My goal was to have a better understanding of the food in Midgard, and I was quite surprised at the detail Santa Monica Studio placed into the game. Some of it might have been overlooked, so I decided to share what I found. I made a video to go along with the essay, but it's nearly 17 minutes long so I hope the written essay will convey certain points well enough.
In this next iteration of the God of War franchise, Kratos leaves behind the Greek tragedy that was Olympus, and enters the Norse Saga. The story takes after the Norse mythology by involving prominent Norse gods and important events leading to Ragnarök, but with unforeseen changes due to Kratos' actions. Initially it appears there isn't much food in this largely uninhabited realm, but there is an underlying story with the deceptively simple jerky taking center stage.
Understanding The Past
Most inhabitants in Midgard have either died, or gone into hiding. One village to the north, has been frozen in time, and it's a great model to use to understand how society used to be. The village is crushed beneath the Frost Giant, Thamur. Before death, he had been constructing a wall to defend Jotunheim from Thor. Fearing Thor would arrive before the wall's completion, he sought aid from his son, Hrimthur. His son refused to help, which frustrated Thamur. Hrimthur ran away after being punched in the face. In search for his son, Thamur eventually found himself lost in Midgard, shouting for his son's return. Unfortunately, Thor came to his call, and a battle between them lead to Thamur's death. He died and fell onto a village, and with his final breath, froze everything instantly.
The people of this village worshipped Njörd, the Vanir god of the seas, for he blessed their trawls with bountiful fish. In their gratitude, they offered some of their bounty 1, with the intention of strengthening the bond between mortals and gods. Their offerings did not go to waste, they seemed to have been very prosperous and even had enough fish to sell. The fish the village kept for themselves were sent to the Jarl's main kitchen. Jarls were people of nobility who were wealthy enough to afford their own ships. The Jarl has been gone for a long time now, but he was at least enjoying his last meal in his throne at the great Dining Hall. I'm not sure what they ate, but in their final moments it seems they were enjoying vegetables and mead, and I'm certain they would've also been eating some of their fish.
Along the coast some of their fish is left on a drying rack to make Harðfiskur, a traditional Icelandic treat. From what I've read, it's really tough to chew but very flavorful and usually eaten with butter. The cold wind protects the fish from insects and bacteria, and although this process takes some time, it will remain good for many months. It means people who travel to buy from the village's surplus of fish can rest assured knowing their food will not spoil when they return home. This important trade route provided many families with food. There are many wayward spirits of former crewmen around the Lake of Nine. It's possible one of these spirits used to work for the jarl based on their story of being tradesmen looking to escape from the Desolation.
Thor punished them for an unknown reason, but if they were a part of the village that worshipped Njörd, maybe Thor became jealous. Njörd responded to their offerings and sacrifices, so it's understandable they hadn't praised Thor since the Aesir gods largely ignored mortals2. If not for that reason, we know at least some crewmen didn't worship Thor. In one scroll, a scavenger explains that a different ship was wrecked in a storm because they had offerings for Tyr, but nothing for Thor3. This fate may have been shared with the other ships since they all ended the same.
1. Njörd of the Vanir (Rune Reads) 2. Death to the Gods 3. Shipwrecked
Understanding The Present – Reavers
The Vanir-Aesir war has been indiscriminately destroying lives which makes it surprising to find anyone who has remained in Midgard. One of the last settlements struggling to survive were the Reavers; a group of people plundering resources however they can. They are first encountered at the Jötnar Marketplace. They have resorted to cannibalism but do so methodically. At some point they learned to keep their victims alive as they eat them limb by limb to prevent their reanimation, and I suspect that knowledge came as a harsh lesson. Not much of their equipment was found nearby, and further ahead a ruined settlement can be found. I believe the Reavers had occupied this space until recently, when the base came under attack by Hel-Walkers, forcing them to rush to safety – leaving behind most of their tools. Being ill-prepared for the journey, some men may have been sacrificed as food unwillingly. It would explain the large amount of Draugr at the Marketplace.
Hunting/Fishing – Dwarves Stealing and cannibalism are not good long-term strategies. Surviving requires a reliable source of food, despite the climate and danger. More capable individuals have learned to feed themselves by living off the land in a few different ways. Hunting and fishing are efficient methods for collecting food. The dwarves, Brok and Sindri, for example, often travel between their different workshops at least until they settled themselves in Tyr's Temple. Before then, Brok used to have a beast of burden carry his supplies and provisions. You’d think a companion would prove to be a valuable asset, but once she stopped producing milk Brok had to butcher and eat the beast. I believe Brok had no choice but to adapt, and I believe he was short on food considering he wasn't exactly eager to share his food in this instance. He also originally refused to give Kratos and Atreus food when they first meet as detailed in the God of War novelization.
" 'I don't suppose you have anything to eat in those packs?' the lad's stomach rumbled. 'Where are your manners?' Brok scolded himself. 'Nope. nothing to eat in those packs.' He returned to the axe. Dejected, Atreus retreated to sit near the smoldering remains of an abandoned campfire. 'Course I got somethin' to eat. Grab you some out of that pack there', Brok offered with a grin after a few moments'."1
The book continues to explain some of the other food Brok had with him, some of which was dried meat.
