Problems with Food in 50 Shades of Grey

People make a big deal about the food in 50 Shades of Grey, but Ana doesn’t eat much of the gourmet food at all. Instead, she continually loses her appetite after Christian does something unpleasant or distracts her with sex. It’s repetitive to the point of being really uncomfortable to read about.

I made a spreadsheet of all the food and drink references in the three books to make sure I wasn’t selectively reading negative passages and not viewing things clearly.

Food and drink were put into three categories. Page numbers were taken from the e-book, although this is a bit inaccurate as they vary based on the size of the screen:

  • Green: positive, non-angsty descriptions of food.
  • Red: negative descriptions of food/lack of appetite.
  • Blue: references to alcohol (all alcohol was consumed without deliberation or protest).

The overall trend in Book 1 is that while Ana tends to skip meals on her own, she can eat generic foods fine with her friends and family. Her lack of eating intensifies around Christian, around whom she consistently loses her appetite. Since she easily capitulates to his sexual manipulation, the author needs some way of pretending she has a backbone (while retaining pages of sex scenes)–so an attempt at character defiance is shown by her refusal to eat in front of someone who seriously cares about regular meals. While he gets her to agree to sexual things she’s unsure about in his contract, she won’t agree to his request that she eat regular meals.

But because Christian Grey is Right About Everything and Ana is a Silly Woman, this also lets the reader see how conscientious and thoughtful Christian is in caring about food. Right, except all he does is rage about Ana not eating and how he needs to threaten her, then lets her go back to ignoring all the food on her plate because the conversation turns to sex after she suggestively eats one thing.

Another reading is that Ana is a timid heroine in a controlling relationship, who starves herself because it’s the only way in which she can feel in control of her life. She’s easily manipulated by sex, but she makes herself feel better after by defying Grey and not eating. However! This is seen as the most romantic novel of all time, something you read for pleasure, so I’m going to go with “clumsy attempt at characterization” as opposed to “grim portrayal of abusive relationship.”

Positive food references in Book 1:

  • Ana eating with friends away from Christian: her home-cooked “house specialty” lasagna dinner with Kate (319), chinese food with friends (594, 589), pizza straight from the box with friends (597), meals with family (782 and 907).
  • Ana talking about how delicious food looks with Christian (137, 252)…before her appetite disappears a page later.
  • Eating meals without elaborate descriptions, two of which are a breakfast bagel alone (50, 459, 486).
  • Eating to appear sexy: two oysters (433) and an asparagus stalk (445).

There are a few more references in which food is eaten with weird undertones:

  • Noticing she can only eat fine because Christian is in a good mood (677).
  • Realizes she’s starving at IHOP and eats heartily after refusing food and complaining about the nauseating smell (894).

Most of the meals she eats without an issue are boring, such as a breakfast bagel, or pretty straightforward and cheap (lasagna, pizza, chinese). The elaborately-described meals that have spawned food blogs and Pinterests are not really consumed.

Negative references to food:

  • On their first psuedo-date at a coffee shop, she agrees to have coffee in spite of hating coffee (83), refuses to eat a muffin along with Christian (86), notes the “small teapot” (87), and again refuses the muffin on 88. (“Do you want some?” he asks, and that amused, secret smile is back.  “No thanks.” I frown and stare down at my hands again.)
  • The day after her drinking binge of champagne, five margaritas, and beer, she loses her appetite after noticing a delicious breakfast of pancakes, maple syrup, eggs and bacon, because Christian tells her that he’s not a romantic type of guy (You should steer clear from me.” He closes his eyes as if in defeat. “There’s something about you, though, and I’m finding it impossible to stay away. But I think you’ve figured that out already.”    My appetite vanishes. He can’t stay away! 147). He orders her to eat, she protests she can’t, and forces herself to eat some cold pancakes (“Eat,” he says more sharply. “Anastasia, I have an issue with wasted food… eat.”  “I can’t eat all this.” I gape at what’s left on the table. 154). Later that day, for dinner she eats only “a small bunch of grapes” and refuses cheese. (207)
  • The next morning, she is actually hungry and makes pancakes, bacon, and eggs while Christian adds tea, syrup, and sets the table. Her appetite again vanishes with the first forkful of omelette when he brings up his D/s contract to her. (“Eat, Anastasia.” My appetite has become uncertain again… more… more sex… yes please. I try a forkful of omelet but can barely taste it. (257).  My thoughts and my stomach are in turmoil. My appetite has vanished. I stare at my half-eaten breakfast. I’m just not hungry. 223.) He orders her to eat more, comments she didn’t eat the night before, and she decides she needs to put less food on her plate to make it seem like she eats more (I must remember not to put so much on my plate if he’s going to be weird about food. 259).
  • Later that day, he asks if she is hungry, and she says no (299). He decides she needs to eat (300) and takes her to a rustic French gourmet restaurant. After eating nettle soup, she loses her appetite during the main venison course when he talks about his sexual history (The waitress returns with venison, but my appetite has vanished. What a revelation. / “I’m really not hungry, Christian.” I am reeling from your disclosure. 302). He orders her to eat, she tentatively slices the meat (306), and thinks she can’t eat anymore after two bites (I put my knife and fork down. I cannot eat any more.   “That’s it? That’s all you’re going to eat?”   I nod. He scowls at me but chooses not to say anything. 309).
  • When they discuss the contract, they have dinner at a fancy hotel where “black cod, asparagus, and crushed potatoes with a hollandaise sauce” is served. She is not hungry, takes a “stab” at her food, and declares she has “never felt less like food” (438). Christian comments that “Three oysters, four bites of cod, and one asparagus stalk, no potatoes, no nuts, no olives, and you’ve not eaten all day (441).” She argues that she will not agree to eat three meals a day.
  • After a break of several days with her friends as she moves apartments, Christian asks her if she’s eaten and her response is “Shit, no” (614). She says she’s hungry but not for food, and is relieved that there’s just a Cesar salad because it’s not heavy (624). She then sleeps through lunch.
  • While she does eat chorizo and scallops with Christian’s family, this meal is made weirderr by descriptions of her stomach nervously churning due to Christian, and how she is later only able to eat the main course because Christian is in a good mood. (The beef is delicious and served with roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and green beans. It is even more palatable since Christian manages to retain his good-humor for the rest of the meal. 677)
  • On her trip to Georgia, she claims that only he makes her unable to eat (803). This is actually pretty true, considering she loses her appetite for fancy meals in front of him, but can eat take-out fine with Kate and Jose.
  • When they go flying early in the morning, she refuses breakfast because it’s too early, and internally panics (It really is too early for me. How to handle this?   “I’ll have some tea. Can I take a croissant for later?” He eyes me suspiciously, and I smile very sweetly.    “Don’t rain on my parade, Anastasia,” he warns softly. 870). While she enjoys eating at IHOP because ordering is laced with sexual innuendo, she complains first that she hates the smell (894). The meal is capped off by her offering to pay because she’s in a good mood, and him being a jerk about it with some sort of threatened masculinity.

