Denied Food as Punishment
"Fine! Then go ahead and STAAAAAAAAAARVE!!!!!
(to his servants) If she doesn't eat with me, then she doesn't eat at all!"
So a character has apparently said and/or done something to anger an authority figure. What's the best course of action to take? Why, punish them by depriving them of either breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three meals together, of course!
Withholding food is also used by villains to punish prisoners who are uncooperative, when the prisoners don't go for I'm Not Hungry
first. (The exact opposite punishment is Force Feeding
.) And, of course, servants may be threatened with this by their masters in order to keep them in line.
One of the earliest examples of this trope is the Greek myth of Tantalos, making this Older Than Feudalism
. After feeling jilted by the gods, Tantalus invited them over for a meal at his palace, where he fed his own children to them as revenge. Disgusted, the gods sent him to eternal punishment in the underworld. He would stand in a pool of water with a grape vine overhead — but whenever he tried to drink or eat, the water and grapes would move beyond his reach, making him suffer eternal of thirst and hunger (hence, the word "tantalize").
Compare the Lysistrata Gambit
, which is the denial of something else that people hunger for
Sometimes done if a character is enduring Cinderella Circumstances
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Soul Eater, Crona is denied food from Medusa after refusing to [[kill three rabbits, in different ways]]. This continues over and over until she finally agrees to.
- Zero No Tsukaima: Louise punished her familiar Saito like this whenever he roused her temper, which was often, and also threatened to take away his meals as a way to prevent him from disobeying her orders.
- Angel Beats!: The failure of Operation High Tension Syndrome results in this, and the starvation period is a week, even the strongest of SSS died, but they should be fine.
- In One Piece, the Navy (and Koby, who had just been accepted as a recruit), salute Luffy and Zoro as they sail off. One of them decides, "As punishment, no dinner for a week!" because they allowed pirates to escape.
- Earlier, Zoro agreed to the terms Helmeppo set that he would starve for a month to protect a little girl.
- Subverted in Naruto, in which Kakashi holds a "bell test" for the three members of his team, with the one who doesn't get a bell being tied to the stump, denied lunch, and sent back to the academy. The trick is to work together in spite of the circumstances, but none of the three realize this, and Naruto tries to cheat, but gets tied to the stump for trying this. Kakashi then tells them that he'll give them another chance if Sakura and Sasuke don't feed Naruto, but when they do, he reveals that this test shows that the rules are less important than teamwork, and passes all three.
- Madame St. Paul, Picolet Chardin III's instructor in Ranma 1/2, forbids Ranma from eating "ungracefully" —that is, using her hands. The Chardin Family school of Martial Arts Dining thinks it demeaning to a)use your hands to eat, and b) to be seen eating, hence why they use their chameleon-like tongues to eat food in the blink of an eye. If Ranma can't do that, then she isn't allowed to eat anything until she learns. Then Ranma undergoes a severe training regimen, and turns down Akane's offers for food on the grounds that it would be admitting defeat. She nearly starves to death.
- In Gakuen Alice, no-star students (who are generally misbehaved) are given a measly portion of food, where 3-star students are treated to an extravagant feast.
- In Mirai Nikki Yuno had control-freak parents who measured everything she did from how many hours she got to sleep to how many calories she had a day. They also kept her in a cage and starved her in an effort to raise her to be a model person.
- Taken to a new level in Speed Grapher, where Kagura Tennozou goes to school with empty lunch boxes thanks to her abusive mother Shinsen, and collapses of hunger at least once.
- Austria of Axis Powers Hetalia was a very strict father figure towards Chibitalia. He stepped on him, threw him in a shed, and denied him food, as well as possibly other punishments.
- Occurs in Kaze to Ki no Uta after a teacher discovers students having a fight and making a mess in a room.
- In Yumeria, Tomokazu is denied dinner after making Mone cry, even though he apologized.
- In Nichijou, Nano often threatens this to the professor, a very young child who created her, due to her experiments or attempts to blame their talking cat, Sakamoto. It doesn't work very well however, as Nano either forgets about the punishment, or simply forgives her.
- In Sekirei, Miya often threatens to do this to Seo, especially if he refuses to help the main characters. She will also sometimes use this threat on Matsu when the latter is getting a little too friendly with Minato, and by extension, Minato, even though he's completely innocent in those cases.
- In episode 10 of Season 2's Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Miu does technically feed Kenichi when Renka shows up at the dojo. However, she gives him a very tiny fish compared to the giant ones the other characters received, and when he asks for seconds on rice, Miu gives him exactly one grain of rice. Renka offering to feed him her share of food only serves to frustrate Miu, while Kenichi's masters giggle at his misfortune with the two ladies.
