Science Fiction Studies

#147 = Volume 49, Part 2 = July 2022

Nora Castle and Graeme Macdonald

Introduction: Food Futures

Near the beginning of Frant Gwo’s 2019 blockbuster film adapted from Liu Cixin’s short story “The Wandering Earth” (2000), the perspective opens onto the streets of underground city “No. 3,” constructed five kilometers below the ice-wracked Beijing of the 2070s. The camera tracks around a public square, where preparations for the Chinese New Year are underway. It follows two sibling protagonists, Liu Qi and Han Duoduo, in their illicit attempt to visit the uninhabitable surface of the Earth. As they hurriedly weave through the busy scene, the schoolgirl Duoduo wonders aloud if the Committee will issue dumplings later. She is immediately admonished by her brother for always thinking of food. “Eat dirt,” he replies, ushering her onwards. She lingers at a food stall, contemplating some vacuum-packed fare. “Durian-flavored, dried earthworms!”, she exclaims, but goes empty-handed as the pair hurry to their destination. The elementary worldbuilding of these scenes focalizes a tremendous exercise in habitability, showcasing the technology, hardware, and infrastructure that allows human survival on a climate-wrecked planet. Solar meltdown has initiated a radical geoengineering project, transforming the Earth into a spaceship that must travel for 2500 years to the next inhabitable solar system.

But it is those dried worms that preoccupy us here. This special issue concerns itself with food futures, registered in a range of texts from across the history of science fiction and its subgenres, reverberating and resurfacing at various points (if perhaps not often enough) in its critical history. The worm-based foodstuff of Gwo’s film hints at a much broader and deeper culinary landscape of critical alimentary issues that are to some extent buried beneath the overarching narrative of technological acumen, impossible engineering feats, and the emotional experiences of survivors.1 When food becomes a matter of critical concern, key questions come to the fore: Who will feed these people (and, by extension, us)? How will they do it? What will count as food? How will technology change the way we cultivate and grow food? What will “food sovereignty” look like in the future, and how will this relate to now? How might the definitions of, say, “vegetarian” or “omnivore” change, if at all? And with the ecological threats to the earth, would there even be dirt, as Liu Qi quips, for one to eat?

We understand “food futures” here as signifying a wide spectrum of textual registrations of the larger technopolitical and agroecological problematic that is the future of food. “Food futures” brings together a range of concepts about and materials for “future foods,” from technofoods such as synthetic pastes, factory bread, bioengineered fruits and vegetables, lab-grown meat and seafood, and ersatz foods made of fungi, algae, and yeast, to more fantastical examples, such as alien cuisine, space travel tea, digital fare, and even human bodies. But “food futures” also signifies the sites, mechanisms, systems, settings, and conditions in and through which such future foods might be produced and consumed in sf kitchens (the topic of our Roundtable here). “Food futures” include replicators, 3D food printers, aqua-, hydro- or aeroponic farms, spaceship biodomes, the cafés of exoplanetary colonies, postapocalyptic worlds, utopias and dystopias, alien worlds—as well as climate breakdown, zombie holocausts, and other extreme events.

Food in sf worlds is often some radically different material or ingredient. Elsewhere, future food might envision the foods with which we are familiar consumed under a radically different set of socio-ecological relations or technological conditions. Either way, what is fundamental to our interpretive outlook is that the very concept of food and its materiality as baseline biological and cultural material has arguably been placed under the sign of the future to a greater extent and scale than we have ever experienced before. As a core element of both the problems with and solutions to the climate crisis, the global food system is the nexus of an array of future-oriented concerns clustered around issues from soil quality, land use and ownership, dietary habits, and security of foodways to emergent and incumbent food technologies and production techniques, population debates, habitat design, consumption cultures, economic systems, energy regimes, and much, much more. As the process of global heating advances, the viability of the present food system is threatened at all levels, not least because it is one of the most significant contributors to global emissions.2 It is, then, under immense pressure to adapt, but in what ways and under what controls are questions being fiercely debated.

Like anthropogenic climate change, explored in SFS’s special issue on “SF and the Climate Crisis” (Nov. 2018), the future of food is a significant and developing imaginary. From the techno-utopic projections of food tech companies—such as those using controlled environment agriculture (e.g., vertical farms) or producing cultured or precision fermented foods (e.g., lab-grown meat or yeast-based dairy)—to the return to heirloom produce and community seedbanks of agricultural activists and Indigenous communities, it is clear that different visions of the future of food put power into very different hands. Nevertheless, it is no exaggeration to say that the better outcomes for humanity at large depend on the development of alternative food cultures, systems, and technologies. This has impacted research agendas from genetics to horticulture, from architecture to anthropology, with many of their developments drawing on or finding articulation in examples from science fiction. How exactly sf engages with the future of food, then, is a motivating and urgent question. 

