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Interview: Victoria Grace Elliott on 'Yummy: A History of Desserts'

We chat with the cartoonist about her extraordinary deep dive into human history through our most delicious inventions.

Currently, our kitchen is a mess. We've fallen deep into the pages of Yummy: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliott, and it inspired Lisa to crack into the pots and pans. Through the author's culinary adventure, we've started our own, trying to better understand our food through its legends as well as its flavors. The journey has been rocky but exhilarating. The macarons are getting better by the batch.


With Yummy, Victoria Grace Elliott invites young and old readers to explore those delicious confections we take for granted. Her three Food Sprites (Perri, Fee, and Fada) tear open the pantry and toss all the classics on the table. Through their infectious enthusiasm, the reader investigates the glorious and not-so-glorious humanity that willed cake, cookies, gummies, and more into being.


Victoria's debut graphic novel is a scrumptious and passionate consideration. Reading it without a treat by your side will prove challenging, if not impossible. But its real pleasures reside in the stories that swirl around the desserts. Victoria Grace Elliott is here for the science and the history as much as the tastes. In our love of cake, there is a profound conversation waiting to happen.

And, thankfully, we managed to grab Victoria on the phone. Brad chats with the author about the warm cheer that seeps from every panel. They discuss the necessity for the Food Sprites, how their character reflects Victoria's character, and why food discourse can cause a person's global perception to expand tremendously.


This conversation was edited for length and clarity, but if you would like to hear the entire thing, you can join our Patreon. At the $1 level, you'll have instant access to over fifty bonus episodes, including dozens of unedited creator interviews like this one.

 

Brad: There is this scene in Yummy, where Perri the Food Sprite is conducting an interview with Fannie Farmer, or in actuality, Fee the Food Sprite in character as Fannie Farmer, and she has this moment where she sort of breaks down emotionally, because she's just so excited to be talking food with this person. This sequence feels like you, or at least, it feels like the emotional headspace you're occupying.


Victoria: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot of things Perri does, that's my emotional space. And I think for me, what that moment is, is that Fannie Farmer really loves food and the way that feeds Fee, who's playing Fannie Farmer, right? The way she's talking about food, Perri's like, this is it. This is the way people need to talk about food, and that's also how I feel. So, that's very much like, my emotions coming out as well.


Brad: And what I love about that conversation is, it's happening with Fannie Farmer, the mother of level measurements. And it's approaching desserts and food, from a place that often doesn't really get celebrated, the science behind it.


Victoria: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, with Yummy I definitely wanted to focus on, yeah, the sciencey aspects and the cultural context around food.


Brad: How did you develop the narrative around this desire? How did you decide what to include, who to celebrate, what to touch on?


Victoria: Well, I guess, in doing the research, I definitely had the different desserts I wanted to focus on, or that I was really just curious about. And as it went on, I've always had strong philosophies about food, and food and narrative. Focusing on the importance of food both as a personal thing and something that's culturally important, but not necessarily something that has a moral attached to it. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's this idea - we love food, we love celebrating with food. And that's always something I've loved.

Image Credit: © 2021 Random House Graphic

Brad: I think for me, when you hear that there is going to be a graphic novel about desserts, you go like, "Oh, that's cute, that's cool. I love desserts, I want to learn more about desserts. I bet that'll be fun." But the true joy for me in reading Yummy, was how you quickly realize in the narrative, what celebrating and understanding food encompasses. It does deal with science, it does deal with history, it does deal with colonialization and human horror.


Victoria: Yeah. The important thing is, we have all these narratives in the way we talk about food. And it's like, that's part of the celebration, the stories we tell each other about food, the legends, the Storytime [sections in the book]. That's as important in some ways as the actual facts behind it, because it's the mythology of food as well as it is the actual food. Right? I always love stories that are about putting food in a cultural context, or taking it a little bit deeper. And that's definitely what I want the Sprites to do.


I think the Sprites also helped to add that human element to the story. It could have easily just been something that was like, info-dumps about these different desserts. But I wanted to have the Sprites there to give a little bit of character to everything.


Brad: And where do the sprites come from? Obviously Perri is a little bit of you, but you have Fee and Fada, who I'm sure incorporate some of your own personality there as well. How did you know you were going to need three of them?


Victoria: As you do the research, you stumble upon the legends that are really interesting. And then, you go, "Oh, it would be interesting to talk to this historical figure." I remember toying with the idea of it, almost being Wishbone, where one character goes into the past. But I was like, "I don't totally feel comfortable representing a real person in a real way." So, I think that's where, "Oh, well, we'll have one Sprite who's kind of an actress and she goes in, and she does the research and she plays this character for Perri to interview. And then with Fada, I knew right off the bat that I wanted to have science, somebody who talked about science in it. I can imagine how this would be funny, or how this character would add charm to it in this way.


Brad: I think you recognizes their function early on in the book, but as move through the narrative, you start to also recognize their individual characters, their personality.


Victoria: Yeah, yeah. Fada is science-minded too. You meet people like that in real life who are like, "I'm logical and I don't buy into things that are fiction." That's his character, he has a subtle character arc throughout the book. He starts off being very into science and very into the literal, and every time Perri does her Storytimes, he's kind of, "I don't believe any of this." But by the end, he's really invested in the stories, and he sort of learned why it's important, right?


Brad: There's also another aspect of Yummy where we'll never know the whole truth, but in investigating the legends behind the creation myths, there is something to hold onto. And there is a respect toward humanity that can be achieved through those legends.


Victoria: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what I was going for, so I'm glad that came through. That's fun, that's why we tell these stories, and especially since this is, technically for younger readers, people that age are getting those kinds of stories all the time. And so it's giving them the tools. Okay, you may hear these stories and these are fun to tell each other, but yeah, you need to investigate it a little bit more. They're still worth telling, because I don't think we're ever going to stop telling fun stories about historical figures, right? But, it's kind of facilitating, "Okay, but what can we learn from it? What's the cultural conversation that's going on? Why do we continue to tell the story?"

 

Yummy: A History of Desserts is now available from Random House Graphic. Make sure to follow Victoria Grace Elliott on Twitter and Instagram. You can also stay up to date on her projects by visiting her website. And if you'd like to hear the rest of this conversation, please consider supporting our Patreon. The un-edited discussion is available at the $1 level.