- In one Batman flashback to before the death of the Waynes, they send Bruce to bed without supper for reading a comic book. Alfred secretly brings a tray of food to the boy ... just slightly ahead of Thomas Wayne, who was doing the same thing.
- Inverted in a MAD parody of The Shining. Dinny's father chases him down with an axe at the climax, telling him that he's been a naughty boy. Dinny asks him why he doesn't send him to bed without supper like other fathers do, and the father points out that with the fact that frozen food is the only thing to eat at the hotel, that would be a reward.
- In Neil Gaiman's 1602, this is a punishment Doom uses to train his prisoners out of bad behavior.
- In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon gets no lunch from his parents when he's grounded for fighting at school. The SOS Brigade gives him food anyway.
- Celebony's "A Hero" takes this trope Up to Eleven. The Dursleys move beyond denying Harry occasional meals to literally starving him.
- Home Alone: Kevin gets angry at his brother Buzz and shoves him into some drinks which spill over, creating a mess in the kitchen. Chaos thus ensues among the family, and everyone directs their anger towards Kevin. As a result, Kevin's mother makes him sleep in the attic (Kevin is scared of the attic) without dinner.
- In The Worst Witch TV film adaptation, Miss Cackle sends Mildred straight to bed without supper after wrecking the broomstick display. She isn't sadistic though, in fact earlier in the film when Mildred is sent to her office she doesn't act nasty at all.
- In Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, the pastor punishes two of his children by denying food to the whole family - that is, the other children, the mother and himself.
- Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima does this as an intervention - the culprits were being whipped at the time.
- In Nanny McPhee, the father tries this on his unruly children at the very beginning. It doesn't work — the kids simply sneak down to the kitchen for a raid.
- In Antz, Azteca is denied her rations for a day after standing up to the foreman on behalf of her new co-worker, Weaver.
- In The Saint, as punishment for Simon's refusing to answer to the religiously themed name arbitrarily given to him by the priests at his orphanage (even when whipped), not only was he not given dinner, every other boy in the orphanage wasn't given dinner as well. Simon waited until the priests left, picked the lock to the pantry, and then the boys helped themselves.
- In The Sixth Sense, Cole is sent away from the table after barely touching his dinner. He would not confess to his mother that he took her brooch. He was telling the truth though, it was a ghost that kept stealing it.
- In The King's Speech, Berty mentions that his first nanny favoured his brother over him. While she dressed and treated his brother well, she would pinch Berty before presenting him to their parents, then deny him food to "punish" him for crying.
- In A Few Good Men, it is mentioned at one point that Lt. Kendrick had placed a misbehaving Marine Private on "barracks restriction" where he was confined to his barracks and given nothing but water and vitamin supplements for a week.
- In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy suggests that she be sent to bed without supper for letting Toto go into Miss Gulch's garden rather than have Toto be put down.
- Night of the Hunter - Harry Palmer, recently a widower after murdering his bride, has meals given to him by sympathetic townsfolk (who think she's run off on him) - which he withholds from his stepchildren to get them to tell where their late father's stolen money is hidden.
- Oliver Twist:
Oliver: Please sir. May I have some more?
Workhouse Master: MORE?!?!?
- In this case, the part about not getting enough food is not intended as a punishment, it's just the way the orphanarium is run. The punishment is that Oliver is sold into what amounts to slavery (at least, that's the Workhouse Master's intent; it doesn't work out quite that badly for him).
- In the beginning of Law Of The Wolf Tower, the first book in The Claidi Journals series by Tanith Lee, Claidi works at a place called House as a servant for Lady Jade Leaf, who punishes Claidi and her fellow maids in this way even for the most miniscule things.
- Where The Wild Things Are
- The students at Lowood in Jane Eyre are denied their meals if they should break the school rules. For a while, they are given meager portions of food as well before the school changes for the better.
- Jane herself was locked in a bedroom for a while without food when she stood up to her bullying cousin.
- In Changes For Samantha: a book from the American Girls Collection, Samantha's friend Nellie is regularly punished by the cold headmistress and given little to no food during her stay at Coldrock House, an Orphanage of Fear.
- In the book Emily Of New Moon, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the titular Emily is punished this way on occasion by her Aunt Elizabeth.
- Often done to Cinderella before she went off with the prince to live in his castle.
- Another retelling of Cinderella is a book called Just Ella, in which Ella's stepmother deprives her of her meals. In the beginning at least, and she doesn't actually marry the prince considering how he turned out to be Prince Charmless.
