Total: $219

“Both on and off screen, food literally ‘places’ us in the world, both through its materiality and its meanings. In its materiality, food forces attention to the body; in its many psychological and social meanings, food preferences and the rituals of eating help reveal the shadings of gender, class, ethnicity, power, and community. For food not only shapes our bodies, but it structures our lives, fashioning daily rituals and helping mark significant rites of passage. Food connects us to others  both directly, through shared meals, and culturally, through shared ‘tastes.’ Parley Anne Boswell (1990) notes that food is a staple of film properties in nearly all genres. ‘Audiences respond to food, to eating, to dining scenes because we all understand something about food  we all eat’. Mary Anne Schofield argues that food in literature ‘articulates in concrete terms what is often vague, internal, abstract’. Depictions of meals in films serve as shorthand that often allows audiences to better understand individual characters through their relationship to food and characters’ relationships with others in interactions taking place over food…”

soylent-green_17

“The less the world of the future resembles our own present, the more that food seems deployed as a bridge, not simply to the present but to an even more distant past. This seems particularly true of films in which environmental crises have reconfigured the world. In a bleak setting, familiar foods take on the role of ‘comfort foods’ quite literally  and offer a means of clinging to a former world. The opening sequence of Soylent Green (1973) offers a visual history of earth’s collapse, beginning with a slow black and white photographic montage of pastoral scenes and then speeding forward into an increasingly urbanized and industrialized landscape  in which technology ultimately transforms cities into waste heaps of detritus. Of all the films discussed in this essay, Soylent Green is most explicitly about food. Food not only figures into several lengthy scenes, but it is central to the anxieties about the future at the heart of the film. In an early scene, the film’s protagonist, an investigator named Thorn (Charlton Heston), visits a black market grocery store  where a single stalk of celery and two small apples are rung up for a total of $219. And then a cut of beef is revealed  so exotic and fantastical that no price is ever named. We understand immediately that only the very privileged can afford such luxuries, and then only rarely. The mass of humanity subsists on a mysterious diet of soylent green. When Thorn and his partner Sol (Edward G. Robinson) sit down to their dinner of salad (ironically flavorless-looking iceberg lettuce and a small, pale tomato) and beef stew, the older man reveals that it has been years since he’s tasted anything like it; Thorn admits these flavors are all new to him. Yet both men revel in the sensory experience and seem to derive equal pleasure from the flavors  for one, familiar, for the other, exotic  they taste. For Sol, this meal operates much like Proust’s madeleine, evoking another world, another time. Yet Thorn’s response reminds us that nostalgia need not be grounded in memory. An imagined past is every bit as powerful as a remembered one…”

Text: Jean P. Retzinger (2008): Speculative Visions and Imaginary Meals, Cultural Studies, 22:3-4, 369-390.
Pic: Soylent Green [1973], Dir: Richard Fleischer.

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