Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The James Bond diet

James Bond doesn’t eat in the films. Who knows where he’s getting his energy from, but it’s not from three square meals a day. That’s not strictly true. In Casino Royale (2008), Bond consumes skewered lamb (a kebab of some sort?) on a Montenegro-bound train. And he eats breakfast relatively frequently: café complet in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and green figs and yoghurt in From Russia With Love (1963).

The literary James Bond is a dish served from a different menu. Food is as much part of the novels as guns, champagne, women, villains and travel. Ian Fleming claimed that he wanted to stimulate his readers, right down to their taste buds. He certainly does that. We don’t have to read many pages before Fleming stops the action to describe a meal.

There are about seventy separate meals in the twelve novels and two books of short stories, but many more food descriptions, since some of the dishes appear more than once. On average, there are five food references in each full-length novel. Goldfinger virtually acts as a gastronomic tour, containing ten food references, the meals mainly being consumed by Bond on a drive through France in pursuit of the eponymous villain.

Fleming was a foodie, but there is evidence that he lost interest. Academic John Griswold calculated the duration of Bond’s adventures, and the information allows us to work out that food is mentioned more infrequently towards the final adventures – one reference per every nine mission-days in The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), compared with every four mission-days in Live and Let Die (1954) – probably reflecting Fleming’s increasingly ill-health.

But it’s not so much the quantity, as the quality. Bond’s food ranges from mundane, commonly-consumed fare to exotic once-in-a-lifetime concoctions. He eats eggs scrambled and poached, caviar, lobsters, ray wings, turbot, beef tournedos, hamburgers, duck, asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, and guavas, among many other items. Most of Bond’s food is relatively commonplace today, but back in the 1950s, with Britain emerging, blinking, from the darkness of rationing, it was a revelation. How many people had seen an avocado in 1953, when Casino Royale was published, let alone tasted one? Avocados were so new that even Fleming didn’t know what to do with them, having Bond eat it as a dessert with French dressing.

Not that Fleming was particularly inconvenienced by rationing. In London he ate in his club, and in Jamaica, where he quartered during the winter, he had a private beach that was crawling with fish and lobsters. Of course Fleming liked to offer his readers a view of food that was beyond their grasp, but he also simply described his own experiences, which he gave to James Bond. It is no surprise that Bond regularly eats scrambled egg, because it was Fleming’s favourite food. Fleming’s usual grilled sole consumed at his club was a lunch-time usual for Bond. A beef stew that Fleming has in Japan is also eaten by Bond when he visits the country.

Note: this entry is taken from the introduction to the cookbook, Licence to Cook (see link to the right).

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