there, it would only take one, the two of them bustling around the kitchen, chopping the egg into small pieces, pulling the parsley into small pieces and stirring the salad together, mixing all the ingredients into a delicious salad. A delicious salad that would have taken half as long to make with two people.
Now we have too much. Four stuffed tomatoes for three people. And by the time Jake got home, someone would have finished the last one. Probably Dad. I couldn’t even look at the tomatoes without thinking about the mediocre hospital food Jake was getting while sick. Dad had no problems, though. The tomato was food that needed to be finished. Not a reminder that his oldest child was stuck in a hospital with cancer slowly dragging him from his life and into a world of worry, statistics about his health, and fear that this time, leukemia would get the better of him.
It was even worse with her arm broken. Sports, mainly basketball, was how Mia took her mind off of her worries. Spending energy running around with a ball instead of worrying about her brother left her feeling calmer, and after showering, left her feeling comfortable and ready to relax. However, most sports used her arms at some point, so all she could really do was jog around the neighborhood. And Mia didn’t like jogging alone. She tended to have negative thoughts without someone there to support her, or vice versa. Coaching someone else always pulled up her spirits while jogging.
Often Mia coached her brother, always leaving him in the dust while he complained about the heat or water that was too cold to drink. Coaching Jake, Mia couldn’t even go a mile before he asked to turn back. They usually managed to get one mile in, because Mia always came back the long way. After their run, Mia preferred to take a shower and then eat, usually something with a lot of protein and vegetables. Jake, however, stuffed himself with the heaviest foods he could find. He said it was to replace the calories spent running, but Mia thought that Jake usually gained after each run instead of losing weight.
That wasn’t a bad thing, though. Mia and Jake were both naturally slim, no matter what they ate. At dinner, Jake would stuff himself with food, and the next day wouldn’t have gained a pound.
A Delicious, Yet Suspicious Meal
Vishnu Mangipudi, 12
I looked down at the golden platter on the table. The tasteful aroma diffused throughout the air, making for a luxurious vibe. The meal had been set, prepared by dozens of cooks through the span of a whole hour. The royal setting within the ballroom astounded me; I had never had such comfort in my whole life. I began gobbling up the food on my platter, first the soup, then the meat, and finally, the salad - I don’t usually like salads, but I was exceptionally fond of this one. As I was admiring the delicacies, I noticed a small crack in the wall - it seemed as though my senses had been sharpened due to this meal. Observing the entire room, I saw that there was an increased frequency of cracks across the walls. Confused, I looked back down at my plate, only to notice that it was gone. When I tried to reach the other guests, there was no response. The floor began to collapse around my, revealing the deep black seas beneath. Falling down, I began to drown, remarking that the food was merely a facade for the reality of the situation. I laughed lightly before succumbing to the darkness of the void.
I suddenly woke up, noticing our own family’s dining table. Heaving a sigh of relief, I began munching on my mother’s homemade food. The soft, mellow interior of the household calmed me down from the absurd dream. That night, I had learned an important lesson - appetites and looks can be misleading, but my home is not (for the most part).
Madeline Nohrnberg, 13
I rushed down the busy city street. I was very, very late. Dodging people let and right, I dashed down into the nearest subway stop. Just as I stepped onto the platform the 10:45 trains doors clanged shut, and it pulled out of the station. With a sigh I slumped down onto a grime-coated bench, defeated. Looking down at my watch I saw that I had about 20 minutes to kill until the next train arrived. I glanced around the deserted train station. Dividing the platform in half was a deep pit where the train tracks rested. The other side of the platform had been closed for almost a year now, due to an electrical fire. But upon looking closer, I noticed that instead of soot and yellow caution tape, there was a small pop-up restaurant. The restaurant had a red and white striped awning and a few empty tables. An electric sign in front was emitting a quiet buzzing noise, flickering on and off, declaring the restaurant open. Odd, I thought. Why would a restaurant be open at 10:45 at night on a Wednesday? I sat up and sniffed the air. Instead of the usual musty subway smell, it smelled sweet, almost like vanilla and freshly baked bread. I stood up. The aroma was growing stronger and more enticing. I suddenly began to feel very hungry. I started walking towards the restaurant. A little voice in the back of my mind was telling me to stay on the bench and wait for the 11:05 train, but my legs would not obey. My other 4 senses seemed to be dulled, and it felt like my head was full of cotton candy. I continued to walk towards the restaurant. I was nearing the edge of the platform but I was unaware of the drop-down onto the tracks. Looking up, I saw a woman on the other side of the platform. Her complexion was chalky white. She was wearing a red and white striped apron, smiling and waving me over. I took one final step, and then I plunged down onto the tracks below. The sweet smell disappeared and looking up I saw the woman in the striped apron standing above me smiling. She snapped her fingers, and everything went black. And very, very quiet.