Bob Belcher, the meat-slinging patriarch at the heart of Bob’s Burgers, is a beleaguered small business owner who consistently only manages to keep his head above water by leaning on his family for emotional support. When Bob’s family proves ill-suited to give Bob what he needs, he usually turns to food, which makes sense given his being a cook and all.
But Bob’s personal relationship with food goes beyond his prowess in the kitchen where he usually channels his brand of dad humor into the ever-changing burgers of the day. In moments when Bob’s been pushed to his mental limits or, conversely, so overwhelmed with immense joy that he can’t immediately express how he feels, Bob often imbues inanimate objects—mostly food—with humanity and, for one reason or another, the food becomes exactly the kind of person that Bob needs in that moment to get by.
Were Bob simply talking to food and then giving the food weird little voices as he responded to his own questions in-character as the food, the whole habit might be somewhat concerning. But whenever Bob loosens up his grip on reality a little to have heart-to-heart conversations with raw meat (and the occasional vegetable), he always ends up gaining some sort of clarity or insight about the larger issues he’s dealing with, which is interesting.
As is the case with most people’s idiosyncrasies, the origins of and reasoning behind Bob’s habit of anthropomorphizing food aren’t exactly clear, but it seems more than likely it all ties back to Bob’s complicated relationship with his father, Big Bob. Big Bob’s penchant for resisting change was what initially drove him to belittle a young Bob’s early attempts at following in his fry cook father’s footsteps. Where Bob saw his creative ideas for new kinds of burgers as his carrying on the family tradition with some novel flair, Big Bob saw the burgers as a deviation from the norm and set a negative tone for the father and son’s relationship that lasted for years.
But in the time between when Bob moved out to when he became a restauranteur in his own right, and when he and his father ultimately made up after being open about their feelings, Bob never actually shied away from channeling his personality into his food. Regardless of whether Big Bob approved of them, Bob committed to his personal approach to cooking and his ideas about what burgers could be, and that resolve is something Bob’s Burgers often puts on display whenever he’s interacting with food.
In episodes like “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” where the Belcher family gets involved in an elaborate charade in which Bob pretends not to be married to his wife, Linda, or related to his kids, Tina, Gene, and Louise, Bob’s Burgers focuses on the way he depends on food to feel connected to the people he loves. Long before Bob passes out in a kitchen while drinking absinthe—something that gives him vivid dreams in which Lance, his cooked turkey, comes to life—he spends time in the grocery store talking to Lance and the other raw turkeys, because it’s important to him.
Odd as Bob’s antics with Lance might seem to outsiders, Linda and the kids all know it’s part of the way he celebrates the holiday while also grounding himself amid all the chaos the big day usually brings with it. When Bob does eventually begin to spiral into a void of his own fears, it’s talking to Lance while reenacting a scene from My Neighbor Totoro (again, the man was drinking heavily) that centers him and puts him into a better headspace.
When Bob becomes obsessed with experiencing the “everythingness of food”—the concept of a deeper, elemental quality of a food’s existence that Bob picks up from an online seminar taught by a master chef—he struggles because he can’t really figure out how to step far enough outside of his mind to see food in a different way. The more Bob consciously tries to will himself into tasting everythingness, the more difficult it becomes, and it’s only when he lets go by allowing each ingredient of a burger to become a person (in this case, a reflection of himself) that he’s able to open up his mind and appreciate that everythingness isn’t just a taste.
As Bob visualizes how seeds become the grass that feeds cows that become the beef that becomes burgers, he begins to understand that “everythingness” is just as much about flavors and mouthfeel as it is about deep mindfulness regarding where one’s food comes from and how food makes you feel. The gravity of it all doesn’t exactly turn Bob into a staunch farm-to-table advocate, but it does make you appreciate the episodes of the show where Bob becomes singularly focused on snagging specific ingredients for various recipes. The implication being that incorporating those ingredients into his cooking means something deeply important to him aside from getting the meal just right.
Each time Bob gives life to a piece of food, he’s also creating a space to think and speak freely without fear of being told how ridiculous he’s being (as he often is)... until he gets around to acknowledging it, because Bob typically errs on the side of being honest with himself. As coping mechanisms go, treating food like people becomes less and less strange when you consider how folks talk to their vehicles, phones, and other inanimate objects, all the time knowing full well they aren’t conscious, living things.
It is a bit concerning that Bob doesn’t seem to have much difficulty scarfing his food friends down after they’ve gifted him with whatever morsels of enlightenment they have to offer. But then again, they’re food, not people, and Bob knows that if his dishes could talk, they’d probably encourage him to eat them if only to fulfill their purpose as foodstuffs to keep this whole cycle going.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.