An immediate rejoinder to this is that speculative food imaginaries have, as we might expect, long been detectable in sf, if we are prepared to look for them. As several articles here remind us, many signal features of the food imaginaries of contemporary sf have historical antecedents, from ideas about food-in-a-pill or chemically produced food to various modes of agrotechnological dreaming, including vegetarian utopias, robotic sky farms, interstellar horticulture, and multiple (often dystopian) forms of mega-industrialized provision. We can also find recurring attention to innovative approaches to waste and recycling and the promotion and representation of closed ecologies and circular foodways. A longer historical perspective also demonstrates that sf narratives have always revealed conflicts and inequalities in modernity’s enlarging and diversifying food system that remain recognizable in the present. These are operating features of modern agriculture and modernity at large, and they create fissures as well as new socio-alimentary connections between core and periphery, city and country, colony and metropole, and among food workers, producers, and consumers. Sf narratives also broadcast a variety of parallel fears and anxieties surrounding resource exhaustion, distributive capacity, animal ethics, and expansionary tendencies. Speculative answers to food shortages and crises in such narratives, from alternative dietary cultures to nature-based solutions, synthetic creations, and off-world plantations are also familiar. What is perhaps most instructive about such texts now is the opportunity to read and reread them in an age downstream from the mid-twentieth-century Great Acceleration and the longer historical installation and exploitation of what Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore identify as “Cheap Nature.”  In this frame, monocultural regimes of cheap food and successive exploitative frontiers of corporate agricultural “revolution” and (de)forestation have been keys to the industrialization and globalization of the food system and its now evident irreversible effects, including methane emissions, crop-yield suppression, the general depletion of the atmospheric commons, and widespread degradations of the planet’s lands, oceans, soils, and subsurfaces. The articles in this special issue—implicitly or in direct fashion—engage in different ways with this developing context, unavoidable for any contemporary interpretation or expression of food futures.

The long contemporary period has seen several important texts in the evolution of critical practice on the topic. Gary Westfahl and George Slusser’s edited collection The Food of the Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Science Fiction and Fantasy (1996) sought to consolidate food in sff into a defined area of study. It has been followed by notable examples such as Laurel Forster’s “Futuristic Foodways: The Metaphorical Meaning of Food in Science Fiction Film” (2004) and Jean P. Retzinger’s “Speculative Visions and Imaginary Meals” (2008). These both identify food as having great analytical potential in sf film due to its multiplicity of meanings as both a base physiological necessity and a complex cultural object. But it is really only in the recent boom of environmentally engaged sf and sf criticism that the urgency of a sustained consideration of food futures has become apparent. Articles such as Susan McHugh’s “Real Artificial: Tissue-Cultured Meat, Genetically Modified Farm Animals, and Fictions” (2010), Scott Selisker’s “‘Stutter-Stop Flash-Bulb Strange’: GMOs and the Aesthetics of Scale in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl” (2015), Thomas Strychacz’s “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir's The Martian” (2017), and Chris Maughan’s “‘Food from Nowhere’: Food, Fuel and the Fantastical” (2019) begin to take seriously the role of agribusiness and its interconnections with (bio)technology, energy regimes, and political economy, particularly as these relate to sustainability, climate justice, and planetary futures. What Patel and Moore identify as “the global farm” has its ramifications in climate’s “promise of absolute decline” (160), and we can identify food here as a significant feature in the speculative drama of deterioration, limits, blight, and various forms of adaptation that predominates in many of the texts comprising the “planetary” subgenre of climate fiction. Utopian studies have also realized the import of food. A resonant example is the recent “More Meals to Come” conference (2019), hosted at the University of Porto, Portugal by the Alimentopia collective and resulting in Teresa Botelho et al.’s edited collection Utopian Foodways: Critical Essays (2019). With the rise of associated fields such as critical animal studies, critical plant studies, and critical infrastructure studies, together with the push for the inclusion of more diverse futures in sf studies, there is undoubtedly much more work to be done across this realm.

There is also opportunity to read and reread sf texts in and against the wider scholarship on food studies, particularly in the pressurized context of ecological crisis. The citation of illustrative examples from sf texts is discernible across not only academic studies but also popular media, ranging from journalistic and anti-GMO activist invocations of “Frankenfoods,” to the purposeful reference to Soylent Green (1973) in the branding of the Soylent meal-replacement company, to the invocation of Star Trek (1966-) as the inspiration for the Genie pod-based cooking system (launched in 2019). Speculative cookbooks such as Koert van Mensvoort and Jan-Hendrik Groevink’s In Vitro Meat Cookbook (2014), described on its dust jacket as “half-fiction, half scientific enquiry,” are novel contributions to future food’s science fictionality, while the marketing of and reporting on emergent technofoods such as cultured meat play on their status as “science fiction turned reality.” Reality has indeed, in some ways, caught up with sf: for example, the hydroponically farmed or genetically-grown from computer code strawberries of Snowpiercer (2020-2022) and The Matrix Resurrections (2021) are matched in products such as US start-up Oishii’s (founded 2017) indoor vertically farmed Omakase Berry, which promises to be so “far beyond the basic berry you thought you knew” that it is “transformative” (“The Omakase Berry”).3

Given the extent of these sf citations, it is important to reconsider how and where “future food” appears in sf. What is it and how is it made, grown, transported, reproduced, distributed, cultured? How might speculative work accompany but also critique and resist historical, contemporary, or indeed proposed futuristic food cultures? This might involve training our eye to “look for food” and consider its import and provenance in and of texts to a greater degree than hitherto. Given the ubiquity of food to human experience, this opens out all manner of examples and perspectives. Where do all those noodles eaten in, for example, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)—or indeed the foodscapes of cyberpunk or dystopias in general—emanate from? How do the Coca-Cola or the Budweiser advertised in this future world, where the distinction between “organic” and “synthetic” has blurred, source their sugar and grow their hops? Are those algae-processing plants mentioned in passing in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) designed for the poor air quality of post-apocalyptic earth or might they also enable the production of new forms of food in response to severely depleted agricultural conditions?    