- In A Little Princess in one scene the teacher bans both Sara and the girl she uses as a slave from having any meals the following day after they let the other girls into their bedroom (they are forbidden from doing so)
- During her time as a servant, Sara was ordered to go days without food. Frequently too.
"I will attend to you tomorrow. You shall have neither breakfast, dinner, nor supper!"
"I have not had either dinner or supper today, Miss Minchin," said Sara, rather faintly.
"Then all the better. You will have something to remember."
- In Ella Enchanted, after Ella talks back to her teacher Sewing Mistress, the lady punishes Ella by making her skip both dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. Made even worse by the fact that Hattie, who is traveling with Ella in the coach to finishing school, commands Ella to not eat; by the time they actually get to the school, Ella hasn't eaten for days.
- In one of the Adventures Of The Wishing Chair stories, Mollie and Peter are both sent to bed without dinner by their mother after they vandalize the titular chair.
- In Harry Potter, for most of his childhood with the Dursleys, Harry received this punishment.
Uncle Vernon waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting on Harry. He was so angry he could hardly speak. He managed to say, "Go—cupboard—stay—no meals," before he collapsed into a chair, and Aunt Petunia had to run and get him a large brandy.
- Phineas from Jason And The Argonauts who Zeus punished by having his harpies defile his food.
- In Mount Vernon Love Story, Martha Washington halfheartedly tries this, sending her son to bed without dinner after he pulls a prank that has the entire neighborhood searching for him — but still leaving him an elaborate tray of bread, jam, and milk, just in case he gets too hungry. It's still a great concession for her, as she mostly lets him run wild, since his two older siblings have already died, and his younger sister is sickly. For his part, George (yes, that one) comes up to his room and asks Jacky to go ahead and punish himself, since his mother won't. Being George Washington, it works.
- In The Hardy Boys novel The House on the Cliff, the smugglers who are holding the boys' dad hostage are also starving him in a vain attempt to get him to go along with their plan.
- In Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, the children's grandmother tries to invoke this when Sammy disobeys her, but Dicey points out going to bed without dinner wouldn't be much of a punishment because he already knows what it's like to go hungry due to having lived on the run and a tiny food budget for months prior.
- In Furnace: Lockdown, the teenage inmates are denied access to the dining hall as punishment for rioting.
- In Louisa May Alcott's short story The Children's Joke, the children and parents reverse roles for a day, and the son sends his father away from the table without his breakfast as a punishment for being late; it's implied that the father has punished his son in this way many times, but having it done to him makes him realize that it's a harsher consequence than he realized. His mother (the children's grandmother) slips him a muffin later, implying that she also mitigates the children's punishments in this way.
- Sometimes done with hares in the Redwall series, usually for having eaten too much food in the first place. This rarely ends well. Also seen sometimes with slaves in the series.
- This actually nearly got a character killed in Triss. After the hare in question (who had already been in trouble twice for eating food that belonged to other people) eats a trifle that the Dibbuns were supposed to get as a prize for winning a contest, the abbot makes him clean the abbey from top to bottom, with only lettuce and water for food. The hare then loads up a haversack full to bursting with food, and leaves. He then gets caught by the villains and has to be rescued.
- In his autobiography A Child Called It, Dave Peltzer claims his mother did this to him persistently, as arbitrary punishment for the slightest disobedience of her control freak insanity.
- In All Of A Kind Family, Sarah refuses to eat her rice soup at lunch and as a result is denied anything else to eat for the rest of the day until she gives in and eats the soup.
- In Malevil, this is the favorite punishment of the evil priest Fulbert, especially as he tricked the town into letting him watch the food supplies after the Apocalypse.
- In Anne of Green Gables, Marilla thinks this idea is ridiculous.
- In Rainbow Valley, Una Meridith does this to herself. This results in her fainting in church, forcing her father to finally see that something is dreadfully wrong with his kids.
- This was done to Danglars in The Count of Monte-Cristo as a way to force him to return the money he stole from Edmond.
- In the book Dragondrums the generally jovial and kind Masterharper Robinton denies the dying Lord Holder Meron pain medication because the man refuses to name an heir and would gladly leave the land up for grabs from his many male heirs. Robinton justifies refusing the healer near Meron because he said Robinton could do "nothing to him." And that is what Robinton gives the man.
- In Warrior Cats, if a cat is assigned to hunt and eats his catch rather than sharing it with the kits and elders of the Clan first, he can't take anything off the fresh-kill pile for supper.
