Film & Food Friday: Reality Bites

Normally I write my blog post the evening before I post it, right after my tot has gone to sleep, but yesterday it took so much longer to get her to sleep that I decided to relax instead of write. Have you ever had one of those weeks? Grumpy or moody for no reason? Well, that’s been my head space for the past couple of days (I even honked at a jaywalker yesterday — I’m not really a horn-honker but man I was so grumpy yesterday! Was I in danger of mowing down an old lady? No. But she was crossing illegally. And btw, the horn honking did not make me feel any better.) After last week’s new post F&FF (and thank you so much to the wonderful response back! I appreciate it more than you can know!), I’ve been struggling with what I really want to say here. I am so inspired by Design*Sponge‘s Living In column but I don’t really want to make this a 1:1 comparison between a particular film and food. What I’d really like is to write about some of my favourite films and maybe throw a little food inspo in there. One of my top 5 films most definitely includes Reality Bites (1994). Like The Breakfast Club, Reality Bites is really a film of it’s era, however, it is still incredibly watchable and hasn’t lost it’s sense of humor or what the film was saying about the lives of Gen Xer’s in the ’90s.

The relationship between the characters and convenience food is really interesting. They live so philosophically but in actuality they don’t pay much attention to how they treat their bodies. The food movement as we understand it today (I can see that the way I cook and see food has been strongly influenced by people like Alice Waters, and my personal fav Michael Pollan) hadn’t really started then and I don’t wonder if the film was made now if the character’s lifestyles would be different food-wise. Just look at Instagram. Some of the most popular accounts are built upon healthy diets/lifestyles. Reality Bites contains no girlfriend-chat- yoga scenes or even jogging scenes. Characters are more content to sit around drinking coffee and smoking. In the twenty years since the film was shot, there has been a huge paradigm shift in the way we eat and see food.

For those of you who have seen the film, the following picture is familiar — Troy (Ethan Hawke) is “working” his newsstand job, which he is fired from for stealing/helping himself to a chocolate bar. As he puts it: “Where he dared to ask the question: are employee snacks subsidized..” One of the most telling scenes in terms of how the audience understands his character. Educated but unmotivated, not to mention he’s extremely ambivalent. Doesn’t seem to care about much. I was reminded about this scene while I was making chocolate bars a few weeks ago. Of course what I was making was unlike the typical store-bought chocolates (a delicious recipe from…).

This scene also hearkens to opening of the film where we see the phrase: “Will work 4 Food” written on someone’s graduation cap. Troy is literally working for food but not much else. His character is also in direct opposition to Michael (Ben Stiller) who is super ambitious and who is very concerned about being successful and wealthy. In the picture below Michael is unconcerned about sending his food back without eating it and in his words he’s “not really hungry.” He works for so much more than just food and the food he does eat is less about convenience and more about “real food” (even though it’s restaurant food).

The film is full of these types of dichotomies — fancy restaurants on one hand, fast food burger joints on the other (Troy/Michael, gas station food/restaurant food, reality/MTV reality of Lelaina’s documentary, etc). TBH my first job was at the Golden Arches, and I can totally understand where the trepidation comes in at the thought of working in a place like the one Lelaina interviews at. However, the manager (David Spade!!) recognizes that she doesn’t possess that particular skill set which would have made her a successful hire. For anyone out there who isn’t a vegan or vegetarian the best place to get a hot dog is Costco (where all good food inspo comes from, right?!). No joke. Every time I see this scene it makes me want to have one of their hot dogs! What’s wrong with me?? I keep telling myself that a hot dog is really gross because it isn’t meat, right?! I think they get made at Bovine University (best Simpson’s episode IMHO). Sadly, vegetarian tofu dogs aren’t a very good substitute.

Below, Lelaina and Michael are on their date enjoying a Big Gulp — I think what they’d be drinking now is probably more smoothie or juice related — of the Booster or Jamba variety. Isn’t it funny to think that smoking is one thing that current audiences of the film would recognize as passe, and I would argue that soft drink consumption is headed that way as well. I know this film is already 20+ years old but it’s strange to think about how much has changed about the way we view our health. Just look at what Jamie Oliver is trying to do to deter people from consuming unhealthy food with The Plan.

Maybe what’s been making me so irritable lately is my coffee consumption (which I wouldn’t say is a lot but my huz reminds me that if coffee was introduced today it would probably be a banned substance.) There are a few places here in Halifax that I love to grab a cup at — Pavia and Smiling Goat — because those baristas really know how to make a cup of coffee. Man. As you can see how the film subtly telegraphs that Michael is not the one for Lelaina — when was the last time you asked someone out for a big gulp? Where as “wanna grab a coffee” (regardless of whether that person drinks coffee or not) seems to make more sense. As viewers, we’re more comfortable with the Troy/Lelaina couple because they’re partaking of a socially recognized pastime — at least somethings haven’t changed.

(The usual disclaimers apply — all screen caps are from clips, I own nothing in relation to the film images)


2 thoughts on “Film & Food Friday: Reality Bites

  1. You write so well Kris! 🙂 That was interesting to read.

    On a coffee note: I’ve been grinding myself about coffee too lately, especially since I’m nursing. But the more I try to abstain, the more I crave and cave Lol A good cup of coffee is liken nothing else in the morning… 🙂 well, a glass of juice is great, followed by coffee 😉

    Take care. Hopefully you grumpy bugs move on elsewhere.

    Valentyna Girard



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s