In one of her many interviews, JKR said that wizards generally live longer than Muggles. After a thorough research about food in the Harry Potter universe and, above all, its magical part, the only possible conclusion is that wizards don’t have problems with cholesterol, otherwise their life span would be considerably shorter than that of the average Muggle. It has to be stated as a premise, however, that what the reader sees of Hogwarts food is shown to him through the eyes of Harry. There is no evidence whatsoever of the same dishes being prepared for the Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Hufflepuff house tables and neither does what Harry sees necessarily have to be the complete picture. We are told that, during the start of term feast in GF12, Ron accidentally sprays Harry with bits of Yorkshire pudding, replying to what Hermione says with his mouth full; Hermione, in GF13, is referred to as “doling beef casserole onto each of their plates” and speaking with “her mouth bulging with sprouts” during her hasty meals before hurrying to the library to do research on house-elves. These are hints, but not stringent proof, that all the students at all four tables do likewise. So the following observations are mostly based on Harry’s impressions.
Let’s have a look at what Hogwarts students are served at lunch, dinner and feasts (excluding Christmas).
Pumpkin juice seems to be the only drink, water is never mentioned for meals (although Harry had a drink of water when he woke up in the middle of the night).
Roast beef, roast chicken, fried sausages, stew, casserole, tripe (which McGonagall ironically offers Trelawney in PA), pork chops, shepherd’s pie, steak, Cornish pasties, lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, steak and kidney pudding, steak and kidney pie, black pudding, sandwiches (chicken and ham, for Harry and Ron in CS5); bread, marshmallows and crumpets (Harry and Ron roast them over the common room fire during the Christmas holidays in PS12), baked pumpkin (at Halloween), roast potatoes, jacket potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, sprouts, carrots, gravy, ketchup, custard tart, mint humbugs, ice cream, apple pies, treacle tart, spotted dick, chocolate éclairs, chocolate gateau, jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, and rice pudding. An impressive list of heavy, traditional British food. Only in GF14, when the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrive, two non-British dishes appear on the tables: Bouillabaisse and “some kind of strange blancmange”.
Breakfast is a little healthier, it becomes more understandable, though, why the students mostly sleep in Professor Binns’ classes: porridge, rolls, orange juice, kippers, eggs and bacon, toast, buttered toast with jam, corn flakes. Again, no fresh fruit, no yoghurt…
And then, there are of course the Christmas treats: turkey, chipolatas, thick rich gravy, cranberry sauce, turkey sandwiches (for tea), Christmas pudding, eggnogg, crumpets, trifle, Christmas cake. And when it gets really cold in the winter, the house-elves supply teachers and students with warming stews and savoury puddings—no wonder that Fleur Delacour criticizes “zis ‘eavy ‘ogwarts food”, which might also be regarded as evidence by an objective witness that not only Harry is giving us a comprehensive view, but also that identical food is served at least at the Ravenclaw and the Gryffindor tables.
On the whole, it seems that Hogwarts students are never given fish, rice, pasta, salad or fresh fruit, except for the odd strawberry now and then, to mention only the most evident lacks. It is up to the reader to imagine how teachers and students manage to stay awake during afternoon classes with their stomachs full of steak and kidney pie and trifle. No little amount of imagination is required to explain why there are so few obese wizards and how come that they are not suffering from constant lack of vitamins, various heart diseases, glycaemia, strokes and other dreaded consequences of unbalanced diets.
For this massive assault of calories and cholesterol, students can prepare themselves already in Diagon Alley at Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, where they can choose from a wide range of differently flavoured ice creams and sundaes (among them peanut butter, coconut, strawberry with and without chopped nuts) and on the Hogwarts Express. Neither is there any danger of eventually ingesting some healthy food during Hogsmeade weekends.
The lunch trolley on the train and Honeydukes’ offer the following, mouth-watering articles: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, chocolate frogs, pumpkin pasties, cauldron cakes, Liquorice Wands, Pepper Imps, chocolate balls full of strawberry mousse and clotted cream, Sugar Quills, tooth flossing string mints, Jelly Slugs, nougat, coconut ice, toffees, Fizzing Whizbees, ice mice, peppermint toads, blood flavoured lollipops, Cockroach Cluster, fudge flies, Acid Pops, sherbet balls, pumpkin tart and ice creams and sundaes of various flavours. (The Cockroach Cluster is the only Monty Python citation I recognized in the books!) [chocolate frogs are also a Monty Python reference…same sketch! –ed.]
