Snow White

Feeding the Imagination: Food in Fairy Tales

Feeding the Imagination: Food in Fairy TalesBy Derek Newman-Stille

“Change Within and Without” by Derek Newman-Stille

Food provides an important role in fairy tales and food frequently had transformative powers. Food is something that links people together. It is something that human beings share – a need to eat. We link food to celebrations that mark the passages of time. Food is frequently linked to our expression of our ethnicity and our culture. Food can also be a means of establishing difference and foods are frequently used as a way of expressing discrimination – for example, calling Germans “Krauts”, The French “Frogs”. Food can be a marker of discriminatory difference and what we enjoy eating is culturally defined.

Tales about fairies frequently feature food, with the caveat of warning that when people enter into the fairy realm, they should never eat fairy food, no matter how appetizing it seems to be. Eating fairy food can forever force people to stay in the fairy realm. In this way, food is linked to space and place, with food becoming an anchor where it becomes literally a part of the body. There is an ingesting of part of the fairy realm that occurs and that realm becomes part of the human guest. Food has the power to change people. 
Yet, it is also considered rude not to offer food. Fairy tales frequently centre around curses that have resulted from not offering a beggar food. Frequently powerful beings take the form of people in need of food in order to test the generosity of a hero. Food represents a bond between person who offers food and the person who receives it, linking them in social custom and tying them together through the notion of “the gift” and of the friendship between guest and host.

Food has a form of magic in fairy tales, a power to evoke changes. In “Cinderella”, food, in the form of a pumpkin, becomes a vessel of change, literally changing into a carriage to carry her to her new life. Cinderella enters into the body of the pumpkin, being swallowed by it in a reversal of the expected consumer-consumed relationship. It is part of her transformation and it is similarly a figure of change, converting to a pumpkin at midnight just as she transforms. It is a companion on her voyage to change.

Yet, many fairy tales feature the idea of food as a threat. They explore the power of food to potentially feed, but also to potentially kill. Snow White is a tale of an apple. The apple is so much a part of Snow that she has white skin like the inside of an apple and apple red lips. Yet the apple becomes a symbol of death rather than life, imbued with poison. Snow White is a tale of the ripening of youth and the experience of age. The apple given to Snow is, like the queen herself, all appearance. It is made to be beautiful to conceal a dark centre of poison. 

And the apple, like the pumpkin is a fruit of transformation. The apple provides a gateway for Snow White into eternal sleep. It is a symbol of the complicated nature of food – both as something that can sustain life and also, through poison or disease, something that can take life away.

Jack in the Beanstalk is a tale of transformative beans. Jack, in hunger, exchanges one source of food (a cow) for another (three magic beans). Yet the beans provide the roots for a tale of transformation. They grow deep in the ground and up into the clouds, providing a geographic gateway for Jack into a different realm and a change of circumstances. The beans are rooted in place in Jack’s world, but their stalks provide movement to a different place. Jack is able to life in two spaces through the beanstalk’s ability to suspend itself, bridge-like, between these two places.

Hunger is something that frequently serves as motivation in fairy tales, propelling protagonists to change their circumstances in order to be fed. These tales or hunger likely reflect reality at the time the tales were written. Hansel and Gretel becomes a tale of displacement due to food. Unable to feed their children, Hansel and Gretel’s parents kick them out of the house. They attempt to use food (breadcrumbs) as a way to trace their way home, but these are eaten. When the two young people come across a house of candy, they believe they will be able to eat in abundance, but this tale inverts humanity and food, making the youths potential food for the witch and the witch’s candy as nothing more than a trap. In fact, the witch complicates the food/human dynamic when she is baked in the oven by Gretel just like food is. 

Red RidingHood is similarly based on venturing with food and cannibalism. When Red wanders into the woods, it is to bring food to her ailing grandmother. However, this is another tale of cannibalism and, when RidingHood arrives, she is targeted as food by the wolf, who has already eaten Red’s grandmother and seeks to eat her.

Food and what has the potential to be considered food represents change. Perhaps this is because, so often we use food to represent passages of time, marking special occasions with it. The association between food and time is further enhanced when we look at ideas of ripening and rotting. Food has a limited window where it can be considered food – between ripening and rot. This is why the Cinderella tale is so fascinating – Cinderella travels within food, the pumpkin, and that food has a distinct expiry date – midnight.

