Many characters have Bizarre Taste in Food, but they still eat things recognizable as food. Many characters are Extreme Omnivore, but at least they eat physical objects. In fiction, almost anything can be food, an Abstract Eater eats things which aren't so much things but concepts.
Individuals with these tastes will feed on anything from lost possibilities to sanity, love, or even coolness. Though they may also enjoy the material as a side dish, all of these foodies get some kind of benefit from the abstract dish of their choice.
The process of eating something abstract could be portrayed in any number of ways, as it's up to the creators of the work to describe what it looks like to see something intangible be devoured.
This can often be Horror Hunger, as it often leads to the Eater of the Abstract feeding of the actions or traits of folks like us, leading to humans in behaviour farms and/or a deficiency of the tasty concept in the world or its previous host. A common aspect of Eldritch Abominations, naturally.
There are several subtropes based on the type of abstract food:
- Emotion Eater (emotion)
- Ingesting Knowledge (knowledge)
- Spacetime Eater (the fabric of the universe/reality)
- Soul Eating (souls)
- Dragon Slayers in Fairy Tail each have their own signature element, which they use to attack. They can also replenish their energy by eating that same element. Elements, of course, don't usually count as abstract concepts... except the specific case of darkness, which is really only absence of light. However, they can feed on magic with that elementaly type (Sting, the White Dragon Slayer, can eat "White Magic")
- In Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, the plot is kicked off when the demon Neuro comes to Earth to feed off the complexity generated by riddles, puzzles, and mysteries. To do so, he starts solving murders and feeding off the culprits. One of the later story arcs has Sicks offer him a mansion full of fabricated crimes for his consumption, and Neuro is appalled by the artificial riddles.
- Youkai in Ushio and Tora have many different diets, usually people, organs or souls, but the recent Youkai Ikkaku (a fish-like monster who dwells in motorcycles and possess people) gets its nourishment from speed itself, forcing the user to go faster and faster with no regards for safety.
- The grammasites, from the Thursday Next series. Parasites that live in books, examples include adjectivores, spelling vyruses, and the like.
- From the Eighth Doctor Adventures, the Fendahl Predator devours concepts — as a group of beings who believed You Cannot Kill An Idea discover to their cost.
- And let's not forget about the Babelfish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That little creature feeds on the thought processes around its host and excretes a neuronal matrix into the host's brain. Incidentally, this enables the host to instantly understand any form of communication whatsoever. It is said that the poor Babelfish has wreaked more havoc on sentient life in the universe than all armies that ever marched combined, due to obliterating all boundaries to understand one another.
- Diane Duane's Star Trek novels have the Iruhe, who eat the minds of sentient beings, leaving only breathing but mindless bodies. They appear briefly in The Romulan Way, where they devour the minds of two ships' worth of Romulans (who have just left Vulcan and were in the process of looking for a new homeworld, and were lured in by the Iruhe's illusions of a water-rich, habitable planet); the rest of the fleet barely escape. The Iruhe are also the villains of her TNG book Intellivore, where they have gained the ability to move their planet about to prey on planets rather than just starships.
- The eponymous darkangel in The Darkangel Trilogy must feed on the souls of human maidens in order to complete his transformation into a vampyre — leaving them mindless, emotionless "wraiths" who slowly wither away physically as well.
- In The Nekropolis Archives, Waldemar is an ancient vampire who subsists on memories rather than blood. He runs the Great Library of the Nekropolis, selling information in exchange for eating one day's worth of memory from the person seeking it.
- In Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee, magic is used to bring legendary heroes to life to fight a Galactic Conqueror. Unfortunately the magic devours all the stories in the civilization to create more and more warriors, cutting them out of books and eventually people.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer season five Big Bad Glory had to manage her hell god composure by eating human sanity, leaving her victims gibbering wrecks.
- Channel Zero has the creatures inhabiting the No-End House. Duplicates of the loved ones of those who enter the House, they feed by conjuring up manifestations of the guests' memories, and then eat them, which in the process erases those memories. This process eventually renders the victim an Empty Shell, which isn't good news for the duplicates either, as they can only feed on the memories of the person they were created from; without them, the devolve into zombie-like creatures.
- Doctor Who has a few examples;
- The Weeping Angels send people back in time so they can feed on the lives they never lived. To resurrect an entire cave system of dying angels, one crashes a starship into it that happens to harbour one of Series Five's cracks in time; the Angels have a feast on all the lives the crack had stolen from existence, until the crack starts swallowing them.