After so many sweets, a wizard needs a drink and goes to the Three Broomsticks, where Madam Rosmerta will serve him or her Butterbeer, Red Currant Rum, Gillywater, cherry syrup and soda with ice and umbrella and mulled mead.
If the food at Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and on the train is life-threatening, wizards at least are reasonable enough to cut back a little on alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are mentioned very rarely—there is Hagrid who evidently gets drunk from time to time, Draco tells Harry so when they first meet at Madam Malkin’s (PS5), and this rumour is confirmed in PA, when Hagrid tries to drown his grief on Buckbeak’s behalf in large tankards full of what we can suppose to be either Ogden’s Old Firewhisky or mulled mead. Firewhisky is used in GF10 to restore Mrs. Weasley’s shattered nerves after the Quidditch World Cup, Gilderoy Lockhart has other preferences for his birthday present, but wouldn’t say no to a bottle of Ogden’s.
Butterbeer seems to be only very slightly alcoholic (at least enough to knock out Winky the house-elf), but is allowed to the students on their Hogsmeade weekends. On special occasions, like the dinner before the Quidditch World Cup, the grownups drink elderflower wine and, at Christmas, eggnog is served at the staff table of Hogwarts.
Alcohol is definitely not too popular in the wizarding world and when we first meet the Death Eaters, having “fun” with the Roberts after the Quidditch World Cup, Mr. Weasleysuspects them of having drunk too much. The effects of alcohol, unless it is used as medicine, are represented as clearly embarrassing or downright negative: Hagrid, after exaggerating with the eggnog at the Christmas feast in PS12, kisses a blushing and giggling McGonagall on the cheek, he cuts a rather piteous figure in PA and has to sober himself up holding his head into the water barrel, and the Death Eaters are certainly an example for, if not alcohol-induced, at least alcohol-enhanced violence.
Students have to stick to pumpkin juice, orange juice at breakfast and there is also milk on the breakfast table, but obviously not for drinking (at least it is never mentioned that any of the students does), probably they pour it over the cornflakes.
And then there is of course tea: Surprisingly not at breakfast, but as “social drink”, mostly in the afternoon: Harry, Ron and Hermione have tea several times with Hagrid, Harry drinks tea with Lupin, at Christmas, there is no dinner but some kind of High Tea, Minister Fudge has tea with Harry at the beginning of PA at the Leaky Cauldron, Percy precipitously offers his boss, Mr.Crouch, a cup of tea at the Quidditch World Cup.
Then, we have two examples of “individual cooking” with various degrees of success. Hagrid doesn’t seem to be much of a chef; his treacle fudge is so sticky that it cements together even Fang’s jaws and neither his baking (rock cakes and bath buns), nor his stoat sandwiches or his alleged beef casserole (containing a large talon) leave the trio very enthusiastic, whereas Mrs. Weasley does a much better job of her cooking: home made fudge, home baked mince pies, Christmas cake and nut brittle regularly accompany her Christmas presents to her children, and at the Burrow, where breakfast is pretty much like at Hogwarts, she prepares a wonderful dinner of chicken and ham pie, boiled potatoes, salad and home made strawberry ice cream before the Quidditch World Cup. An interesting detail is that for once, we are allowed to witness the process of magical cooking, which might be easier as the Sauce Béchamel comes directly out of her wand, but even if you are a witch, things may burn if you lack attention, and the cauliflower shrivels if your husband doesn’t arrive for dinner in time.
Sirius definitely seems to be the healthiest of wizards, apart from the fact that as a dog he has to eat rats, but when Harry finally brings him and then sends him food by owl, he gets chicken drumsticks, bread, pumpkin juice, ham, cakes and- you won’t believe it!- fruit.
Before leaving the wizarding part of the Potter universe and looking more closely at the Muggles’ eating and drinking habits, there are two more categories worth mentioning: Animal food and ghost food.
In the first four books, we learn about “normal” and magical animals. As far as the first category is concerned, there are only very few mentions of what they eat, obviously because they don’t have different appetites in the Potter universe: Sirius lives on rats while he is hiding as a dog outside Hogsmeade (GF), Crookshanks craves spiders and rats (well, Wormtail, but anyway) and owls go hunting (only little Pigwidgeon gets an owl treat from time to time).
