The Passion of the Sneak

The Passion of the Sneak
Fernando de Sousa, Wikimedia Commons
Dara Strickland is a leading expert on sneaking food and drink into the movies. She reports on her exploits for Gut Check (from an undisclosed location) every Monday.

I come to you every week with a message, a gospel: Food's subjectivity cannot be held by the chains of its complex carbohydrates nor mired in the webs of its protein. Cooking has a spare, temporal structure, a beginning, middle and end -- it's a Hemingway story. Plating and serving food certainly has its pageantry and artifice. With such a Brahma and Vishnu, eating can be a perfunctory Shiva, a mechanical mastication of mindless destruction and heedless nourishment.

Part of why I relish eating in the movies so much is that it changes the essential experience of eating food by placing it in an inescapable narrative context; it is impossible not to create new textual tensions when you eat food in a movie rather than in one of the prescribed places.

This is my essential communication: There is no plate large enough to contain all that food can be. In that spirit, I celebrated Easter this year by forcing my friends and loved ones to compete in a diorama contest. The rules were simple:

1) Each diorama must depict a scene from the Old Testament.

2) Each diorama must prominently feature traditional Easter candy.

I know, I know. There's hardly a metropolitan daily that doesn't run pictures that readers have sent in of saccharine psychodramas perpetrated by Peeps. But those papers have neither my discerning eye nor my love for overblown Biblical epics of the '50s and '60s -- and, frankly, they just don't see the same quality of work and dedication to education in their submissions. Here's a sampling of what I saw on Sunday:

1. Jacob's Sons Present Their Weeping Father With Joseph's Bloody Coat
click to enlarge The Passion of the Sneak
Dara Strickland
Curator: Mr. R, a gentleman in a suit from Washington, D.C.

Old Testamentality: 3 out of 5. To be entirely accurate, ten Peeps (representing the nine treacherous brothers plus the one secretly sympathetic one) should have been used. There is some dispute over the translated description of Joseph's coat having "many colors" or having "stripes," which is why it is generally depicted as having stripes of many colors.

Easter Candy Candor: 4 out of 5. All figures are represented by Peeps. Fine thematic representation of the alienation of Jacob's sons by wives other than Rachel (pink chick Peeps) from their father (blue bunny Peep) that started the drama in motion. Classic use of red food coloring and corn syrup for blood.

Overall Style: 4 out of 5. Mr. R was a guest in my house and did not have access to his normal array of diorama supplies. With a thorough planning and sketching stage, greater symbolism of Jacob's desolation at losing Joseph despite his many other blessings could have been wrung out of the stark design and lush fake grass.

2. The Trials of Job
click to enlarge The Passion of the Sneak
Dara Strickland
Curator: The Doctor, my mysterious long-term gentleman caller

The Doctor's Original Title: A Diorama in Which God Is a Dick to Job for No Good Reason

Old Testamentality: 5 out of 5. Diorama simultaneously depicts the slaughter of Job's flocks, the collapse of his house on all of his children, and his affliction with particularly lurid boils.

Easter Candy Candor
: 5 out of 5. Job and his family are clearly related blue bunny Peeps, his boils are Red Hots, and his flocks (my favorite part) are Hostess Snoballs in pools of that same corn syrup blood.

Overall Style: 5 out of 5. Notice how Job is placed in the middle of all the destruction staring up forlornly into not an unfeeling abyss but at an impossibly powerful being that is actively trying to ruin his life. This was not the end of Job's troubles, either -- a few days later I found him a dozen feet away on the kitchen floor, victim of an unwritten final trial of the feline persuasion.

3. The Forbidden Peep

click to enlarge The Passion of the Sneak
Dara Strickland
Curator: Ms. B, prominent local bookseller

Old Testamentality: 4 out of 5. Riotous Easter grass is definitely evocative of both the splendor of Eden and of its imminently passing innocence. The staging is very tense, one of my favorite parts of the Fall of Man -- Eve eats of the Peep before she gives it to Adam. For a brief moment, she has knowledge of good and evil but, he's still ignorant. Still, she chooses him to be her partner in a new way of thinking about the world. Point off because Adam and Eve are wearing cute neck bows, and that is heresy.

Easter Candy Candor: 5 out of 5. All major figures and objects are Easter candy. There's even a candy serpent. However, I became deeply disturbed by the truth this diorama points out: Chocolate Easter bunnies are naked.

Overall Style: 5 out of 5. This diorama has an excellent composition for its enclosed box, and I particularly like the integrated fold-down plaque.

4. David Spies Bathsheba Bathing on the Roof
click to enlarge The Passion of the Sneak
Dara Strickland
Curators: Mr. and Mrs. J, the only husband-and-wife team in this year's competition

Old Testamentality: 3 out of 5. While the cityscape makes the rooftop setting clear, the plot unfolding on those rooftops was not readily apparent because of the lack of royal trappings on David. If Kings manages to last another two seasons, expect to see a scene very similar to this, but not executed nearly as well.

Easter Candy Candor: 5 out of 5. It may not be completely clear from the picture, but the look of manic desire in foil-covered chocolate bunny David's eyes is pricelessly on-target. The bubbles in Bathsheba's basin are some sort of yogurt-based confection. As Mrs. J is fond of pointing out, Bathsheba is, in fact, a chick.

Overall Style: 5 out of 5. This diorama was lovingly assembled -- even the outside was decorated for Easter. The color palette and pattern combination showed a true eye for design.

The Sacrifice of Isaac
click to enlarge The Passion of the Sneak
Dara Strickland
Curator: Madame S, the ringer. She trained at the Sesame Workshop and narrowly avoided disqualification as a professional competing in an amateur open-stakes competition by claiming she had never made a diorama before. I'll let you judge the veracity of her claim for yourself.

Old Testamentality: 4 out of 5. The accuracy in this diorama is only marred by the fact that the Angel of the Lord appears to have come late to the party, with Isaac already sacrificed rather than the Peep ram caught in the bushes. While a compelling argument could be made that this represents the psychological rather than physical fallout of being dragged up a mountain and nearly knifed by your father as part of a needless test of his loyalty to an omniscient god (see also: Job), it wouldn't help anybody get the right answer on a test of biblical knowledge.

Easter Candy Candor: 5 out of 5. The featureless, denuded Cadbury eggs speak volumes about our relationship with the iconic, monolithic patriarchs of the Pentateuch. This story is a very human, even heartbreaking meditation on the conflict between spiritual aspirations and the earthbound practicalities of love, but it unfolds in a way that's still cloaked in the mystery of thousands of years and hundreds of retellings and translations. Seriously, even the altar is made out of candy.

Overall Style: 5 out of 5. Well crafted diorama with depth and multiple levels of interest. Angel hovers realistically over the scene.

Food can have such strong emotional connotations, from a favorite childhood meal you can't turn down even though your tastes have changed to the noodle dish you can never find appealing again because it's all you ate for three months straight when you were dead broke. I have made lasagna out of love and sandwiches in deepest frustration. I'm sure I'm not alone. Food is such a strong current in our lives that it's sometimes easy to forget that at the crest of the wave that current drives, relentless, to the shore is a burbling foam: laughter.

Have fun with your food.
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