- In "Amy's Choice", the psychic pollen that places the Doctor, Amy and Rory in a shared dream state fed off the darkness in its victim's minds, creating the image of the Dream Lord as a manifestation of the Doctor's own self-hatred.
Amy: But why didn't it feed on us, too?
The Doctor: The darkness in you pair, it would have starved to death in an instant. I choose my friends with great care. Otherwise I'm stuck here with my own company and you know how that works now.
- The minotaur from "The God Complex" eats faith and lives in a maze designed to show its inhabitants fears that will cause them to call onto their faiths, "cooking" them.
- The planet-sized creature known as the Old God from "The Rings of Akhaten" fed on stories. The people living in his system used items of sentimental value as currency so they could be given as offerings to it and taught their Queen of Years all the stories of their culture so that if it ever awoke he could feast on her rather than their entire system. They even believe that the Old God made the first life in the universe, possibly to create tasty stories for it to feast on.
- The Trickster (from spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures) and his minions, the Trickster's Brigade, feed on the chaos created when an established timeline is altered in some way.
- The Teller in "Time Heist" eats guilt, and will turn your brain to soup to get to the buried stuff.
- "Flatline" features bizarre creatures which eat dimensions; shrinking items or turning them into images for sustenance.
- Red Dwarf has the emohawk, a domesticated breed of the Emotion Eater ploymorph that instead feeds on personality traits, during its episode it enjoys a meal of Rimmer's bitterness and Cat's cool. While this left the Cat in his bumbling and useless Duane Dibbley persona, it radically helped Rimmer, who became his heroic parallel universe persona Ace Rimmer. What a guy!
- Sleepy Hollow introduced a "sin eater" in Season 1: it was the ruse by which Ichabod Crane's evil son began insinuating his way into Crane's life to take revenge.
- The Wraith in Stargate Atlantis consume human life forces via organs in the palms of their hands.
- In Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, the Primordial arc gives you the ability to digest and metabolize anything you can figure out how to put in your mouth.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Several monsters eat the psionic energy of psionic creatures, such as Brain Moles, Cerebral Parasites and Intellect Devourers.
- The undead known as a Shadow drains the strength of other creatures.
- Beholders have to consume food to survive, but to power their prodigious magical abilities, they have to absorb magic - their brains have "dweomerlobes" that allow them to store and amplify magical energy from things a Beholder looks at. This isn't quite as drastic as a Mana Drain effect, and a Beholder would have to study even a basic spell scroll for an extended period to render it inert, but it does mean that a Beholder is compelled to seek out magical effects and hoard magic items to study. Which helps explain why a giant floating head would collect a bunch of enchanted boots and gloves that would only be of use to adventurers who might happen to defeat it and expect level-appropriate loot.
- The Forgotten Realms setting has Dendar the Night Serpent, an Eldritch Abomination who feeds on the nightmares of mortals and deities alike. Among the duties of the Chultan god Ubtao is guarding the Realms against Dendar's emergence from beneath the Peaks of Flame. If Dendar defeats Ubtao, legend has it her next meal will be the universe itself.
- Magic: The Gathering has Chronatog, a relative of the artifact-devouring atog that eats time.
- The Word-Eater of Clan Malkavian in Vampire: The Masquerade is well-known for this sort of thing: having transcended his need for blood, he's instead taken to devouring words and the ideas associated with them; more frighteningly, the words and ideas he consumes cease to exist and cease to ever have existed - hence the reason why nobody can remember the Word-Eater's true name or any of his victims. Even the Clanbooks aren't safe from his appetites, the original Malkavian clanbook depicting him in the act of eating the words right off the page, and looking decidedly interested in the reader...
- Drowzee is a Pokémon that is famous for eating dreams, like the mythological baku it is based on. It's hardly the only Pokémon to do so, as other Psychic and Ghost-types are also capable of learning the move "Dream Eater", which does damage to a target and heals the user, but only if the target is asleep.
- Other Pokémon are said to consume emotions.
- Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon establishes Necrozma as a being that eats light, whether that of an entire world (like the Ultra Megalopolis) or of another being like Solgaleo or Lunala (represented by its Fusion Dance-cross-Grand Theft Me with those Pokémon). This is because Necrozma is the remains of the "Blinding One", a deity that was composed of light and willingly shared it with other worlds, and Necrozma is attempting to consume enough light to regain its original form. Even when in this form, dubbed "Ultra Necrozma", Necrozma still absorbs the surrounding area's light as part of its Z-Move, Light That Burns the Sky.