"Atreus smiled at the little man's infected nature while rummaging through the pack Brok had indicated, finding small flat rolls of hard-crust unleavened bread, which he shared with his father. Next he located apples larger than his fist and a water pouch in another pack. They drank their fill before settling into the clearing to chomp on the apples. 'Got some dried badger ifn' you're still hungry', Brok added without looking at them. 'Really, I'm full. Can't eat another bite,' Atreus lied".2
Food doesn't seem easy to come by, even for dwarves that can travel easily. You may be skeptical of how I interpreted Brok's dialogue – fair enough. However, also consider Brok expresses concern for his brother's wellbeing, hoping he is eating well. The next time we speak with Sindri, it's learned that he's alright. He at least had enough apples to share with Kratos and Atreus, and he not only had an extra fish in his bag (which he offered to Kratos in the book), but he also keeps skewered fish nearby. It could be that Brok was only concerned for his brother because Sindri forgets to eat, but hunger eventually builds to the point it can't be ignored. I just think Brok has a habit of coming off aggressive when concealing his true emotions and concerns.
1. Quote is from Chapter 8, Pg. 77 2. Quote is from Chapter 8, Pg. 78
Hunting/Fishing/Agriculture – Freya
Even someone as attuned to the animals and forest as Freya has to hunt and fish. In the book, she provides Kratos and Atreus food a couple times. She has given them dried rabbit1 and dried venison2, along with some extra food like small biscuits and an assortment of dried fruits. In her backyard she has a few hunting traps which she undoubtedly used to catch rabbits. Also, she has caught a lot of fish and is drying some of them to make Harðfiskur.
Because she lives isolated from everyone, she needs to have a supplementary source of food. She might have days where she doesn't catch any fish or hunt any game. She has managed to grow some crops in her garden. She has some grain which could be barley or wheat. There are mushrooms ready to be picked, herbs which she dries in the cave underneath her home. She also seems to have grown some vegetables and harvested them earlier in the season. Although blurry, the colors suggest she was eating beets and turnips. Most of her crops reflects accurately on what Norsemen were able to grow historically. Agriculture was not very well developed because the climate in Scandinavia is very cold, the terrain is rocky, and the soil is poor- particularly in the northern areas. Winters are longer which limits the window for growing food. Only some crops were able to be grown in these conditions such as grains, turnips, cabbages, and leeks. Preserving vegetables was necessary to survive the long winters. This is why the book and the game include mostly dried foods, like the dried meats, fish and fruits previously mentioned.
1. "Dried Rabbit, bread formed into small biscuits, and an assortment of fruits" 2. "'May we take some food for our journey?' Atreus asked, while they waited. The witch nodded, indicating the wooden box across the room. Atreus opened the box to fill a sack with biscuits and fruit, along with what dried venison existed there."
Hunting/Agriculture – Kratos, Faye, & Atreus
With the proper tools, plan, and skills, it's possible for people to live here. Kratos and his family were able to live off the land for many years, even going as far as building their own home. Before her time came to an end, Faye helped feed the family as explained by Atreus. She taught him to hunt and the book goes into more detail than what is shown in the game.
"His mother had kept him close to home when she took him hunting, and always shielded him from any dangers they encountered on their trips – if you counted a disagreeable badger confrontation as real danger. His mother seemed to display a special sense when it came to identifying danger in time to avoid it. Perhaps that was why their hunting trips always proved successful without them ever facing lethal conflict."2
Atreus is sick of eating badger and it's mentioned quite a few times in the book. But it can't be helped, badgers are the easiest thing for the family to hunt.
"The badger was all they had to show for their hunting trip. And that was only because badgers were plentiful, slow, and clumsy creatures that fell easily to the arrow. But at least they would eat fresh kill this evening."
Although I didn't find any dried fish in their home, the book mentions they packed dried meats at the beginning of their journey1. The cold climate makes hunting more suitable. Any fresh game needs to be field dressed as quickly as possible. Organs and blood are removed, while taking care to not rupture the gut or else the bacteria from within will contaminate the meat. The animal is eviscerated so that the corpse will cool down as quickly as possible – another important measure in preventing bacterial contamination. This is a greater concern when hunting in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius), but the freezing climate in Midgard means they have some more time to field dress the animal. Any leftover meat they want to preserve would need to be the leaner parts of the meat, because during the drying process, fat is going to turn rancid despite a salt cure.
1. "In preparation for their journey, Kratos fills a sack with food and provisions including … dried venison, dried badger, unleavened bread, and dried apricots. 2. Quote comes from Chapter 6, Pg. 58
The family also managed their own garden, although it was probably Faye who contributed the most.
"He would dig up memories of the times they were happily working side by side in her garden. She was always happiest when she tended her plants."3
Even though the garden has been mostly destroyed by a fire troll, some crops survived letting us know what the family ate. They had been growing tomatoes and what seem to be blue flax flowers. Not only is there a resemblance, flax was common for Norsemen to grow. It would go on to be used in breads, which is what Kratos also added to their provisions at the beginning of the book. Speaking of bread, the garden had also been tilled for wheat, just like Freya did with her garden. But they didn't use the wheat for just bread, they at some point used some of it to thatch their roof. Growing and processing wheat into flour is a lot of work, so you're going to want as much of a return as possible. After it is reaped, it needs to be threshed – which means beaten to the ground or beaten with a flail so that the chaff is removed from the stalk. Afterwards, the chaff is separated from the grain, and this was traditionally done by winnowing. It's the process of using a light breeze to separate the chaffs from the grain as it falls into a separate container. Only then can the resulting grain be milled into flour, ready to be used for bread. To get the most out of their wheat, the leftover stalk that was threshed from the grain, can be dried to be used as material for a bed or a roof. In addition to their roof, all their cooking implements were modeled with historical accuracy. It was common for Nordic homes to have an open fire pit to roast meats, and cook vegetables and breads. Alternatively, a pot of water could be brought to a boil using hot stones which were heated in the fire, and a nice, hearty stew could be made from vegetables and meat.
- Chapter 3. Page 24
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