Food as Means of Constraint and Liberation
by Suejette Black
Like Water for Chocolate uses magical realism to demonstrate the many important roles that food plays in life. In the film, food has the ability to create extremely powerful physical and emotional responses in all those who eat it; nobody is immune to the strength of the food. The food in Like Water for Chocolate serves to express emotions and allow for self-discovery, while also perpetuating gender roles.
In 1910, during the Mexican Revolution, the film shows that a woman’s place in society was in the kitchen. Tita and each one of her sisters are shown frequently cooking, along with her mother, Nacha, and Chencha, while men are not seen in the kitchen. The expectation of women to prepare nourishing meals for their husband and family is shown as Rosaura desperately attempts to cook a meal to impress her new husband Pedro. Sociologist Deborah Lupton explains a women’s role in the family, “is a source of emotional satisfaction abut also constrains and limits their lives.” This internal struggle is seen through Tita, when she becomes the main cook in her household after the passing of Nacha. Though she is clearly passionate about cooking, she seems to be a servant for the family and enslaved to her mother who will not let her marry because she must stay at home to be her caretaker. It ruins her chances of marrying her true love Pedro and often prevents her from frully enjoying herself and her life. Despite her responsibilities in her home and kitchen seeming to anchor Tita down to her toxic household, there are several scenarios where food and cooking provides joy for her.
The ability of food to act as a means of communication and self-realization is depicted when Tita makes quail with rose petals she received from Pedro. Even if there had been no narration, it would have been clear by the reactions of those eating it that the food was having an extremely potent effect on them. The scene begins with only diegetic sound of plates being placed and the camera tracking over the food on the table. As they begin to eat, enchanting orchestra music plays, creating the sense that they are drifting off into a trance. With alternating close ups of each character, it is evident something is happening within each of them as the food seems to melt in their mouths and take them into a state of ecstasy. Pedro describes the food as “the nectar of the gods” while he consumes the food of his true love, Tita. As they eat they seem to be having a sensual interaction and express passion without speaking or touching. As the music intensifies and the sister, Gertrudis, touches her neck, rips open her blouse, and ultimately runs away, it is clear that the food caused something erotic and animalistic to happen inside each of them. The food creates a sexual connection and opens them up to feelings they have never felt before, seeming to free them, at least momentarily, from any constraints.
The complex role of food in Like Water for Chocolate simultaneously subjects women to a constraining expectation and opens them up to sensuality and self- realization. Food’s ability to take over their bodies and minds in ways they could not control, seemed to show that food did not only have to serve as a restraint but could introduce them to a world of unexplored possibilities and freedom.