Emily: An education is the most important thing in the world, next to family.
Lorelai: And pie.
~ from Gilmore Girls pilot (2000).
When the weather outside is frightful, there’s nothing more delightful than noshing with the Gilmore Girls.
I’ve been having a ball feasting on episode after episode of what is my absolute favorite TV series ever. There’s just so much to love about this sassy-smart talkfest dramedy — the small town setting, quirky characters, rapid fire dialogue, themes of family, friendship, and community, brilliant scriptwriting, consummate acting, the endlessly amusing and fascinating pop, cultural, and literary references infusing every conversation in every scene.
And then, of course, there’s THE FOOD.
I want to live in Stars Hollow, so I can saunter into Luke’s Diner and order bacon, eggs, pancakes and chili fries. I know it’ll be served up with a nice side of comfort and neighborly chit chat. I want to shop at Doose’s Market (even though I suspect the prices are high), visit Sookie’s kitchen at the Dragonfly Inn, and dress up for Friday night dinners with Richard and Emily.
I like knowing that Stars Hollow is a place of picnics, potlucks, and bake sales, that food is so much more than mere sustenance. It fosters relationships and creates a context for social interaction, and really does play an integral role in keeping storylines fresh and interesting — foreshadowing events, advancing action, defining characters, and conveying central ideas as well as larger messages.
Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are coffee fiends who subsist on pizza, Chinese take-out, boatloads of junk food (especially candy), and greasy diner fare from Luke’s. It’s a marvel, really, that with such an unhealthy diet neither gets sick or gains weight. Eating on the run suits their frantic lifestyle, and their preference for comfort food (especially Luke’s) creates an instant bond with viewers.
For Lorelai, the four major food groups are pizza, pizza, candy, and popcorn. She’s a single mother who had to grow up pretty fast, so holding on to childhood favorites makes perfect sense — especially since she knows how much her mother disapproves. Learning to survive on her own didn’t leave much time for cooking, so she improvised by raising her daughter on Beefaroni and cheeseburgers. Somehow, we love her all the more for her failings, admiring her independent spirit and the way she embraces the donut and the danish.
Luke Danes (he can fry my eggs anytime) is an unlikely heartthrob due to his gruff demeanor. He’s famous for snapping at customers and not taking any bull from anyone. Still, he makes the best coffee in Stars Hollow, can flip those burgers with the best of them, and his diner is really Lorelai and Rory’s second home. I love how he pours coffee with his left hand, bans cell phone use in the restaurant, and has the same retro pedestal cake dish in his diner as I have in my kitchen. Hey, that makes us practically a couple, right?
Luke’s a bundle of contradictions, a health nut who serves “dead cow” with comments like, “Red meat will kill you. Enjoy.” But of course underneath it all, he has a soft center and a heart of gold. He’ll do anything for Lorelai — closing the diner on the spot when she needs a ride to the hospital, making her a Santa burger to cheer her up at Christmas, buying her picnic basket at the annual town auction.
For Richard and Emily Gilmore, food is a status symbol and a means of bartering tuition for time with Lorelai and Rory via Friday night dinners. In direct contrast to the casual, intimate coziness of Luke’s Diner, dinners with Richard and Emily are formal, proper dress-up affairs — a stage set with escargot, rack of lamb, cassoulet and fine wines, for if mother and daughter must spar, let them do so in opulence. That she would consent to Friday night dinners speaks volumes about Lorelai’s love for Rory.
Old wounds resurface at Emily’s table, as we learn more and more about the life Lorelai left behind. Though I’d definitely feel more comfortable eating at Luke’s, it’s nice to fantasize about what it would be like to have an in-house chef and a maid to serve all my meals. It must also be nice to be able to throw fancy parties with no thought of expense.
Through the symbolism of food, we witness a couple of instances where Emily actually tries to please her daughter and granddaughter. She once serves Rory’s favorites, Beefaroni and Twinkies, and surprises Lorelai one Friday night with pudding (though she considers it hospital food). She even consents to shop for Rory’s birthday gift with Lorelai, then later eats lunch at the food court (much to her disgust).
A nice counterpoint is provided by Sookie and Jackson, who communicate through food. Heated discussions about the quality of Jackson’s zucchini or strawberries eventually blossom into romance. Jackson innately understands Sookie’s needs and interests as a chef, and since she is accident prone, he’s the perfect safe harbor, sensible and grounded. Sookie’s kitchen is always a feast for the eyes — beautiful spreads abound with her elaborate, creative desserts, tables overflow with crudité and fresh fruit platters, rich sauces bubble on the Viking stove, jars of chunk chocolate fill the shelves.
I love Sookie’s generosity and passion for cooking, and when she says things like, “I’ll bake cookies. Protestants love oatmeal,” after hearing Rory got accepted to Chilton. Though her approach to cooking (perfectionist) directly contrasts Luke’s (plain and simple), both characters are seen as nurturers — emphasizing that those who provide food for others are benevolent and warm-hearted, and there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to filling a plate.
I’ve been trying to decide if I have a favorite episode from all seven seasons. It might be “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” about a fundraiser where the ladies of Stars Hollow fill picnic baskets, and the highest bidders win the privilege of having lunch with the basket-makers. Just as Luke, Jackson, and Jess don’t know what Lorelai’s, Sookie’s, and Rory’s baskets contain, there is doubt and uncertainty about the status of their relationships. This is a nice example of food conveying a larger message — framing the action and serving as a catalyst for future events.
No, I can’t pick a favorite episode. Maybe it’s the small moments I love best: Rory spelling out “Happy Birthday” in Mallomars on the kitchen table, Logan renting a coffee cart to win Rory’s favor, Rory’s first kiss with Dean in Doose’s Market and then her waving a box of cornstarch while telling Lane, Sookie baking a table full of gourmet desserts for the Yale Bake Sale; Lorelai, Rory and Dean watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” while eating pizza and huge amounts of sickening junk food, Rory and Jess eating street vendor hot dogs in NYC, or the time Rory commissions the world’s largest pizza as a birthday surprise for Lorelai.
In gestures grand and small, in moments tender, comic, and poignant, food is omnipresent in this series, the great communicator tapping into our most primal of instincts, nourishing us and the characters, and ultimately, emerging as a character all its own. Pretty tasty, no? Just be careful about serving spaghetti and meatballs.
TASTY TIDBITS (DID YOU KNOW?)
♥ Alexis Bledel (Rory) and Milo Ventimiglia (Jess) were a real-life couple for three and a half years.
♥ Another actress was originally slated to play Sookie, but because of contractual issues, she had to bow out, so Melissa McCarthy took her place. The original Sookie later appeared as the cellist, Drella.
♥ Scott Patterson (Luke) pitched for minor league baseball for seven years before his acting career took off.
♥ The Stars Hollow Gazebo was also used in “The Music Man.”
♥ Stars Hollow is based on the real town of Washington Depot, Connecticut.
♥ Both Keiko Agena (Lane) and Lauren Graham (Lorelai) were born in Hawai’i.
♥ Spanish is Alexis Bledel’s first language (she learned English when she first started school). “Gilmore Girls” was her first professional acting role.
Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of Jama ‘s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.