As a marker of alimentary adaptation to a resource-challenged habitat, the fleeting earthworm scene in The Wandering Earth is rendered in deliberately banal fashion. Yet as an anticipatory moment signaling several recognizable features of the future-food imaginary—culinary novelty and dietary difference, the existential (and narrative) necessity of adequate nutrition, ecological need, innovation, the adjustment of palate and taste to future transitions, etc.—its import belies its all too brief appearance. But once we recognize it, other connections and extrapolations can be drawn. It is, for example, far from the only sf text to feature worms and bugs as food. Notable examples include the Klingon delicacy Gagh in the Star Trek franchise, the termite compress and grub loaf in Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers (1987), the bug bars in Snowpiercer (2013), the edible insect farm in Blade Runner 2049 (2017),and the mealworm flour buns, grasshopper burgers, and five-spice beetles of Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series (2015-2021). While many of these texts reproduce the “yuck” element of insect eating, others highlight its cultural specificity; for example, Chambers’s red coast bugs clearly act as lobster analogues. The effect of these scenes for our wider purposes here are their means to engage various forms of reader response. If the principal one is distaste or surprise at a worm-eating future, then an immediate response to this is not only to point out that earthworm is already eaten in areas of the world and that this signals a reflexive appeal to examine ethnocentric notions of diet and foodways, but also to realize the seeds and cocoons of this vision of future food and the transformed world it imagines in critical features of the historical world-food-system.

Given the precarious future that confronts us, Gwo’s film provocatively suggests, if it is worms we must eat, then let us eat worms. At least they get a mention. Liu’s source story of mass mobilization and disaster adaptation on millennially stretched timescales wholly erases the entire farm-to-fork processes and modalities of food and eating from its ambit. Startlingly—if tellingly—no mention is made of how these survivors, locked underground for 2500 years, are to eat, seed, fertilize, farm, grow, synthesize, or print sustenance. We hope that readers engaging with this issue of SFS might be prompted automatically to ask how important underlying alimentary features are, if at all, to the world of the sf text and our reading of it. If there is, alongside the specter of climate crisis, a developing critical food strain in sf studies motivated by the environmental turn, then can such work help spur potential solutions, offering counterfactuals and innovative imaginaries to unfolding or anticipated modes of crisis in any area of the food system and its envisaged future worlds? These questions and the ones we have posited above are explored in the articles in this issue, which draw on sf texts and producers from around the world—the Anglo-American firmament, France, Nigeria, Germany, Italy, Poland, Argentina, Soviet-era Russia, Korea, and the Caribbean—but they are also intended as a call for further engagement in sf studies on food futures.

Article Summaries. Fiona Schroeder identifies a lunar “alien pastoral” in Victorian sf, from Wells to lesser-known writers. This she reads as encoding anxieties around the imperial expansion of late-nineteenth-century foodways, enabled by the development of refrigeration technology and contextualized by Malthusian ideology. Sf here critiques the destructive tendencies of a new colonial meat-industrial complex. Schroeder identifies the emergent counter-imaginary of vegetarian alt-futurism in Victorian culture (also touched on in Patrick Parrinder’s article), forging a connection to Joshua Bulleid’s survey of a reoccurring vegan ethics across the Star Trek franchise. Bulleid aligns the successes and failures of this with racial and cultural markers of carnism in Western cultures, identifying eruptions of American imperial ambition and masculinity pushing against the franchise’s cosmopolitan aims. This he also places alongside larger and developing debates about the authenticity of “organic” or “real” food in relation to that classic tool of Star Trek food futurism: the replicator.

The figure of the replicator highlights the development and consequences of the segregation of food’s local and global value chain. The separation of aspects of production (tilling, seeding, fertilizing, harvesting, slaughtering, etc.) from the progression to table and fork (transportation, sales, cooking, consumption) runs along various geographic, economic, and colonial vectors and is extrapolated in many different ways in sf texts. The replicator seemingly offers a fantastic solution, magically bypassing land, labor, space, time, even raw materials. On the one hand this articulates aspects of technological potential (e.g., “printing” food) to lighten ecological footprints. But as Patrick Parrinder and Michael Niblett demonstrate here, a darker interpretation of this fantasy is arranged around uneven ecological realities, played out in colonial history or visions of urban idealism. Parrinder reassesses the food regimes of classic (and one modern) utopias and highlights the—often ecocidal—agroecological relations of domination between country and city. He illuminates persistent examples of rural devaluation and degradation in these texts, a critique apposite at a time when city administrations throughout the world seek to respond to the climate crisis with grim outlooks for future urban sustainability through proposed circular economy models. What Kate Raworth has named “doughnut economics” (Doughnut Economics 2018) becomes traceable in not only the ideals but even more in the blindspots of classic utopian texts, and Parrinder’s reading discerns “future” problems such as agricultural surplus and (in)equitable distribution, even with localized patterns of production.     

Jacqueline Dutton’s extensive reading of gastronomic futurism in singular uchronias and dystopias of French sf from the revolutionary period to the present locates a recurring focus on issues of food justice and the perennial problem of how to achieve equitable societal provision without compromising a gastronomic sensibility grounded in tradition, health, quality, and commensality. These issues play out in the context of cosmopolitan influence, future wars, climate disaster, and the rise of the hypermarket. The tendency during shortages to import food from colonial “elsewheres” is also noted by Dutton, connecting her ideas to Niblett’s reading of Caribbean sf’s aesthetic and political resistance to the aggressive monoculturing of island agro-ecologies, from the era of empire to late neoliberalization. Niblett demonstrates how the logic of the Plantationocene’s alimentary imperialism is overturned in sf texts that unravel the lines between food dependence and sovereignty, entangling literary with farmed plots and using the iconic figure of the provision ground as a creative and futuristic marker of a potential alternative. This he names a “horti(counter)cultural aesthetic.”