Alcohol references:

While alcohol is sometimes poured with ulterior motives, Ana for the most part drinks without a second thought. Interesting, when you consider most of her food experiences are fraught with angst–sometimes in the same sentence,

  • In spite of never drinking before, she manages to drink champagne, five margaritas, and beer without a second thought (114-119), on the same day she repeatedly refuses to eat a small muffin (88).
  • When hearing about Christian’s D/s contract, she takes sips and swigs of wine, but can only bring herself to eat small grapes for dinner. (189-207)
  • At the Heathman, she has no appetite and refuses to agree with Christian on having three meals a day, but she gladly drinks when told (423). It is revealed the next day that he got her drunk on purpose: “Because you over-think everything, and you’re reticent like your stepdad. A drop of wine in you and you start talking, and I need you to communicate honestly with me.” (532)
  • There are numerous other mundane mentions of alcohol–notably champagne–which she is offered by pretty much everyone in the book and drinks without an interior monologue. Even after hearing shit like Christian saying he purposely gets her drunk.

A look at Book 2 will be up in a few days. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of food negativity at the start of Book 3, until he bruised her for exposing too much skin on the beach, so I will finish analyzing that when my rage calms down.

9 thoughts on “Problems with Food in 50 Shades of Grey

  1. The ridiculously elaborate descriptions of food on every other page make me think James has some issues with food. There’s something very off about the whole thing. I’ve read a LOT of books in my life and never once have I seen an author so obsessed with what the characters put in their mouths.

  2. It’s almost like Ana can’t eat anytime Christian is angry or talking about sex. As if fear takes over any appetite she might have had. Why else would she only have trouble eating if Christian happens to be around? She clamps down,loses her appetite and gets nervous (or in some apparent incidences..excited? Hard to tell). The only time her lack of appetite makes sense is when she wakes up after binge drinking. Not many people are hungry when they wake up with a hangover. But who knows. Just makes the relationship look all the more abusive.

  3. Oddly, this reminds me of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Anyone remember those books? Specifically, I remember reading somewhere that Jacques deliberately wrote a lot of detailed descriptions of his characters eating large quantities of food–because he grew up during World War II food rationing and remembered scouring the books he read as a kid for well-described meals to enjoy vicariously. Can’t quite make a full connection there, but I wonder if this author had motives like that.

    • There is a lot of stuff in these books about how thin Ana is and at one point, she says something about how much she likes being that thin. E.L. James is quite heavy. I think it’s more about eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating) than anything else.

      Some people have speculated that she has the characters of Ana (an unusual spelling, using only one N) and Mia (Christian’s sister) for a reason. Those are both slang terms for the eating disorders. I thought that was a coincidence until I realize just how focused she is on the food the characters eat and Ana’s obsession with being thin.

        • It’s really not *too* clever- those terms are widely used around the internet as code words/pet names for anorexia+bulimia. Especially on websites where folks claim to be pro-ed. I found my way to that side of the internet at 13 (i already had an ed, i wasn’t going looking for one) and that was yeeears ago. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’d stumbled upon them, too (or had food problems of her own)

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  5. I remember reading a paper in high school that compared the consumption of food in 2 separate books: Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. It was actually quite a good analysis; you can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/dxsbeyg

    I wonder if James was trying to mimic the descriptive style (and tie in to emotions) we see here? Not saying she succeeded (she didn’t), but it’s certainly interesting to apply what we see in the essay to the books

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