When Food Attacks

A look at the relationship Lister and the crew have to their meals - killer kebabs and all.

The relationship between the Red Dwarf crew and food has always been a volatile one. Sometimes it goes missing, sometimes it flies through the air, and on (very) odd occasions it tries to outright kill them. It's a worrying state of affairs.

Traditionally, food is often used as part of a celebration, and in this, at least, the Dwarfers are relatively normal. Rimmer was given a deathday cake in the shape of a spanner, because he had been a technician. Thank heavens he wasn't a gynaecologist.

When Food Attacks

Examples of celebration food are littered throughout the eight series. Kryten's lovingly prepared anniversary lobster (AKA 'scuttling thing a la monkey wrench'), or the boiled chicken ovulations he treats himself to after becoming human in DNA, show a mechanoid who believes that eating equals happy.

Not a huge surprise, really - he has learned from the masters. Rimmer celebrated having a body twice in Series III - at the end of Timeslides, and from inside Lister's in Bodyswap - and both times his first instincts were to eat. The consumption of Hitler's banana-and-crisps sandwich massively outdone by the cream buns, Mimian bladder fish and face-first mashed potato. Also, these guys did organise a final meal with a mechanoid menu in The Last Day.

Likewise, food can console the miserable, as with Kochanski's tin of peaches in Duct Soup, which must surely be only small consolation for the lack of cottage cheese with pineapple chunks in; or the flying sweet of Nanarchy, which must have meant even less to Lister after the loss of his arm. (An injury which, Kryten notes, has also robbed him of the joy of 'dunking biccies' in his tea.)

Similarly, in the second series Rimmer attempts to rehabilitate himself following his own death by having a crack at cooking, and Lister is left sad and alone at the end of Tikka to Ride: Extended with only his curry for company.

Food is also used in Red Dwarf as an indicator of character. What you choose to eat speaks volumes about who you are. The Cat's eating habits, for example, include eating the cereal Krispies... without a spoon. He juggles his food, plays with it, otherwise it gets boring. Oh, and when ordering fish, why stop at five? For the Cat, more is more.

Lister, obviously, has incurable curry-aholism. He likes his cornflakes with grated raw onion on them - anything to get to his sole remaining taste bud. And he nicks gear from the medical unit - sample bottles, embryo refrigeration unit, scalpels - to avoid using plastic cutlery.

More interesting, though, is his preference for triple fried-egg sandwiches with chilli sauce and chutney. As Rimmer notes, the sandwich is Lister - all the ingredients are 'wrong', but together, for some reason, they work. Lister is what he eats.

When Food Attacks

Elsewhere, our first glimpses of the dangerous hallucinations Confidence and Paranoia show both of their personalities visually before they even speak - it's in the dress, the make-up, but also what they're doing - eating. Confidence is tucking into a glorious fry up, Paranoia is playing with a sloppy yoghurt.

Likewise, different versions of the crew themselves show their characteristics in their choice of edibles. The evil 'Low' crew have a fridge that would make even the hardened space bum's stomach churn - cinema hot-dogs and sweaty kebabs with stringy brown lettuce. Meanwhile, the future crew of Out of Time have been indulging in the most rare - and morally questionable - meals the world has to offer, including dolphin sweetmeats, roast suckling elephant and baby seal hearts stuffed with dove paté. Yikes!

Still, with all this indulgence, the message of the show still comes through loud and clear - heath food sucks. Nobody, not even the figure-conscious Kochanski, has expressed any interest at all in muesli, vegetables or high-energy drinks. Unless lager counts. How would they persuade a T-rex to eat roughage when they can't even get Lister to eat that stuff?

Witness Lister's repulsion at the raw carrot in Legion (even though Kryten had cunningly carved it into a new shape) - or, even worse, the nightmare diet he had to go on following Rimmer's indulgences with his body in Bodyswap. A lettuce leaf and a carrot - and he's on it for six months! One suspects he didn't last that long... even if Kryten did keep disguising it.

Then there's dining as a mode of power. He who wields the spatula, wields control. Maybe. After all, Lister's attempt to pass the chef's exam was entirely designed to make him out-rank Rimmer. And poor Rimmer puts his entire lack of career success down to one simple incident - the day he sent his gazpacho soup back from the captain's table because it was cold. Mind you, his attempts to scale those heights in Back in the Red included tapping into the captain's nostalgia and hunger - bringing him a blueberry muffin "just like Martha used to make" seemed to seal his status as golden boy.

When Food Attacks

Those in power also control the way others deal with food. Lister's diet under Queeg's nightmare regime was reduced, in one instance, to a pea on toast. And he lost the pea into his dirty sock basket. Still, it beats being forced to peel potatoes - even with the aid of a programmable virus - in Pete. Similarly, when Kryten believed he out-ranked Lister in Out of Time, one of his first actions was to demand snacks in the cockpit. Lister's offering was pitiful - he hadn't used a set-square for the triangular sandwiches, and the chocolate finger display was laughable.