Where Niblett emphasizes the regenerative properties of certain foods and local alimentary practices for creating a positive food future in the Caribbean, recycling and waste management preoccupy Eliza Rose’s examination of concurrent Soviet-American Cold War-era biospheric projects, threaded through with analyses of various texts of the era from cyberpunk to Polish film to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge (1984). These offer means to consider the closed system as an effective environmental response to some of the more calamitous effects of modernity’s open system of food/energy production (a system now “closing in” on us at a planetary level)—and its treatment of waste. Rose proposes that food futures projects might engage “biospheric thinking” and reconsider historical enterprises (in history and sf) of circular living and bioregenerative food production as means to reengage with the social and environmental potential of closed or looping systems.

Whereas for Rose a radical “noösphere awareness” of how, ultimately, we are what we eat—while at another stage we might make our own contribution to the nutrient loop—can prove a galvanizing reaction to constrained food futures, Tyler Harper’s much darker presentation of a desperate food future of climate collapse engenders what he calls a “cannibal nihilism” formed of an “insatiable anthropophagy.” This he sees fictionalized in contemporary US and Argentinian novels and in Bong Joon-ho’s film Snowpiercer (2013, adapted from the original French graphic novel that is discussed by Dutton). Harper perceives a “cannibal realism” in the extreme logic of the racialized and classist forms of Global North neoliberalism and climate breakdown, where, to borrow Rose’s phrase, a “total economy of matter” is in play, but one that belies any positive future food outcomes. What happens when the metabolic rift is fully ripped from all hinges, when full-spectrum scarcity is the state of the world devoid of dependable growth and radically reduced caloric possibility? Harper’s argument places serious pressure on any fantasy of agrarian recovery or small-scale return to independent organic growing. If any political possibility can be taken from these imaginaries, it might be in their radical pessimism. A form of “monstrous” pessimism also haunts Heather Sullivan’s article, which, informed by the theoretical lens of critical plant studies, analyzes forms of “infectious plant horror” and agricorporate dystopias in texts set in Thailand, Nigeria, and Germany. Sullivan, however, uses these to think through what she speculates as a new posthuman ruderal ecology, in which hybrid forms of plant-humanity generate a means to consider how vegetal relations offer a wholly new and potentially liberating food future.

1. The durian flavor cryptically suggests a synthetic means of taste substitute enhancement, unless a means has been found to grow durian trees underground.

2. The scientific evidence of the multiple negative impacts of climate-related vulnerabilities on food security, nutrition, and production systems “of all agricultural and fishery sectors” (4) was a key feature of the IPPC WGII Sixth Assessment Report published in March 2022. In particular, see chapt. 5, “Food, Fibre, and other Ecosystem Products.”

3. New York-based Oishii markets itself as non-GMO, instead using innovations in vertical farming to “replicate the elements of a perfect day in Japan” in order to grow the optimum fruit, while simultaneously, they claim, “promot[ing] sustainability for the future of food” (“Our Farms”).


Botelho, Teresa, et al., ed. Utopian Foodways: Critical Essays. U.Porto, 2019.

Forster, Laurel. “Futuristic Foodways: The Metaphorical Meaning of Food in Science Fiction Film.” Reel Food: Essays on Food and Film. Ed. Anne L. Bower. Routledge, 2004: 251-66.

IPCC Working Group II. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC WGII Sixth Assessment Report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022.

Maughan, Chris. “‘Food from Nowhere’: Food, Fuel and the Fantastical.” Open Library of Humanities 5.1 (Sep. 2019): 1-30.

McHugh, Susan. “Real Artificial: Tissue-Cultured Meat, Genetically Modified Farm Animals, and Fictions.” Configurations 18.1-2 (2010): 181-97.

“The Omakase Berry.” Oishii 2021. Online.

“Our Farms.” Oishii 2021. Online.

Patel, Raj, and Jason W. Moore. A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. U of California P, 2018.

Raworth, Kate. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist. Cornerstone Digital, 2017.

Retzinger, Jean P. “Speculative Visions and Imaginary Meals.” Cultural Studies 22.3-4 (2008): 369-90.

Selisker, Scott. “‘Stutter-Stop Flash-Bulb Strange’: GMOs and the Aesthetics of Scale in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl.” SFS 42.3 (2015): 500-18.

Strychacz, Thomas. “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian.” SFS 44.1 (2017): 1-20.

van Mensvoort, Koert, and Hendrik-Jan Grievink. In Vitro Meat Cookbook. BIS, 2014.

The Wandering Earth [Liúlàng dìqiú]. Dir. Frant Gwo. China Film Group, 2019.

Westfahl, Gary, and George Slusser, eds. Foods of the Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Fantasy and Science Fiction. U of Georgia P, 1996.

Patrick Parrinder

Food and Power: The Utopian City and Its Countryside

Abstract. -- From More and Campanella to Gernsback’s Ralph 124C 41+, utopian authors have imagined potential agricultural revolutions guaranteeing a secure and abundant supply of high-quality food. Since literary utopias are either based in or modeled on the institution of the city, their demand for food necessitates an increased exploitation of the countryside. Industrialized agriculture remains indispensable even in a future such as Gernsback’s, where most foods are apparently synthetic. The “garden city” utopias from Cabet to Gilman equally rely on agricultural intensification, portraying an ideal of “perfect cultivation” that depends on systematic ecocide and environmental remodeling. Their utopian futures anticipate the historical development of global agriculture all too closely. Morris’s News from Nowhere stands out for its opposition to industrial farming and to the subordination of the countryside to the rule of the city. Yet Morris’s future London continues to import virtually all its food. Finally, consideration of Robinson’s Pacific Edge suggests that the challenge of imagining a future for well-fed humanity no longer dependent on rural oppression and environmental destruction remains to be met.

