The Food-Based Metaphorical Villain Threat

OK, so obviously, not the snappiest title. But there’s this thing I’ve been noticing with increasing frequency in movies, and I don’t have any good name for it, and even TVTropes wasn’t helpful. So I wanted to gauge whether it’s just selection bias of if others have noticed it, too.

The basic setting is this. The hero/protagonist/sometimes just a random character meets the villain while the latter is eating. This is a pre-confrontation meeting; both sides are still playing their cards close to the chest, but both typically know the eventual confrontation is inevitable. The villain will tell the hero (or well, the audience: it’s not always the hero they’re meeting) something about the food they’re eating, how it’s specially prepared in some unique way, and invariably, issue a threat by that. Here’s a recent example from The Peripheral (spoilered in case you haven’t seen it yet):

Corbell Picket: You know the best way to tenderize meat? Well, most folks use a mallet. Its, uh, quick, easy. But messy, too. And the results aren’t guaranteed. That’s why I prefer a brine. A slow, controlled process that alters the very nature of what you consume so it suits your taste. And when you find that perfect brine, it’s almost always guaranteed. Now, recently, I have come to discover someone is in my kitchen fucking up my brine. And I want to know who it is.

It’s not a perfect case, but it shows the whole shtick of using food metaphors as a substitute to talk about some nefarious scheme. It also functions to set up the villain as somebody of a certain sophistication, refined sensibilities and the like. The entry is almost always, ‘most people do x to food item y, but I find…’, followed by some sort of process that’s both against the received wisdom and vaguely cruel. It paints the villain as both thinking outside of the box and willing to do whatever to achieve their ends, while showing some outward sophistication.

It seems to me that this has become exponential in its usage, but I can’t really find anything on it because it’s so vague (and yet, to me, instantly recognizable on screen). Has anybody else noticed this, or is this just an artifact of the sorts of shows I tend to watch? Can you think of any examples? Do you think it’s effective, or cliché? Part of me thinks it’s ripe for a trope reversal, where the hero encounters the villain while eating, going, ‘oh, right, now you’re going to tell me how the lobster doesn’t actually need to be burned alive, but first has to be rendered limb from limb to truly preserve the aroma’…

Sort of Conversational Troping crossed with Food Porn/Gorn.

And occasionally, it’s an ad for how healthy Subway sandwiches are.

Well a sister trope to this is when a hero is with a villain out hunting and the villain is making all sorts of hunting metaphors about him eventually hunting the hero. James Bond’s Moonraker does it, and it was eventually parodied in Venture Brothers.

I don’t think that’s quite what I’m after. So far, the closest I’ve been able to find is like a combination of a nonviolent initial confrontation where the (often wicked cultured) villain expects the hero to dine, perhaps serving them their favorite1. But none of those seem to really capture the air of implied threat while ostensibly talking about how to prepare certain food.

It’s that strange specificity coupled with (what seems to me) a sudden ubiquity that’s made this sort of thing really stand out. But maybe it’s just a result of me chancing on too many such scenes in the recent past… Or has anybody made a similar observation?

1Why yes, I did just waste an hour trawling TVTropes…

In times gone by, we could always spot the villain because he wore a black hat. More recently, he would probably be smoking (heroes never smoke). It amuses me that in the books, James Bond smoked his special Balkan Sobrani cigarettes and could take half a page lighting up. In the films he qit smoking.

Directors want to come up with a way of flagging up the bad guys and one recent trend I have noticed is a closeup of someone masticating - urgh. It may be extreme with someone eating offal, or just noisily chewing gum. Either way, we, the audience, will take an instant dislike.