Magical animals, on the other hand, have slightly disgusting, if not bizarre ways of nurturing themselves. A bucket of brandy mixed with chicken blood every half hour is what makes baby dragons grow strong and healthy, so that they can finally pass to a more consistent diet of dead rats, eaten by the crate. Flobberworms are best fed shredded lettuce, however in small amounts, otherwise they might be in danger of a premature death (PA). Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, seems to be quite happy when served sufficient quantities of dead ferrets (CONSTANT VIGILANCE, Draco!!) and a varied diet of ant eggs, frog livers and grass snake will obtain astonishing results with Blast Ended Skrewts, whereas the Beauxbatons horses are a little more stylish- they drink exclusively Single Malt Whisky.
Ghosts cannot eat, but if food has been exposed to natural rotting processes long enough, it seems that they are at least able to catch some of its aroma: rotten fish, cakes burned charcoal black, maggoty haggis, cheese covered in furry green mould, cake with grey icing and peanuts covered in fungus are the savoury dishes Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington offers his guests at the Deathday Party (CS8).
Adding the African wizards roasting what seems to be a rabbit over a violet fire (GF7), we may now leave the wizarding world and dedicate our attention to Muggle cooking. With very few exceptions, it is exemplified by what Mrs. Dursley prepares for her loved ones and, surprise, surprise, it explains all too well why Dudley resembles a baby whale and Uncle Vernonis porky: Baby Dudley eats cereals, breakfast consists of bacon (PS2, CS1), fried eggs (PS2) and toast (PA2), accompanied with tea (PA2, GF3). Only when Dudley finally has to lose weight is breakfast drastically reduced to a quarter of a grapefruit each (GF3). The same goes for their diet lunch, consisting of cottage cheese and grated celery.
We have two examples of dinners, one for Uncle Vernon’s business partner (CS1, CS2) and the other for Aunt Marge (PA2). The latter is just described as “fancy dinner”, washed down with wine and followed by coffee and brandy, while the former has roast pork as the main course and the famous cake covered in whipped cream and sugared violets as dessert. This dinner, too, is followed by coffee and after dinner mints.
This in itself would be enough to shape Vernon’s and Dudley’s exuberant forms, but the final touch is added by various snacks, beginning with Dudley’s favourites: fizzy drinks, burgers (to be eliminated from the fridge when his diet starts) and ice cream (including first a large chocolate ice cream and then one and a half knickerbocker glory at the zoo, PS2). To gain enough strength for his daily responsibilities at Grunnings, Uncle Vernon has to eat doughnuts (PS) and fruit cake. Only when he is in a state of total panic, trying to escape the flood of letters from Hogwarts, does food become of secondary importance to him. For the night in the hut, he treats his family to a package of crisps and a banana each, which won’t fill ickle Duddydums’ stomach after a breakfast of stale cornflakes, toast, and cold tinned tomatoes at the Railview Hotel (PS3).
Harry mostly eats with the Dursleys, but they never give him enough and things get worse when he is punished: in CS1 he has to be satisfied with two slices of bread and a lump of cheese after a day of hard work in house and garden and when they lock him in his room, all he gets for dinner is tinned soup which Petunia doesn’t even bother to warm up (CS2).
Food descriptions create atmosphere in JKR’s books: PS is the book that contains most of them, followed by CS, GF and PA. But the reader’s impressions are not evoked by what would seem the most obvious of the five senses to be connected with food, namely the olfactory, it is the colour that makes us feel the warmth and comfort of Hogwarts’ Great Hall, the floating candles casting their yellow light, the golden plates, the orange pumpkin juice and the colours of the dishes that range from green (sprouts, peas) over orange and yellow (carrots, boiled potatoes, Yorkshire pudding) to the various shades of brown of the grilled meat, a touch of dark red is added by the ketchup. The white linen tablecloths take on a yellow shade in the candlelight, so that the feeling we get is that of Dutch baroque paintings—definitely unhealthy, but emanating cosiness and comfort, things that Harry has sorely missed until he finally enters the world of magic. Apart from the fact that too many repetitions would be redundant, it certainly is no coincidence that PS is literally loaded with descriptions of dinners and feasts and that PA, which is the “coldest” book in the series, contains a very small number of gastronomic details, except for the sweet shop and pub at Hogsmeade.