Fiona Schroeder

Alien Meat and Vegetarian Aliens: Alternative Food Cultures in the Early SF of H.G. Wells and His Contemporaries

Abstract. --This article works to situate H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) within the context of discourses and debates concerning the increasingly globalized meat markets of the British fin de siècle, considering how Wells’s depiction of pastoral industry and fantasies of consuming alien flesh worked to interrogate prevailing modes of food production, as well as the ideologies of imperial capitalist expansion to which they were bound. Subsequently, it reads Wells’s text against four lesser-known early British sf novels, in which alien food cultures are used to critique the carnivorous status quo and to explore more sustainable food systems. John Munro’s A Trip to Venus (1897) and Mark Wicks’s To Mars via the Moon (1911) incorporate discourses drawn from movement vegetarianism to imagine alternative food futures in which unsustainable carnivorous diets are superseded by plant-based ones. Meanwhile, Hugh MacColl’s Mr Stranger’s Sealed Packet (1889) and W.S. Lach-Szyrma’s Under Other Conditions (1892) build on contemporary advances in science to explore the possibilities of chemically synthesized foods. By reading Wells against these novels, previously overlooked by scholarship, this article considers how food cultures were being used not only to energize but to complicate and challenge dominant nutritional and political ideologies during this period. 

Jacqueline Dutton

Manger demain: Food Futures in French Fiction

Abstract. -- France’s national identity has long been inseparable from its culinary culture. From Taillevent’s Le Viandier (c.1300) to Escoffier’s Le Guide culinaire (1903), French treatises and texts led the way in establishing France’s central role in codifying western food discourses. Against this backdrop of gastronomic glory, futuristic food fictions in French are few and far between, but they serve to reveal contemporary preoccupations and predictions related to culinary concerns. In this article, I track food futures in notable selected texts of French writing spanning four centuries—from Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s L’An 2440, rêve s’il en fut jamais (1771) to Chantal Pelletier’s Nos derniers festins (2019)—outlining briefly the gastronomic context from which they emanate and how these projections perform a parallel or meta-interpretation of food cultures in France. I will thereby demonstrate that the utopian and dystopian extremes emerging in these examples of food futures in French speculative narratives relate to and/or challenge the historical and literary contexts of culinary cultures in France.

Eliza Rose

Cold-War Cabin Ecologies: Soviet-American Biospheric Thinking

Abstract. --This article draws a connection between closed-biosphere tropes in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge (1984) and Soviet and American research on closed artificial ecologies. The article contends that during the 1980s, bioregenerative food systems—as research objects and literary tropes—expressed a perception of socialism and capitalism as imperfect yet eternal states. Two challenges are analogized: 1) conceiving political alternatives at the twentieth century’s end, and 2) sustaining livable habitats using a closed ecology’s limited available resources (for example, by deriving nutrients from waste). Both challenges inspire a mode of aggressive re-use here termed “strategic recycling.” To close, the article assesses the ambivalent politics attending biospheric thinking: closed biospheres clarify humans’ metabolic enmeshment in their environments, inviting the radical reassessment of organism-environment relations as ratios of useful outputs over required inputs (what one emits over what one eats). The resulting perspective carries both utopian and eugenic implications that make biospheric thinking itself a “recyclable” material that can be conscripted with equal ease into emancipatory and reactionary projects.

Michael Niblett

Plotting the Future in Caribbean SF: Alimentary Imperialism and Horti(counter)culture

Abstract. -- This article examines the connection between Caribbean foodways and the varieties of speculative fiction that have emerged from the region. My contention is that Caribbean sf not only draws attention to the baleful impact of capitalist imperialism on agro-ecologies and food cultures, but can also have a special role in catalyzing opposition to it. I examine some of the ways in which Caribbean writers have used sf and, more particularly, Afrofuturist forms to dramatize the bloody history of plantation agriculture, conflicts over land use, and popular resistance to imposed food cultures. Focusing on novels by Anthony Joseph, Erna Brodber, and Diana McCaulay, I explore how their aesthetics of estrangement sensitize readers to the stakes involved in the struggle between food dependency and food sovereignty. Against a backdrop of accelerating climate breakdown, new rounds of imperialist plunder, and the ongoing colonization of eating habits, all three authors draw on the legacy of the plot system to envision emancipatory food futures.

Tyler Austin Harper

Cannibal Nihilism: Meat and Meaninglessness in the Anthropocene Imaginary

Abstract. -- This article examines the frequent appearance of cannibalism in works of environmentally oriented speculative fiction, including Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh (2020), and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013). Here, cannibalism is demonstrated to be more than a disturbing alimentary anxiety that lends aesthetic “shock value” to contemporary narratives of future ecological collapse and political catastrophe. Rather, the problem of people eating people serves as a proxy for a more difficult—and more conceptually nuanced—conversation about the very viability of political hope in a world defined by metastasizing environmental crises. Specifically, this article demonstrates that although works of Anthropocene fiction frequently use the specter of environmental disaster to leverage critiques of racialized capitalism, the political agenda of these novels and films is often tacitly undermined by depictions of cannibalism that frame anthropophagy as an irredeemable moral failing that cannot be explained away as the result of either neoliberal economics or the white supremacy that sustains such a system.

