Wizard Food: sweets, butterbeer, and childhood tastes

Curator's Note

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.


This is really interesting stuff. My friend and colleague Leisa Clark wrote her MA thesis about food in the Potterverse. Her analysis doesn't include the specificity of butterbeer (and, it was written pre WWoHP), and it's really interesting to consider the implications for the continued (textual) prizing of sweets and that translation to the fan experience. Leisa and I are collecting chapters for a book about convergence culture and Potter post-canon books/films. I would love to have you submit a proposal about this subject! If you're interested, please shoot me an email at: ConvergencePotter@gmail.com.

Enlightening analysis! I’ve never thought about HP food per se, but it totally makes sense! I am researching Game of Thrones’ fans’ experience, and I believe it is going to face similar issues: Game of Thrones’ wines are going out soon, and the focus is on the fans’ experience (rather, on expanding the franchise and getting fans to purchase its merchandizing) with no word on health-related issues. These two examples very much relate to Roland Barthes’ Myth and prove him still contemporary!

Hi Emily. This is a fascinating topic I've not thought too much about before, but it's clearly an important one to consider. It's interesting that sweets are mentioned (albeit briefly) in Cursed Child too, so there's a continuing link there. Also, you can get hot Butterbeer at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford, UK, during the winter, which really accords with your comments about butterbeer as comfort food. Have you written about these topics in greater detail anywhere else? Would be fascinating to read!

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