Because of our highly industrialized food systems, the vast majority of people in developed countries are distanced from any kind of food production. This makes it easy to overlook the subject of food in apocalyptic narratives because we ourselves only have to go to the grocery store once a week to sustain ourselves. In recent texts and films, however, the notion of sustaining human life in the post-apocalyptic world has become more prominent. This coincides with the increasing trend towards environmental apocalypses in film and literature, and in real life, an increase in healthy and sustainable food trends. Of the post-apocalyptic narratives that we have studied this semester, Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has dug the furthest into ideas of food and sustainability through blatant satire our current food systems.
Atwood satire is so outrageous that it is comical, but her intentions are clear. The chains SecretBurgers, Happicuppa, and Rarity, are disgusting criticisms of unsafe, unhealthy, and unsustainable food practices. The chain SecretBurgers criticises the tendency for people to have no idea what they are eating. The SecretBurgers contain any kind of plausible protein, including road kill, gutted carcasses, and even the odd human corpse (Atwood 33-34). Happicuppa, a not so thinly veiled jab at Starbucks, shows one chain completely wiping out all others, so that they don’t have to adhere to any standards but their own. Rarity is a restaurant chain where customers literally eat species into extinction. In contrast to the satire of humanities worst food practices, Atwood also shows an exaggerated but sound food system through the Gardeners.
The religious cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ is often portrayed comically, but they introduce a sustainable system where humanity and nature have reconciled. Atwood doesn’t make their lifestyle overly appealing (Ren’s used bathmat blanket, the constantly damp clothes (Atwood 63-64), and bland food). Toby criticises a lot of their practices, especially their “bossy sanctimoniousness” (Atwood 46), and the reader is invited to do the same. Despite this, it is clear that the systems of ‘God’s Gardeners’ are inherently good. Their lifestyle is the only one that promises growth, health, and sustainability in Atwood’s rapidly deteriorating world. Atwood, who is herself a gardener (lower case), is proposing an increased awareness in food and how it makes its way into our lives. Through satirical reflections on our natural world, apocalyptic narratives can identify humanities destructive behaviours and provide fictional cautionary tales.
Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.