Joshua Bulleid

Boldly Going Vegan? Star Trek, Synthetic Meat, and Animal Ethics

Abstract. -- This article examines the engagements with veganism, synthetic food, and animal ethics throughout Star Trek’s seven live-action incarnations: The Original Series (TOS, 1966-1969), The Next Generation (TNG, 1987-1994), Deep Space Nine (DS9, 1993-1999), Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-2005), Discovery (2017-), and Picard (2020-). I show how the separate Star Trek series maintain regular rhetorical gestures toward veganism as an ethically enlightened practice and philosophy in the framework of an influential engagement with synthetic food technology that allows for traditional, omnivorous meals without the need of nonhuman animal suffering. Star Trek’s human characters, however, also frequently emphasize “real” food—especially meat—in connection with nostalgic Anglo-American values and supposedly superior “natural” living, so that meat-eating also often reflects notions of imperialism, colonization, and masculinity. Human meat-eating is also frequently represented as a sensible medium between violent, uncivilized carnism and an overly repressive veganism that is further exoticized by its associations with non-human and allegedly un-American cultures. Only the current series Discovery (2017–) takes veganism seriously as a core utopian value, due to the emphasis it places on interspecies relationships.

Heather I. Sullivan

Cross-Infections of Vegetal-Human Bodies in Science Fiction

Abstract. -- It is particularly disturbing when seemingly inert plants escape the category of nourishing food and instead become transmitters of vegetal diseases infecting our human bodies or transforming us into plant-human hybrids or even plant-infused zombies. This article analyzes the ecological and alimentary implications of three sf texts in which plants infect human bodies or use them as a kind of walking soil from which to sprout: Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl (2009), Olivia Vieweg’s German-language graphic novel, EndZeit [EndTime, 2018], and Nnedi Okorafor’s graphic novel LaGuardia (2019). Presenting plant-human relations as either utopian and kinship-based or as horrific cross-species disease vectors creating human-plant zombies, these texts reveal aspects of the ecological fact that human bodies are always monstrously chimerical. All living things are, in fact, composed of multispecies entanglements with other beings such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, as well as the species they consume, as described by Anna Tsing et al. in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017). Bacigalupi, Vieweg, and Okorafor transform our ecological entanglements with and dependence on plants into both disturbing and celebratory sf visions of bodily invasion.

Roundtable: SF in the Kitchen

For this roundtable, we asked participants to respond critically to the topic of sf kitchens. How and why does the kitchen figure in sf? Why is it a significant site to think through the various concerns emanating around food futures? What can a focus on the kitchen as a key space in/of the future tell us about its historical organization of social and cultural relations? Might its future imagining afford the means to organize those differently?

The Kitchen of the Future. What will the kitchen of tomorrow be like? In her 1893 essay written to promote the Chicago World’s Fair, Mary Elizabeth Lease predicted that “the problem of cooks and cooking will be solved” (178) by the meal-in-a-pill, now a well-worn trope of science fiction. Imagined as nutritionally complete, convenient, and efficient, the meal-in-a-pill—and similar meal-replacement pastes, essences, and liquids—“posited a utopian future through chemistry” (Belasco 3). While the food pill itself has become a cliché, its legacy of convenient, complete nutrition can still be seen in contemporary sf, including the Slurry of Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017) and the skel of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword (2014). Its purpose and mechanics can also be recognized in real-life food replacement powders, shakes, bars, and cookies, such as those produced by Soylent and Huel.

While this familiar vision of the future of food eliminated the need for a kitchen at all, the mid-twentieth-century Kitchens of the Future opted instead for optimized kitchens with time-saving design features and devices. Also known as the Kitchens of Tomorrow, they were prototypes built predominantly in the late 1930s to 1950s by a variety of architects and companies that reimagined the form and function of the kitchen space. Their earlier precursors—such as Margarete Schütte-Lihotzsky’s Frankfurt Kitchen (1926)—were made by women and for women, in the hopes that increased efficiency might translate into additional leisure time. Like the meal-in-a-pill, these kitchens imagined “the transformation of domestic spaces and duties through technology” (Donawerth 138). They were soon co-opted by advertisers selling both appliances and a fantasy, advertised with techno-utopic fervor. As in General Motors’ Populuxe industrial short film Design for Dreaming (1956), these kitchens were themselves discursively produced as works of speculative fiction, conjuring up liberated futures for women while never suggesting “that men of the household might enjoy taking a turn at the hob” (Wilson 348). The kitchen in this context was considered an appropriate place for scientific engineering, raising tensions between the idea of the kitchen as private domestic space and its reimagining as an extension of the workplace, subject to the tenets of industrialization and efficiency engineering.

As a site of and for futuring and future technology, kitchens captivated the public. Futuristic kitchens formed part of World’s Fair exhibitions, trade fairs, department store displays, and even an attraction at Disneyland. Whether the design intention was truly to “reduce the strain on women’s bodies” (Wilson 347) or was merely “part of a sleight of hand that told them how lucky they were to be unpaid ‘home-makers’” (Wilson 352), these new Kitchens of the Future were nevertheless most often concerned with projecting a high-tech, modern future in which appliances would—at least nominally—better women’s lives.

Despite its techno-utopic narrative, the “push-button magic” (Design for Dreaming) of the Kitchen of the Future purposefully obscured the social reproductive labor of preparing and serving food. It therefore found articulation in the “food from nowhere” (Maughan 15) of numerous sf texts, notable examples being the Replicator in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994); the Foodarackacycle in the TV show The Jetsons (1962-1963; 1985-1987); the Nutrimatic in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979; film 2005); the matter-compilers in Neil Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age (1995); and even the packet-transforming microwave in the children’s film Spy Kids (2001). A contemporary development is exemplified by the innovation of 3D food printing, featured in works such as John Feffer’s novel Splinterlands (2016) and Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “A Series of Steaks” (2017).