This eating thing can be a dangerous game, though. No matter how sophisticated we think we are - and by sophisticated, I only mean human, so Lister just about qualifies - the instinct to eat is primal, and can lead us into trouble every bit as much as the mouse who can't resist the cheese on the trap.

In Legion the crew are lured into staying with a psychotic gestalt entity. Their every need is catered for. Caviar nibblets and bucks fizz for breakfast, and sugar puff sandwiches on a silver platter in Lister's quarters. Just as Pete the dinosaur was enticed with a cow vindaloo, and Hudzen seemed like a more impressive droid because of the speed at which he could roast a chicken, so our boys are sucked in by simple foodstuffs. (Although the 'power sauce' of Back in the Red actually proved helpful.)

In a wider context, this is also true for their other... needs. Lister, after all, couldn't help but become involved with the adulterous Cashier Number 4 when she lay back on a crate of tinned asparagus. Ace couldn't help but agree to Mellie in Dimension Jump covered in maple syrup. (He did, however, turn down Bongo, his superior officer, when he offered to cover himself in taramasalata - even when he upped the offer to hummus.) And the less said about the Cat's family-sized tub of banana yoghurt, or Rimmer's mum and the alphabetti spaghetti, the better.

Enticing as it may be, when the Dwarfers actually get interactive with their meals, it often ends messily - or even homicidally! On the gross side we have Lister being remote-controlled to eat a live tarantula in Demons and Angels, or the maggot-ridden strawberry from the same episode.

When Food Attacks

Oh, if only that were the worst of it. For if there is one universal truth in Red Dwarf, it's that nobody eats without paying the price. Stranded in Marooned with minimal supplies, it was only a matter of time before Lister had to do the unthinkable and eat dog food. (Still, he had already tried tea made with dog's milk by that time.) But still it gets worse as, in Legion, he is seen tucking into grilled space weevil.

Not nasty enough? Okay, how about the fact that, in his first moments out of stasis, Lister starts tucking into the little piles of white powder that litter the ship. The little piles of white powder that represent all that is left of crew members destroyed by a nuclear explosion. And if this necro-tarianism weren't enough, how about Kryten's improvised supper in twentieth century Dallas in Tikka to Ride? Eric White may have been a victim in life, but in death he was a between-meals snack that definitely ruined your appetite.

Even when the food itself is pretty good, its behaviour can leave a lot to be desired. Magnificent though Legion's Mimosian banquet was, it was hard to tell when using anti-matter chopsticks. The food, if you could even get it to land, was as likely to land on Rimmer as in your mouth - and even if you managed to swallow it, there was still no guarantee that once would be enough.

When Food Attacks

Even vending machines are dangerous things, prone to malfunction at the best of times, and potentially lethal at the worst. The ordering of a shake and a crispie bar in Bodyswap sets off Red Dwarf's self destruct system. Lister's lucky he didn't order a double cheeseburger. No wonder the psiren disguised itself as a cola machine.

You mess with a vending machine on Red Dwarf at your peril. Simply stealing a chocolate bar, as Rimmer did in Only the Good, may seem innocent enough - plus, well, making an enemy of a device designed to distribute packets of chocolate-covered raisins isn't the most troubling thing you can experience - but these machines have long memories. Turn your back for a second, even as the ship decays around you, and you might just get a cola can to the back of the head.

In prison, Cat's head has been forced into a slot dispensing hot Bovril - which was at least much worse than attempting to steal Big Meat's fries (and the rest) in Only The Good. Usually such a transgression would leave the inmate a bloody pulp on the floor - this time, it was taken as a show of bravado. Big Meat became the Cat's bitch and the feline was left without the injuries he so desperately needed.

Yet all of this is peanuts (the type not found in a dead space captain's donkey jacket) to the worst kind of Red Dwarf meal of all - the kind that tries to kill you. We start, of course, with polymorphs. These creatures know your weak spots and shape-shift to suit them. It's not even remotely surprising, therefore, that an Emohawk would disguise itself as a tin of Beinz Baked Beans to lure in its prey.

Worse still was the attack of the killer kebab. Far from being the title of one of Lister's favourite straight-to-video B-movies, this kebab attempted to strangle its would-be consumer. It also sneezed when he put pepper on it.

When Food Attacks

But the nastiest of all has to be from DNA. The discovery of a machine that can alter life-forms at a genetic level leads to the usual mishaps - culminating in a test where Holly attempts to convert a vindaloo. Unfortunately, she converts it into the mutton vindaloo beast - half man, half extra-hot Indian curry.

This rampaging monster chases our boys down exactly twelve months after Lister faced the killer kebab. How can the same smeg happen to the same guy twice? Eventually it was destroyed with the only thing that can kill a vindaloo - lager.

So there it is. Whether they be searching the universe for an edible Pot Noodle, or just saying it with flour, there's nothing quite like the catering aboard Red Dwarf.

And we never even mentioned toast... smeg.

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