A key moment in the film Rustin involves sandwiches. Bayard Rustin, played by Colman Domingo, is in charge of organising the March on Washington. The logistics are daunting – the largest gathering ever in the national capital, mostly of African-Americans in a highly racially divided era, on a hot August day in 1963.

At the last minute, Rustin is asked to resign because he is publicly denounced as a homosexual and Communist. Barely keeping himself together, Rustin focuses on his task. His young team of organisers is making cheese sandwiches for the crowds. He tells them cheese will spoil in the heat. They must make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead. The moment showcases both his vulnerability and formidable organising skills.

Domingo has been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars. Films often use food to make impactful points. This year there’s Poor Things where a child-like woman discovers the meaning of pleasure by eating Portuguese custard tarts (Emma Stone, nominated for Best Actress for that role, had to eat 60 tarts during the shooting, which some have suggested merits her winning).

In The Holdovers, diners denied Cherries Jubilee, a dessert, because it is flamed with brandy and one of them is underage, defiantly, if rather chaotically, recreate it in the parking lot outside. In The Zone of Interest, the German family happily ignoring the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp next door is subtly contrasted with shots of a young woman hiding apples for the prisoners to find. Not everyone tried to ignore what was happening.

But using food in the film is not the same as a film centred on food, and these have been rare at the Oscars. In Food in the Movies, Steve Zimmerman’s detailed study, he notes that films initially ignored food for practical reasons: “the preparation and cooking of everyday meals and the slow-paced, uninteresting process of eating, especially in silent films without an aural component to enhance humour, drama or exposition.” The best use of food was for gags like the pies smashed on faces in slapstick comedies.

Even when sound came into films, the physical act of filming was so cumbersome, involving much time under hot lights, that it was hard to present food well. Zimmerman says that filmmakers compromised by showing actors getting ready to eat or having already eaten, but rarely actually eating food. In the multiple Oscar-nominated film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), about families dealing with an interracial relationship, the film finally ends with the titular dinner about to start.In the 1970s technology improved and filming food became far easier. Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) was pathbreaking, for being shot in natural light, and with several scenes of food being made or eaten. It didn’t win the main Oscars but swept up technical awards like Art Direction and Cinematography. Even before, The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather II (1974), both Best Picture winners, featured much Italian food.But that’s not the same as a food film. It wasn’t until 2000 that Chocolat got a Best Picture nomination, followed by Sideways (about wine) in 2004. No film really focussed on food has ever won, despite many now being made, which might signal Oscar juries still don’t take them seriously. They’ve had more success in animation, where Ratatouille (2007) won Best Feature and Feast (2014) and Bao (2018) won Best Short Film.

Food films have done best at the Oscars with foreign submissions. Babette’s Feast (1987), unquestionably food-focused with its story of a great chef forced to work as a plain cook, but who then makes one last fine meal, won Best Foreign Language Film. Nominees have included The Wedding Banquet (1993), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), A Chef in Love (1996), Honeyland (2019), all about food in different ways. In film, as in food, do Americans have to look for real flavour to the world outside?