Hannibal Lecter and food insecurity

Have you noticed that NBC’s Hannibal Lecter cooks everything in huge excess? Like, he’s literally hosting just Will and Alana for dinner, and he rolls out an entire roast pig with all the trimmings? Or it’s just him and Jack, but there’s like 10,000 calories in pricey perishables on the table?

Clearly, someone overshopped.

I don’t know if this is an intended character trait or a stylistic choice, but it hits on something that almost every emigrant to the West from USSR (and I’m sure tons of other countries around the world) can readily relate to: bone-deep food insecurity. Hannibal Lecter, who presumably made it out of USSR sometime in the late 70s-early 80s, seems to have never got over his original shock of facing a sudden over-abundance and variety of food in the West.

It sometimes takes emigrants years to un-learn instinctive food hoarding, and not everyone manages. This goes double for orphans, who tend to suffer from this compulsion even within Russia after they ‘graduate’ from the system and are able to plan their meals themselves. This behavior is especially noticeable with respect to meat, which was not sold very often in Soviet stores, and the cuts that were available were often, to put it mildly, substandard. (One popular joke went that Soviet pig farms probably slaughter their pigs with explosives, because the only things that made it to the stores were hooves.)

And let’s not forget fresh fruit. First of all, fruit was seasonal. You bought fruit in late summer and early fall, preserved it, and ate it through the winter. (In the spring everyone, especially kids, suffered from vitamin deficiencies, and this was a fact of life one just accepted.) But let’s take more exotic fruit - for instance, bananas. If bananas appeared in a Soviet grocery store, which would happen once or twice every spring in a few grocery stores of Moscow and Leningrad, each customer was limited to one or two kilos. You would literally stand in line for 3 or 4 or 5 hours to get five or ten rock-hard green bananas. And you would be over the moon with joy.

And so it’s very easy for me to imagine Lecter, even with all the privations of life in a state-run Soviet institution (a double-whammy of poor nutrition) decades behind him, *still* instinctively over-shopping for things that he never got to so much as sniff as a child: meat, fresh fruit, seafood, caviar - all the stuff he heaps on the table in such huge quantities for his friends.

Lecter might wear bespoke suits and drive a Bentley that costs more than most houses, but deep down in his bones, he’s still in ‘food crisis’ mode, terrified that all these pomegranates, caviar, and steak are only in the store through some kind of unexpected laxness or largesse on behalf of the ruling Party, and if he doesn’t buy as much as he can today, they’ll be gone from the store tomorrow, and he’ll be left with nothing.