- There's also the abusive foster-mother, Lizardstripe, who hates Brokenkit and is said to have deprived him of milk as punishment for even being born.
Live Action TV
- Johnny Cash - "I Got Stripes"
On a Monday, my Momma came to see me
On a Tuesday, they caught me with a file
On a Wednesday, I'm down in solitary
On a Thursday, I start on bread and water for a while
- Roger in FoxTrot got this when blamed for messing up Andy's computer (it was actually Jason and Paige's fault).
- Note that Roger messes up the computer all the time; this time it was a rather spectacular accident (Diet Coke spilled into the keyboard, then an attempt to clean it up using a hairdryer).
- Roger also was implied to have suffered this trope in another strip, where the kids got pancakes whereas he didn't (or, well, any breakfast). That time, however, he definitely deserved it (Let's just say he picked a very poor gift for Valentines Day for Andy, and that was her way of communicating it).
- Parodied in El Goonish Shive. Since Elliot lied to his parents about sleeping over at Tedd's house, (never mind that he snuck into a government facility and created a female duplicate of himself) they initially decide not to give him any dessert that night but then downgrade it to only giving him one brownie as dessert.
- Nanase's mother denies Nanase dessert after the poor girl explodes—they were already eating dinner, so she couldn't very well tell Nanase to vomit up what she'd already ate. Her sister sneaks her some cookies.
- The Order of the Stick: Team Evil feed the captive O-Chul "a small bowl of watery gruel". Luckily, the Monster in the Darkness shares his stew.
- People in concentration camps were starved (and overworked) to the point of looking like skeletons.
- However, the reasons sometimes varied. While in e.g. GULAGs and Nazi concentration camps this was played straight, in the British concentration camps (from the Second Boer War - the Ur-concentration camps), where mainly Boer civilians were kept, many starved to death because most of the time there simply wasn't enough foodstuff to go around—or rather, the foodstuff existed somewhere in-theatre, but logistical problems (as well as simple British negligence and carelessness) kept it from arriving on time and in the correct quantities. Later concentration camps exploited this misfortune.
- In GULAGs specifically, this was a Morton's Fork situation. The rations were brutally low to begin with, but increased with your productivity. However, the amount of productivity you needed kept increasing as well, and the rewards could not possibly replace the calories you burned earning it, leaving every prisoner in a vicious cycle.
- Prisoners in general often had their rations diminished for misbehavior. While not as widely used nowadays because of health concerns, it still happens in places.
- A common form of punishment in prisons is "food loaf restriction". The meal the prisoner would be served would be served is mixed up in a blender and baked into a loaf. It has the same nutritional value as a meal, but doesn't taste very good. Dessert is a privilege to be earned. Incidentally, guards and prisoners eat the same thing, only guards can go back for seconds if they want.
- This used to be a fairly common punishment for misbehaving military personnel, regardless of country. Nowadays, the most common punishments are forfeiture of pay, extra duty, and restriction of privileges.
- Provisions for bread and water rations are still on the books in the U.S. Navy, though there are so many prerequisites to actually inflict such a punishment (health clearance, constant monitoring by medical personnel to ensure such a diet doesn't do lasting harm, constant monitoring to ensure the punished doesn't sneak himself food, etc.) that it is almost never used, as it is far easier to just demote the punished or strip them of pay.
- It used to be that if a Papal Conclave took too long to decide on a new Pope, Cardinal-Electors would be put on a diet of bread and water until the white smoke blew. This regulation is still technically on the books, but no conclave has dragged on long enough to trigger that provision in a very long time.
- This is somewhat surprising, as past elections have dragged on well after food actually was denied. The longest-ever conclave, November 1268-September 1271 (that's right, it took them almost three whole years) was only ended after the people of Viterbo (where the election was held) decided to remove the roof of the palace where the cardinals were meeting.
- Sending a misbehaving child to bed without supper was a popular disciplinary action for many parents. Nowadays, denying a child dessert or a treat is a little more common, though.
- This is frequently joked about, with the punchline being that this wasn't much of a punishment because the joke-teller's mother was a terrible cook.
- Or another family member will take pity on the child and covertly sneak food into their bedroom—the child being already aware that this might happen prevents it from being an especially effective punishment.
- Or that kids have some much in their rooms nowadays (computer, phone, tv), to punish them you send them to the parents' room.
- The judge in Texas who sentenced a woman to spend the first few days of her animal cruelty prison sentence on a bread and water diet as a reminder of how she'd starved the horses. (after the initial round of news articles, it also showed up on Animal Planet's Animal Cops Houston.)