Sunday, 20 January 2013

James Bond and scrambled eggs

According to Elizabeth Hale, author of 'James Bond and the Art of Eating Eggs', published in the journal Gastronomica (2012, vol. 84), Bond's egg consumption symbolises Bond's “identity as an individualist, as an ordinary but discerning consumer, and as an agent of life and death”. Given how prolifically eggs feature in the Bond novels, it is little wonder that the subject of Bond's egg consumption has attracted academic comment. Elizabeth Hale's paper makes a useful contribution to our understanding of the food of James Bond, still largely ignored in the films and only recently subject to analysis (also click here for details of a recent seminar on Bond's food).

As Elizabeth Hale reminds us, eggs appear in every James Bond novel. And Bond eats them every which way – scrambled, boiled, fried, baked, poached, as well as made into omelettes and sauces. Judging from how frequently they're mentioned, scrambled eggs appear to be Bond's favourite. He eats them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and indeed in the first draft of Live and Let Die, Bond eats scrambled eggs so often that a proof-reader suggested that Bond's habits would be a security risk. Fleming changed the menus accordingly, but even then Bond's consumption might seem excessive; for instance, he eats scrambled eggs for dinner on the train from Pennsylvania, then chooses them again for breakfast the next morning. So closely is scrambled eggs associated with Bond, that Bond's recipe for the dish appears in the 1963 short story, '007 in New York' (although an earlier form of the recipe appeared under Fleming's name without mention of Bond in a 1961 cookbook, Celebrity Cooking for You). However, Bond must eat other forms of eggs almost as much. At home, Bond has a boiled egg for breakfast, and during his later adventures, he appears to develop a particular taste for poached eggs.

The origin of Bond's egg habits can naturally be found in Ian Fleming, who was just as avid a consumer. This much is clear from the correspondence of both Ian Fleming and his wife, Ann. Writing to Ann from New York in 1946, Ian refers to the fried eggs he's been enjoying, while in a letter written in 1948, Ann, describing Ian's and her time at their Jamaican residence, Goldeneye, mentions that they had scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee for breakfast. Eggs must have been cooked often, as she recalls that Ian would start a typical day by telling their maid, Violet, how he wanted his eggs. In further reminiscences, Ann reveals that on picnics in Jamaica, the couple and guests would take boiled eggs, and in a note written during their travels in France in 1953, Ann wrote that Ian would always order his omelette “trĂ©s baveuse”, or very runny. Ian Fleming said that “scrambled eggs never let you down”, but in a letter that he wrote in 1955 while at Goldeneye to Ann, he admitted that he ate a breakfast of bad scrambled eggs. It reveals something of Ian's love of eggs that just in a small selection of Ann and Ian's correspondence, four types of cooked eggs are mentioned.

This background to Bond's egg consumption is recognised in Elizabeth Hale's paper, which focuses on two Bond novels to illustrate the nature of Bond's individualism and identity, and the symbolism of eggs. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Hale suggests, eggs are a source of Bond's power – he fortifies himself for the tasks ahead by eating scrambled eggs – and highlight Bond's plain, but discerning, habits, in this case against the gluttony and luxury of Piz Gloria. In addition, Blofeld's plan to destroy food production (including eggs) in England is an attack on Bond's identity as an Englishman. In Thunderball, eggs are symbolic of Bond's role as a man and killer. Hale points to the moment when Bond receives his orders to combat SPECTRE and recover the stolen atomic bombs. Bond returns home, discards the diet of muesli and other health foods he's been living off since his spell at Shrublands, and orders his housekeeper May to prepare bacon, eggs, coffee and toast. Bond requires eggs and other 'dead foods' to retain his masculinity and maintain his resolve to defeat evil.

Elizabeth Hale's analysis is interesting and offers much, I hesitate to say, food for thought. Perhaps the ultimate 'hidden meaning' is that Bond's egg consumption reflects Ian Fleming's own complex relationship with eggs. Bond's diet mirrors that of his creator, but it also freed Fleming, at least in his imagination, from the restrictions (including a ban on eggs) imposed on his diet during his later years when his health was failing.

References

Amory, M, 1985 The letters of Ann Fleming
Biddulph, E, 2009 “Bond was not a gourmet”: an archaeology of James Bond's diet, Food, Culture and Society 12.2, 131-40
Biddulph, E, 2010 Licence to Cook: recipes inspired by Ian Fleming's James Bond 

Chancellor, H, 2005 James Bond: the man and his world
Hale, E, 2012, James Bond and the Art of Eating Eggs, Gastronomica 84, 84-90
Gilbert, J, 2012 Ian Fleming: the bibliography

2 comments:

  1. Just heading out to try to find some good Salmon Roe for my Burns night supper this Saturday. {Bond and Sean and to be my theme for my Toast to the Lads} . Surely Bond must enjoy scrambled eggs and caviar somewhere in the books; with toast points. Eggs ontop of everything is very epicurean at the moment - despite the "Bondis not a gourmet" bibliography = and I think - always big in Asia. Bond and Fleming seem to know that Eggs are a healthy protein to start the day. I think it was the Booze and Cigarettes that did poor Fleming in, not the eggs. ps lots of new egg gagets available these days as well. Got a poacher tool for xmas.

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    1. Hi, thanks for getting in touch. Salmon roe sounds good - Bond would approve. I don't think Bond ever combines scrambled egg with caviar, but he is served chopped hard-boiled egg with caviar in one of the books (can't remember which offhand). You're right that the booze and cigarettes that did for Fleming, but I guess that a high egg consumption was regarded as bad. Good luck with the poacher (and Burns night!).

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