Lauded by critics and fans alike, Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s third season is arguably the series darkest, most dramatically dynamic turn yet. So it came as a bit of a surprise when DreamWorks chose the “How to Cow” clip as the Season 4 preview during a New York Comic Con panel presentation last October.
The two-minute scene sees the then-blue paladin Lance walking Princess Allura and her adviser Coran through what can only be described as a milkshake explainer. While most viewers wouldn’t bat an eye at where the sweet, chilled treat comes from, Voltron‘s executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos says he understands why obtaining its key ingredient might be weird for members of an alien race.
“I mean, look, I love milk, but if I were to see an alien [milk] another alien, I’d be like, ‘All right, something’s wrong here,'” Dos Santos laughed at the convention. “It’s funny to flip it, to see from the aliens’ perspective what we take for granted as a very common occurrence. In Star Wars [Luke Skywalker] did it to the alien on the rocks and I was like, ‘I don’t wanna be a part of that.'”
A colorful comedic moment, the clip illustrates a distinct Voltron storytelling trend. One where food is a subtle but evocative tool of world and character building. “How to Cow” makes you laugh while revealing part of Lance’s backstory and establishing how different Voltron’s planetary food systems are. It’s also just one of several multifaceted food moments in the show.
In the episode “The Depths,” Lance and Hunk get stranded on a planet where the food source is a mind-controlling predator. The primary ingredient in Hunk’s cookies power the castle ship out of enemy clutches in “Eye of the Storm.” “Crystal Venom” uses memories of an Altean berry festival to reconnect Allura with her father as a blue, Altean juice makes the paladins long for garlic knots and home in “Fall of the Castle of Lions.” Meanwhile, “Changing of the Guard” sees pigs in a blanket become hors-d’oeuvres and a tool for negotiation during a meeting with alien dignitaries.
Where other shows use food as set dressing, Voltron‘s culinary subplots morph cooking and dining into forms of battle and play, conduits of relationship development, and opportunities for characters to celebrate and share who they are.
“Coming from a Chinese background myself, food plays a huge part in my heritage. It’s how I connect with my family,” Christine Bian, a Voltron design supervisor, said. “So sometimes the food is representative of a character’s heritage or their background. Like on the ship, they get served traditional, ancient Altean food.”
The full feature appeared at Syfy Wire on April 24, 2018.