Do wizards need nutrition advice? If there is a Department of Health at the Ministry of Magic, it doesn’t seem to be concerned with dietary recommendations: candy and sweets are among the most visible “foods” in both the book series and the films. While chocolate covered frogs, every flavor beans and cauldron cakes are frequently mentioned, “butterbeer” (a sweet, butterscotch flavoured drink) stands out as a popular “sweet” that is emblematic of the central role that sugar-filled food and drinks play in the narrative. Evoked in relation to social occasions, celebrations, and holidays in the book series and films, butterbeer has extended beyond the texts and emerged as an important element of fan culture at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida. Consuming this cold (or frozen) drink has become a central feature of the tourist experience. But what does it mean to taste the Harry Potter Universe through sweets, specifically butterbeer?
Consuming food and drink associated with the stories and films offers audiences/fans a unique way to engage with the narrative through a sensory experience: fans can taste what the characters taste. But why has butterbeer, in particular, become the drink that connects fans to narrative? Perhaps because it is not entirely magical (i.e. imaginary), but a recognizable soft drink-type beverage that offers “comfort” in terms of its taste pleasing sugar content, as well as its ability to evoke the magical child-like spirit of the Harry Potter narratives. By definition, “comfort food” is one that “affords solace; hence, any food (freq. with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking” (OED online, 2016). Here, sentimental memories of childhood evoked by food are characterized as having distinct nutritional profiles linked to sugar. The association between childhood and sweets is thoroughly human, but apparently applies to wizards as well, which raises questions about the ways in which health and nutrition are depicted in the books and films, which is to say not at all. This may not be a problem for wizard bodies upon which calories don’t appear to have an impact, but not so for the human ones.