Fiction: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Food: Air Nomad Fruit Pie
First Appearance: Season 1, Episode 3, “The Southern Air Temple”
Review: After experiencing a resurgence in popularity following its debut on Netflix in May, Avatar: The Last Airbender became one of the most talked-about shows of the summer, despite the fact that this Nickelodeon cartoon aired its final episode in 2008. ATLA is notable for a few reasons, including its complex character arcs, in-depth world building inspired by a variety of Asian cultures, and the fact that it is one of the few children’s shows to incorporate literal and actual genocide into its plot: That of the Air Nomads, the protagonist Aang’s nation.
In the third episode of the series, twelve-year-old Aang learns for the first time that, and I cannot stress this enough, everyone he loves and his culture as a whole has been obliterated by angry fire people. He shakes it off, but before he comes to terms with his trauma the way most professionals agree is ideal — glowing from the eyes and creating a spiritual cyclone — he reflects on his childhood in the temple, where he and his guardian Monk Gyatso passed peaceful days flying around and making fruit pies.
The pies themselves resemble angel food cakes with gooey (and, apparently, fruity) centers that get their distinctive raised swirl through a combination of baking and airbending. (Oh yeah, by the way, the four nations are divided by their ability to control, or bend, one of the four classical elements: Earth, fire, water, and air. Air is the only one anyone ever uses to bake with, though, and therefore it is superior.)
Gyatso, one of the many cool old guys on the show, encourages his pupil to practice his bending technique by sending the freshly baked pies through the air and onto the heads of the less cool monks, a fun sequence that is simultaneously made deeply upsetting by the fact that this is a flashback and in the present, the temple is an abandoned wreck.
Aang later discovers Gyatso’s skeleton surrounded by a pile of other skeletons. You know, fun kid stuff.
The fruit pie gets points for functioning equally as well as a dessert and a projectile — a quality its real-life counterpart shares — though the swirl so little resembles fruit that it seems more artificial than the vegetarian, nature-oriented monks would like. Also, angel food cake is gross. Some foods melt-in-your-mouth. Angel food cake dissolves-on-sight.
That being said, these pies are relics of a lost culture, one that was so easygoing that it took its primary martial art and applied it to food. If only we lived in a world like that, which is, in fact, one of the primary appeals of this show: Despite unimaginable tragedy — see above, “lost culture” — the story and characters maintain a sense of joy, wonder, and humor. Bending can be used to hurt and murder, but it is also used to heal, fly, build cities, and make pie. Where there is a harmful force, there is an equal and opposite redemptive one, and I think that’s something we’re all hungry for, no matter how we feel about angel food cake.
(But it’s still gross. Who looked at that pink housing insulation fluff and thought, aha! I shall recreate it in cake?)
Would I try it? Yes!
Mary Colussi is an NYC-based recent graduate and writer, mostly of humor and TV scripts but occasionally of fiction and encouraging texts to friends. She has been published in Sally Mag, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Points in Case.