An Exploration of Food and Civility
By Sierra Smith
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a film franchise adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel series of the same title, made its mark on the film industry with the release of its first adaptation in 2001. One of the most memorable food scenes from the franchise occurs in The Two Towers, the second of the three films released in 2002, in which Gollum and Samwise Gamgee argue over how to eat rabbits, bringing to a boiling point the tension between the pair.
The clash between Sam and Gollum is a clash of two vastly different personalities (the unfailingly moral and loyal Sam versus the immoral and self-serving Gollum), but it’s also a clash between two extremely different approaches to food. Visually, the film provides a juxtaposition between these two approaches to food by cutting from the image of the raw to the image of the cooked. In his attempt to bond with Frodo over food, Gollum catches two rabbits and presents them to Frodo as an offering. Gollum tries to earn Frodo’s trust by digging into one of the rabbits himself, eating it raw without skinning it or undergoing any preparation whatsoever. A horrified and offended Sam seizes the rabbits, claiming that “there’s only one way to eat a brace of conies” (1:41). Immediately, the film cuts to a stew boiling in a pot over a fire, depicting Sam’s method of cooking as an opposition to the rawness of Gollum’s meal.
[CAPTION: Sam prepares the rabbits in a stew, turning the raw into the cooked. (1:41:28)]
As unyielding as Sam is with his morals and loyalty to Frodo, he is the same with his food, firm in his belief that food should be something enjoyed for artistry and taste as much as it is nourishment. Sam emphasizes flavor in his food, fantasizing about the ingredients he would add to his stew if they were available, saying, “What we need’s a few good taters” (1:42). Sam thinks in terms of taste, imagining traditional ingredients that would have improved the quality of his meal if they were at his disposal. His relationship to food, though he’s not a chef so to speak, closely resembles the relationship that Krautkramer describes between restaurant chefs and their food. He says that restaurant chefs have a duty to cook to the food, meaning “they should intend to create food that is artfully made using expert techniques, drawing out optimal flavor, texture, and color, and in which the ingredients often produce complex, original, and stimulating cuisine,” while “honoring the abilities of the ingredients to create something greater than when they stand alone” (251). Sam’s responsibility to the food, demonstrated by his desire to make it better than it is by his own standards, resembles a restaurant chef’s duty to food, and also mirrors Sam’s unrelenting dedication to the people and foundations of beliefs in his life that he values as much as food. Food for Sam, like life, should be done properly, thus ensuring that it is rich and equally satisfying.
For Gollum, however, food is most enjoyable when left raw. When Sam cooks the rabbits that Gollum caught in a stew, Gollum screams at him, “You ruins it!… Give it to us raw” (1:42). The emphasis on the raw is what distinguishes Gollum as being more uncivilized than the hobbits. Whereas Sam’s stew retains as much refinement as possible in a setting outside of civilization, Gollum’s preference for meat in its raw form elicits animalistic connotations, casting a danger and vulgarity about him that the hobbits lack. The film gauges the civility and humanity of its characters based on their food habits. Sam’s more refined taste correlates with his morality, and Gollum’s proclivity for the raw indicates his more violent and brutish nature.
Krautkramer, Christian J. “Duty to Cook: Exploring the Intents and Ethics of Home and Restaurant Cuisine.” Food and Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry. Edited by Fritz Allhoft and Dave Munroe, Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Directed by Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, 2002.