Ravioli with a Side of Existentialism: The Symbolic Meaning of Bella's Mushroom Ravioli in Twilight

***

Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts I'm calling "Overly Serious Twilight Essays," satirical essays written with the intent of digging just a little too deep into the deeper meaning of the Twilight books. It's a strange niche corner of the humor market, I know, but I'm having a ton of fun writing them.

Overly Serious Twilight Essays: Writing the Essays Memers Dream Of

And to think, I supposed my propensity for writing argumentative essays had destined me for teaching high school essay-writing (I mean, I did that, too)--but maybe ridiculous Twilight essays were the end-game all along.


Anyway, if you have stumbled upon this or happen to be in the microcosm of readers who will actually find this amusing, I hope you enjoy! There will be more to come, sortable by the "Overly Serious Twilight Essays" category on my blog.



***



This isn't Bella's Mushroom Ravioli from Twilight, but you get the idea.
Mushroom Ravioli

Ravioli with a Side of Existentialism:

The Symbolic Meaning of Bella’s Mushroom Ravioli in Twilight


by Crystal Crawford



When is mushroom ravioli not just mushroom ravioli? When it incites a paranormal war, for one. Since the publication of Twilight, and certainly since the release of the first movie, fans have enthusiastically attempted to replicate aspects of the young adult paranormal phenomenon known as the Twilight series, and recreating Bella’s mushroom ravioli is no exception. A simple internet search will reveal multiple copycat recipes for Twilight fans to try at home, and in 2011, the real-life La Bella Italia – the Port Angeles restaurant at which Bella and Edward had their infamous first-date ravioli in the book – released a frozen, cook-at-home version of “Bella’s Mushroom Ravioli” so that fans across the country could enjoy the signature meal, even donating a portion of their proceeds to the Quileute Tribal School and Forks High School also featured in Twilight.[1]


However, is it possible there is more to Bella’s mushroom ravioli than meets the eye? Could this signature vegetarian dish Bella chose in a panic as the first thing she saw on the menu actually have a deeper significance? Bella and Edward’s unplanned first date could be seen as the catalyst for everything else to come, but does Bella’s meal carry additional meaning as well? With even less mental effort expended than it takes Edward not to kill Bella at any random moment, it is quite possible for an astute reader to see beyond the boiled surface of Bella’s tasty ravioli to a deeper meaning beyond, given the recurring use of mushrooms as a symbol of dangerous magical boundaries, as a spiritual sign or dream symbol—representing powerful but unseen forces, deception and the unexpected, and/or sudden transformation—and, last but not least, as a hallucinogen.


Mushrooms have long been used in folklore and mythology as a symbol of dangerous magical boundaries. According to the Fantastic Fungi website, which is clearly an expert source on all things mushroom,


The associated myth of these rings is that these magical creatures would dance and celebrate within the mushroom rings’ limits. If a human were ever to enter their Fairy Ring, the consequences could range from inconvenient to severe. One version of the story goes that humans who entered would be punished by being forced to dance to the point they collapses [sic] from exhaustion.


[…] Some cultures believe that fairy circles could be the portal to an alternate supernatural world [emphasis added].[2]


A strange and frightening implication exists in this mythological significance. Mushrooms, when viewed in this light, could be a portent of dangerous magical boundaries which shouldn’t be crossed—a physical representation of Edward’s own ominous warnings to Bella throughout that same evening about getting close to him, being alone with him, or even associating with him at all. For what is Edward if not a wild, unclassified mushroom? He is certainly no tame Portabella. Mushrooms, while safe and pleasant in the right circumstances, can be deadly if partaken impulsively, without proper identification of species, or if warnings go unheeded. Exactly like Edward himself. The meal at La Bella Italia is, arguably, the inciting moment for a new level of intimacy in their relationship—the moment when Edward finally stops hiding his secrets and begins allowing Bella to enter, in small, inching steps, into the dangerous reality of who he truly is. As a metaphor for crossing a dangerous barrier, Bella’s random selection of mushroom ravioli from the menu couldn’t have been more fitting.


However, the possible metaphorical meanings of Bella’s mushroom ravioli don’t stop at mythological implications. The peculiarly ominous mythology for mushrooms becomes even more alarming when combined with their varied spiritual interpretations. Mushrooms have long been interpreted to hold spiritual meaning, though the exact parameters of that meaning vary widely by source. One interpretation, posited by tattoo artist Simon of Tattoo Art from the Heart, is that mushrooms represent the “powers of the world that exist abundantly but are usually unseen,” as well as a “symbol of good luck and longevity in many different cultures.” [3] What better description of the hidden world of vampires and werewolves Bella is on the cusp of stumbling into than that of “powers unseen” and creatures with “longevity?” The aspect of good luck in relation to Bella could be up for debate. However, Bella herself possesses the innate (unseen) ability to block Edward’s telepathy, a foreshadowing of greater power to come, while the shared dinner, starting their early relationship, is also representative of the hidden power of their relationship itself, which will be the catalyst which both incites and ends a massive paranormal war.


Another interesting mushroom interpretation comes from AloDreams.com, a site which claims to provide “accurate interpretation” of dreams based on “extensive research [into] dream symbols.” Alo Dreams asserts that “mushrooms are deceptive in nature with their vibrant umbrella, luring its [sic] prey to enjoy their final feast. Dreaming of a mushroom thus carry [sic] a negative connotation […] for its deceiving appearance. To dream of mushroom represents indulgence in unhealthy pleasures and immoral acts. It signifies disease, loss of wealth, and poor life decisions.”[4] There could hardly be a more accurate description of Bella’s actual situation at the moment she consumes the ravioli. Throughout their time together that evening, Edward himself attempts to persuade Bella to see reason, time and again informing her that her perception of him is flawed, that he is a monster, and that, when with him, she is unsafe. But Bella sees only the “vibrant umbrella” of Edward’s charm, willfully oblivious to the true danger in their increasing proximity.