Food changes over time and also changes us. In fairy tales, we really are what we eat… and we are what eats us as well.

The Art of Snow White – The Poisoned Apple

The Art of Snow White – The Poisoned Apple
By Derek Newman-Stille

Snow White was originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 and has been revisited in retellings and explorations since that time. It’s central features are the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin, and the heart. It is a tale of vanity, ageing, and revenge.

Ever since the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), much of the imagery around Snow White has been influenced by the film.


Rebenke – Snow White Burton



Rebenke’s Snow White is dressed in the Disney Snow white colours with a tall white collar and blue, red, and yellow colours, yet each of these colours is shaded, the colours darkened.

The Evil Queen is portrayed in her disguise as an elderly woman, and she is portrayed with her mouth open in a cackle showing jagged, yellowed teeth. Her jaw is unhinged, portraying a predatory quality to her. The focus on her mouth centres the idea of consumption in this narrative, exploring the image of the apple as an object of hunger and desire. The predatory quality of the Evil Queen is highlighted by her long, beak-like nose and posture that mimics that of a vulture.

The image centres the apple, portraying it as the only red in the image that isn’t muted. The apple is even surrounded with a rosy red glow and sparkles. Rebenke brings attention to the apple as the moment of encounter between Snow White and the Evil Queen, the point of connection between the two women.

Rebenke casts the background entirely in grey tones with few features. There are some branches in the background, but limited to the edges. This is a stark change from many of the Disneyfied Snow White images, which tend to portray the encounter between Snow White and the Evil Queen in the depths of the woods.

Rebenke combines the saccharine imagery of Disney with the darker image of Tim Burton’s sketches in a subversion of that saccharine quality. Rebenke’s snow shite is portrayed with typical Burtonesque features – dark circles around the eyes, a pale face, an extended, thin neck, long thin arms and pointed fingers. The paleness of Snow White provides a point of contact between the Disney image and Burtonesque images. Her pale skin is turned macabre.

Rebenke is an artist on DeviantArt who gives his name as “Jonas” and whose gallery can be found at


Mallory Thompson (Illeander) – Paper Tales: The Poison Apple



Mallory Thompson (Illeander)’s Snow White centres the image of the apple, using the apple itself as a framing technique. The image focuses on the upper bodies of the Evil Queen and Snow White, bringing attention to their faces in the encounter. This is a story of persuasion The Evil Queen’s voice is portrayed as flowing out in a physical way, wrapping around the apple itself and surrounded by stars. This is a voice of enchantment and persuasion.

The power of text in this image is further shaped by the use of papercraft for the tale, exploring the role of paper and voice. This is further explored by the text written across Snow White’s body.

The Evil Queen holds the apple above Snow White’s hand, using the gesture of offering to indicate the exchange between them. She holds the apple between hand and mouth, playing with the intermingling of offering and desire in this narrative. She taunts Snow with the apple near her mouth.

The Evil Queen’s body is marked by holes and pockmarks, conveying ideas of age through holes. This image is mirrored in the shine of the apple, also indicated through holes.

Mallory Thompson creates her art under the name Illeander on DeviantArt (



Prudence Staite


Prudence Staite creates her entire image of Snow White from apples, building her body from the fruit that poisoned her. Staite takes advantage of the whiteness of the apple’s flesh to create Snow White’s pale skin.

Staite uses the chunks of apples to mimic the quality of stained glass, fracturing Snow White’s image and constructing it of parts. Staite uses whole apples as a framing technique, showcasing a variety of apples and the complexity of colours of the species.

The power of Staite’s Snow White image is its impermanence. This image is only temporary and it is one that will rot, playing with the reversal of Snow White herself who was captured in a state of perpetual preservation, free from ageing and rot even in death.

Although clearly influenced by Disney’s princess, Staite plays with the colouring of Snow White’s dress to focus instead on the diversity of apple colours.

Rather than using one central apple in Snow’s hand, Staite uses a fractured set of apple pieces to construct the apple, bringing in the stained glass effect that the fractured apples provide for the rest of the image.

Prudence Staite’s runs the website Food is Art at . She refers to works like the Snow White image above as Food Paintings, which she constructs out of materials like pasta, spices, chocolate, tea, nuts, cereal, fruit, vegetables, and cakes. She calls each of her paintings as “an edible work of art” and brings attention to the power of her work to stimulate the senses.