Food as Metaphor for Life
By Junessa Sladen-Dew
Acting on one’s desires is a difficult thing and at times may feel like an impossibility. However, following the journey of Georgia Byrd, played by Queen Latifah, we see her giving up her fears and trying to live her most fulfilled life through food and cooking. Set in New Orleans, a mecca of cuisine, Georgia dreams of becoming a chef, although by day, spends her time as a cookware salesperson. Despite the monotony of her day job, Georgia finds time to “cook for the moochers” and take pride in sharing part of herself when pleasing different people. Just like her job, she finds her personal life to be extremely drab and keeps a Book of Possibilities in order to record her hopes and dreams. However, her journey takes a dramatic turn when she is diagnosed with a terminal illness and only has weeks to live. At this point in her life, she throws caution to the win, cashes in her 401-K and begins a life-changing adventure to the Czech Republic, where her hero, Chef Didier, rules the kitchen. In the picturesque, jewel of a spa town, Georgia decides to go out in style and embrace her hidden love for food and cooking.
Thus, the exploration of how food can be a metaphor for life begins and Georgia Byrd exemplifies the transition from the fascination with material belongings to activities of pure passion and happiness. In a life with nothing to lose and an ability to throw caution to the wind, bland food and dieting transforms into magnificent feasts and roasted duck and dumplings. Before her diagnosis, Georgia led a life that was about giving to others, holding back on personal desire and living with minimal enjoyment and satisfaction in her life. Through meals such as Lean Cuisine and insipid dishes that Georgia is utterly repulsed by, we see food as a portal into the internal thoughts of Georgia and her dissatisfaction with her current life. In contrast, we see her life in Czech Republic when she believes that she is dying, to be filled with extreme grandeur especially in the context of food. A scene that articulates her new viewpoint on life and unbounded dedication to following her desires is the unforgettable feast that Georgia partakes in where she orders ever meal off of the famous menu. With no inhibitions, Georgia’s newly acquired personality undergoes a metamorphosis and along with the personality metamorphosis, a food metamorphosis occurs. Using food as a symbol for internalized thoughts and ways of life, The Last Holiday features the force of personal and social pressure on one’s choices especially on food and how being on deaths doorstep can change everything.
Food, not only as an object, but as an experience can be seen throughout her journey. The new food she encounters not only shapes her own experience, but those around her as well. As she throws away her past inhibitions, her new journey through the exploration of various cuisines dives into new meanings of living life. Food that is deemed as a luxury and something to only indulge in occasionally is consumed wholeheartedly by Georgia post-diagnosis showing that when you have nothing to lose then you might as well right? Through this film and the beautiful portrayal of female rationing by Queen Latifah, we see how society can easily control your outlook on life and how that translates into the physical act such as eating. As one of the most basic, daily necessities, eating has become something that people control themselves and others through it. Thousands of people are starving themselves right now in order to fit into a social category or because they believe that by not eating, they can finally control an aspect of their lives. However, The Last Holiday through its comedic quips and quick wit highlights that when you are on death’s doorstep and society doesn’t matter anymore, we may metaphorically and literally use food as our portal of indulgence.