Where works such as Star Trek: TNG posit the possibility of an “egalitarian, post-scarcity society” (Frase 42), more recent sf puts pressure on the idea of a depoliticized and dematerialized “food from nowhere” that destabilizes the centrality of the kitchen to foodwork. The utopian promises of the technologized kitchen, which attempt to circumvent the gendered, racialized, class-implicated, and animal-centric histories of kitchens and cooking, are unpacked and critiqued by these sf narratives, resituating kitchens within a nexus of sociocultural and political entanglements. Works such as Amazon TV’s Upload (2020) feature a 3D food printer that can print recipes from certain brand-associated celebrities; Cory Doctorow’s novella “Unauthorized Bread” (2019) centers around a brand-locked toaster that only toasts authorized bread. These stories ask what happens when the utopian promise of replicator-like technology clashes with the social and material realities of a political power structure set up to reward technological capital. In these and other works, the kitchen is a space of negotiation, where, as Angela Lee explains, “Science, technology, and the laws and policies that regulate them are not disembodied practices but are intimately located within broader realities and structures of meaning” (81).

In its contemporary articulations, the push-button Kitchen, still promising more freedom, has shifted to respond to new domestic and political configurations. The increased “efficiency” derived from labor-saving appliances, in an era of increasingly dual-income, single-person, or communally shared households (as opposed to the single-income, nuclear family), becomes a method of perpetuating the status quo of neoliberal productivity culture, allowing the individual to consolidate the work of the housewife into after-work hours—or, importantly, to outsource that labor through food delivery services, thereby relying on the invisibilized labor of (often precariously employed and otherwise marginalized) others, elsewhere. The food recommendation and ordering platforms—and their associated proprietary algorithms and computerized data processing—in texts such as Lavanya Lakshminarayan’s Analog/Virtual (2020) and Catherine Lacey’s “Congratulations on Your Loss” (2021) extrapolate the effects of this kitchen “efficiency.” The “smart” devices and apps that facilitate the function of the futuristic kitchen in these texts and in real life transform human culinary behavior and activity into the cheap raw material that is processed in data-as-commodity. These contemporary sf texts, then, mark not only how digitized kitchen technology can exacerbate stratified social relations, but also how it features in the turn to digital extractivism as the organizing logic of globalized capitalism.—Nora Castle, University of Warwick, UK

Science-fictional Appliances and their Literary Parodies. Science fiction’s depictions of kitchens in parallel universes, near and distant futures, and alternative presents are inevitably shaped by the discourses around real-life kitchens, and by their portrayal in other forms of popular culture—from sitcoms and cartoons to print, television, and outdoor ads. This discourse reveals sf kitchens to be not so fanciful: kitchen appliances have offered the promise of temporal transformation since their very inception, and such promises have invariably relied on the mystification of time itself.

As Ann Oakley, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, and Susan Strasser’s ground-breaking studies of housework and household technology established in the 1970s and 80s, the time appliances saved was quickly filled with more household chores (Housewife, 1974; Never Done, 1982; More Work for Mother, 1983). My own research has shown how claims to futurity were in turn enlisted to entrench traditional gender roles: for example, General Electric’s suggestion in 1929 that an All-Steel Refrigerator would turn today’s little boys into tomorrow’s manly men also raised the stakes of motherhood.  Hoover’s 1967 campaign for its Constellation vacuum cleaner (first launched in 1955 using hovercraft technology developed by NASA), responded to the rumblings of second-wave feminism by positioning vacuuming as a space-age adventure. The campaign’s replacement of the housewife in her frilly apron with a woman in a space suit replicated Frigidaire’s ads for its Space Age Refrigerator range the previous year, in which a group of female astronauts appeared to ride the appliances. Meanwhile, pledges to roll back the clock—to  give husbands “back” the bright-eyed brides they first married and white women the next best thing to a trip back to Antebellum America—relied on the experiences of wealthy white women while further reifying their immigrant, working-class, and Black sisters.

Discussing the “food futures” made possible by the science-fiction kitchen obliges us to contend with this broader media and consumer landscape. The very expression “science fiction kitchen” reveals the overlap between two arenas: it is both the kitchen in science fiction and the kitchen rendered science fictional by advertisers intent on capitalizing on the power of techno-utopian rhetoric even as their products in fact preserve the status quo. Science fiction offers a unique way to think about that overlap, and about the abiding tension between conservativism and revolution at the heart of the modern kitchen—not to mention the frequency with which manufacturers have promoted new domestic technologies as offering a portal back to a halcyon past.

