Task: Think of a disgusting meal you have had — real, imagined or a mixture of both — and make it sound as unappealing as you possibly can. As a further challenge, take a meal you have really enjoyed and make that sound as disgusting as possible. Or vice versa.

Here’s an example from a popular travel memoir. Notice how Bryson makes the food sound all the more disgusting by contrasting the general fervour with which those around him are scarfing it down.

The food was just plain terrible, and yet everybody in the room was shoveling it away as if there were no tomorrow. I picked at it for a while – bristly fried chicken, lettuce with blackened veins, French fries that had the appearance and appeal of albino slugs – and gave up, despondent. I pushed the plate away and wished that I still smoked. The waitress, seeing how much I had left, asked me if I wanted a doggie bag.

‘No thank you,’ I said through a thin smile, ‘I don’t believe I could find a dog that would eat it.’

On reflection, I can think of one eating experience even more dispiriting than dining at that cafe and that was the lunch-room at Callanan Junior High School in Des Moines. The lunch-room at Callanan was like something out of a prison movie. You would shuffle forward in a long, silent line and have lumpen, shapeless food dolloped on to your tray by lumpen, shapeless women – women who looked as if they were on day release from a mental institution, possibly for having poisoned food in public places. The food wasn’t merely unappealing, it was unidentifiable. Adding to the displeasure was the principal, Mr Snoyd, who was always stalking around behind you, ready to grab you by the neck and march you off to his office if you made gagging noises or were overheard inquiring of the person across from you, ‘Say, what is this shit?’ Eating at Callanan was like having your stomach pumped in reverse.

– Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent

 

QUESTIONS:

1. What is the adjective Bryson has used to describe the fried chicken? Why did he choose that particular word?

2. Lettuce is described as having ‘blackened veins’. What does the colour black often symbolise? What else has veins?

3. One way of making food sound disgusting is by comparing it to bugs and insects. Where does Bryson do that?

4. The cafe at Bryson’s junior high school is compared to a prison. He first tells, then describes. He makes use of hyperbole (exaggeration). What are the parts which are slightly exaggerated, do you think?