On the other hand, another dream interpretation source, DreamingandSleeping.com, states that mushrooms are “often a motive in the dream world, and in that sense […] can be found not in a normal situation, but in some that [sic] extremely weird and unexpected – there are no limitations of what scenarios are available.”[5] This is certainly a valid description of the hidden world Bella is on the verge of uncovering, a world packed with the creatures believed heretofore to be only a product of nightmarish fantasy. And Bella’s relationship with Edward is only the tip of this iceberg, compared to other shocking oddities readers will discover throughout the rest of the series—Renesmee is a primary example, but certainly not the only one. Truly, in the world of Twilight, there really are “no limitations” to what can happen. While reading mushrooms as a sign of the “unexpected” rather than intentional deception gives the fungal food a more positive connotation, both interpretations function on the underlying principle of hidden truths and unexpected realities.


One additional spiritual interpretation for mushrooms comes from the Christian ministry site Water from Rock, which in 2011 used the term “mushroom spirituality” to describe “the expectation that spiritual growth and change happen overnight.”[6] As a long-term metaphor of Bella’s transformation throughout the entire Twilight series, this application of mushroom principles is not far off. Bella’s character experiences sudden transformation on many levels throughout the books, internally and—eventually and most extremely—physically.


Finally, it would be remiss to discuss the possible philosophical implications of Bella’s mushroom ravioli without addressing the well-known and often-referenced application of mushrooms as a powerful hallucinogenic drug. Likely due to their somewhat toxic composition, certain types of mushrooms are classified “as psychedelics, which trigger changes in perception, mood and thought.”[7] While these are not the same type of mushrooms used in restaurant-prepared edible dishes (usually), the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation states that these “magic mushrooms” often “look much like ordinary mushrooms.”[8] While these types of mushrooms are consumed recreationally by some, toxic mushrooms are not a safe pastime for the uninformed. Some mushrooms contain toxins which make them risky or even deadly to touch or consume--and to a novice mushroom-consumer, the difference may be difficult to discern. According to a paper on mushroom toxicity listed in the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Mushroom toxicity has also been known for millennia and is implicated in the death of several historical figures.”[9] In Twilight, immediately after returning home from her date with Edward, Bella experiences—in her own words—“a heavy stupor,” “freezing,” “rigid muscles,” “aching shivers,” and “shudders” until she falls “gradually closer to unconsciousness.”[10] While readers are left to assume these sensations are the result of delayed shock from her earlier life-threatening encounter, the mushrooms are left suspiciously innocent in the entire debacle. An odd oversight, given mushrooms’ toxic history. (Which, as a side-note, may also function as a high-level parallel to Bella’s own toxic history. Bella herself has just undergone some major trauma – her mother remarrying, Bella self-exiling because she felt her presence and existence prevented her mother’s happiness, and upheaval of Bella’s life into an unfamiliar and rather uncomfortable new life in Forks.) Could this described post-ravioli experience be the result of intentional poisoning? A case of mistaken mushrooms? A recreational prank drugging gone wrong? (Let’s be honest; that waitress was a little shady, and had a clear motive not to be too fond of Bella.)


But stepping beyond the literal potential of mind-altering mushrooms, it raises further analytical suspicions that Bella’s order of mushroom ravioli was accompanied by her beverage of choice, which she drinks multiple other times throughout the book—a Coke—providing yet another potential reference to a mind-altering substance. Bella also experiences much disorientation, confusion, perception of highly unlikely and unrealistic events, and extreme emotional highs and lows throughout the books—even outside the often overlooked scene mentioned above. Is it possible the mushroom ravioli is a symbolic nudge to the fact that Bella’s experiences are not, cannot be real? That Bella, though not literally consuming a hallucinogen (those weren’t the right kind of mushrooms, we can assume—or can we?), has had a break with reality? Or maybe something more literal: that Edward did, in fact, drug Bella with bad mushrooms and the rest of the series is a hazy fever dream? We may never know for certain, though it would explain a lot (looking at you again, Renesmee).


So when is mushroom ravioli not just mushroom ravioli? As I posited earlier, when it incites a paranormal war. Bella and Edward’s first date—rife with unplanned dangers and life-threatening experiences, even without the mushroom ravioli—is arguably the first step in a chain of events which snowballs more quickly than the mushy Washington weather toward an international and seemingly inevitable superhuman death-brawl. Just mushroom ravioli? Tell that to the Volturi, who I’m betting would not have approved of Bella’s menu choice, much less the date. Mushrooms are well known as magical barriers, symbols of unseen powers, portents of dangerous secrets and unexpected fates, and also potent hallucinogens—something an astute author such as Meyer would clearly have known (consciously or otherwise). So what does this all mean, really? Did the Cullens intend the war? Did they use Bella as a willing pawn, both a catalyst and savior? Were the Cullens innocent casualties of Bella’s own fractured sanity? Or was Bella just, simply, a girl eating vegetarian ravioli? We may never know for certain, but one thing stands for sure – when a mushroom ravioli dinner sparks the beginning of a massive paranormal war, the symbolism – if not the chef – is certainly open to scrutiny.



REFERENCES


  1. https://www.sheknows.com/food-and-recipes/articles/847349/bellas-mushroom-ravioli-hits-store-shelves

  2. https://fantasticfungi.com/the-mush-room/fairy-rings-understanding-the-mystical-fairy-circle/

  3. https://tattooartfromtheheart.com/tattoo-meanings/mushroom-tattoo-for-good-luck-longevity-freedom-and-power/