- Keine Kamishirasawa from Touhou is a were-hakutaku, whose ability is to eat history in human form, and create history in hakutaku form. It is unexplained how she eats history, but the effect seems to conceal the thing whose history is being eaten, without actually removing its existence.
- The tutorial of Heroes of the Storm has fun with this idea.
Diablo: How tastes your fear, mortal!Raynor: I wouldn't know, I'm not sure you can actually taste fear.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
- The Daedric Prince Vaermina has been eating the dreams of the inhabitants of the town of Dawnstar, leaving nightmares in it's place. The quest Walking Nightmare involves helping a Mara priest named Erandur to seal Vaermina shrine and stop her from eating more dreams. If you side with Vaermina, betraying and killing Erandur, she will give you a staff that also charges its power from "eating" dreams.
- According to legend, Alduin once devoured the lifespan of the entire Nord population down to age six.
- The Phantom mobs in Minecraft are undead flying manta rays that are "attracted to insomnia". They appear in the skies at night when a player hasn't slept for 3 days and swoop down to attack that player.
- Peeesh in UK Sight Reading Tournament eats spent energy of people, instead of food.
- Grrl Power: Vehemence is "an innate user of vehemic energy... sometimes called vistric energy." The layman's version:he gains power from violence. He makes his debut by sticking around an all out super brawl between a super hero team and a team-up of villains. Only when it's over does he enter the fray himself, now strong enough to go toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful super beings in the world and only making himself stronger for it.
- Dabbler is a succubus and the team's resident Jill of all Trades. She feeds on tantric (sexual) energy.
- In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, the resident Succubi and Incubi passively feed on the emotions of surrounding creatures. They are able to eat souls, though probably most of them don't, since that would get them in trouble rather quickly. Also, the various clans each have one emotion they especially like, which include Pride, Pain, Anger, Lust and Joy. Because of their abilities, they are vulnerable to mental manipulation. For instance, you can remember being tickled "at" them, and they will react as if it were actually happening. They also don't need to sleep or eat when receiving enough emotional energy. However, they do enjoy coffee, ice cream and other 'treats' just like every other living creature, and they can sleep if they want to, although they do not dream. Emotional consumption apparently replaces the effects of REM sleep.
- Emily in Questionable Content is a barista in a coffee shop and Genius Ditz who somehow manages to respond to a customer's request for a medium Lorentz factor.
- Homestar Runner has the King of Town, who's capable of eating holidays according to the cartoon "Happy Hallow-Day".
Strong Sad: Cough it up, King of Town! We know you ate Halloween Night!
King of Town: You amateurs, you don't know what you're talking about. I'm on a diet! It's strictly Arbor Day and Earth Day for me this year.
- Morby from Less Is Morgue is an Eldritch Abomination that feeds on nostalgia until he becomes powerful enough to start absorbing physical matter.
Morby: There is no next episode, Evelyn Hooper. Morby is the first and final episode, and every episode in between. I am the vulture who feasts on time. I am the shadow of the turned page. Your innocence is my ambrosia, your lust for simplicity my bread.
- Adventure Time has a few examples; a character who eats drawings from within the paper they reside, and Marceline, a vampire who eats not blood, but the colour red (she can eat blood instead, but prefers not to).
- DuckTales (2017): In "House of the Lucky Gander!", Gladstone Gander ends up in the thrall of Liu Hai, a spirit who feeds on good luck. When Liu Hai is tricked into trying to feed off Donald Duck, Hai is left weak and emaciated and is forced to flee the ducks' dimension.
- In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Swarm of the Century", the parasprites at first eat all the food in Ponyville. When Twilight Sparkle casts a spell on them to make them stop eating all the food, they instead start to consume everything conventionally inedible. This trope appears when they eat the words out of books, sucking them in like spaghetti.
- In the Italian animated series Tommy And Oscar, Oscar is a pink alien who eats music — not, it should be noted, music as a concept or sound waves, or anything like that, but actual musical notes, which are physical if ephemeral objects in the series. His typical breakfast consists of turning on the radio, grabbing the notes as they float past and popping them in his mouth.