Of particular note are the many sf texts published between the 1950s and 1970s that parody the science-fictional meanings ascribed to time-saving appliances between 1910 and the late 1960s, as well as the explicitly nostalgic thrust of appliance ads of the 1970s. One might alight on Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950), in which a proto-smart home whose ultramodern automated kitchen makes meals for no one is all that remains after a nuclear holocaust has rendered it redundant. Or consider Margaret St. Clair’s “New Ritual” (1953), in which a bored housewife discovers that the freezer purchased from a scientist who used it to store poisonous chemicals is capable of transforming anything deposited in it—an old dress, her elderly and malodorous husband—into something better. St. Clair parodies the rhetoric of magical self-improvement ubiquitous in appliance ads and subverts their emphasis on the need for wives to improve for their husbands. The ending, in which she joins him in the freezer to escape to a snowy fantasy land where they are both teenagers once more, rather exposes appliance ads’ claims of miracle-making: if the freezer doesn’t let me escape reality and regain my youth, it ain’t magic. Similar motifs are apparent in Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer (1957), in which a time-traveling engineer develops a robot to appeal to the “touch of the slaveholder” that (allegedly) lies in the heart of all white housewives’ (18), the myriad kitchen gadgets that determine the course of Marge Piercy’s Woman On the Edge Of Time (1976)—most notably, the fancy automatic coffee machine” (341, 374) whose sabotage in the novel’s last pages may prevent the unfolding of a dystopian future—and Philip K. Dick’s UBIK (1969), in which the transformation of a 1937 General Electric turret-top refrigerator into a “modern six-door pay refrigerator” (134) illustrates the titular substance’s capacity to reverse decay. The latter is especially funny, considering that refrigerator manufacturers in this period were actually celebrating their original models with nostalgic messaging that artfully circumvented the fact that the sf future they’d promised in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had never materialized. In 1972, Frigidaire launched a campaign commemorating its original 1918 refrigerator, while in 1978 General Electric spotlighted the 1937 turret-top models that some customers still owned to demonstrate its products’ longevity. The turret-top in UBIK serves as a reminder of the unmet promises these campaigns sought to occlude.

And the more we look for kitchens, the more unexpected examples appear. A particularly notable one is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), which opens with a visit to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where the omniscient narrator, a stand-in for Vonnegut himself, takes his kids to “s[ee] what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Company [and] what the future would be like, according to General Motors” (13). Vonnegut, who worked in General Electric’s publicity department in the early 1950s, was acutely aware that during the Second World War, GE had made a fortune supplying weapons to the Allies and indeed campaigned for a permanent war economy. Obscuring this, as well as its ongoing involvement in postwar military defense, was central to its postwar branding strategy (Ledbetter, Unwarranted Influence 60-61; Hine, Populuxe 128). In Vonnegut’s novel, the “all-electric” kitchen owned by protagonist Billy Pilgrim illustrates the connections between the titular “slaughterhouse” of war and the “House of Magic” that GE claimed to be. Thus, the Dresden slaughterhouse to which Billy Pilgrim returns in his time travels (via PTSD-induced flashbacks) is anachronistically populated with happy kitchen gadgets, while eerie appliances populate his postwar home. Utopia and dystopia eventually meet in his hallucinatory visit to the extraterrestrial colony of Trafalmadore, where he is trapped in an “all-electric” show home for Trafalmadorians to learn about life on earth. As well as a refraction of Pilgrim’s time in the Dresden slaughterhouse, the Trafalmadorians’ “simulated Earthling habitat” (81) is also an explicit reference to General Motors’ “Futurama II” and GE’s “Carousel of Progress” displays at the New York World’s Fair, which showed a world waiting to be civilized by US technology while mystifying the sector’s violent history. In this way, Slaughterhouse-Five confronts the reader with the horrors that lurk beneath the postwar era’s “miracles” of modernity—and with the ways in which living in a facility for slaughtering animals might definitively transform the meanings one ascribes both to cooking and to the implements used for it.—Rachele Dini, University of Roehampton, UK

Space Cookbook: Mission to the Future. Envisioning a twenty-fourth-century cookbook for space is an opportunity that invites both realistic and futuristic musings. Such a recipe manual informed by historical, cultural, social, dietary, and even personal tastes in the kitchen offers human contemplations reflective of the times. According to the renowned cookbook researcher and educator Barbara Ketchum Wheaton, a cookbook can tell a comprehensive story of the people cooking and eating food within a particular socio-cultural context (Mac Con Iomaire). This is evident in cookbook examples about space food in nonfictional and fictional contexts where insights about people, characters, and societies are interspersed among the recipes (i.e., The Astronaut’s Cookbook: Tales, Recipes, and More [2010]; Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: The Official Black Spire Outpost Cookbook [2019]; Star Trek Cookbook [1999]; A Science Fiction Cookbook: And Guide to Edible Niceties [2014]). Centering speculations about the future around space food provides the potential for present-day humans to develop their arguments, awareness, and prognostications of food innovations for future deep-space navigations and speculative possibilities.

From a reality-based perspective, one could begin from an examination of astronauts’ and cosmonauts’ early food experiences and continue on to the more recent culinary endeavors on the International Space Station (ISS), where food menus are based on diverse environmental, dietary, personal, and cultural needs and requirements. While space travel began with easy to eat, crumb-free edibles packaged in cube, tube, and bar form that required no kitchen to prepare (e.g., Yuri Gagarin’s beef and liver tube paste or the Apollo astronauts’ bacon bars and peanut butter cookie cubes), the food options have expanded to include a variety of packaged, shelf-stable, freeze-dried, and thermostabilized retort pouches, in addition to the periodic fresh food deliveries (Bendix). The standard food supply prepared by US and Russia is also accompanied by bonus food allowed for each person (Mars “Space Station 20th”). For example, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques requested a version of his “wife’s con caribou chili recipe” (Canadian Space Agency). French astronaut Thomas Pesquet had recipes of Beef Bourguignon and other dishes specially prepared by French chefs (Chang). Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui had Japanese-style food modified for space that included soy sauce ramen (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). South Korean astronaut Yi So-yeun (2008) had space-engineered kimchi (The Kitchen Sisters).

As longer space voyages are anticipated and menu fatigue remains a concern, continuing efforts to develop diverse food options seem a necessary component for future space travel and recipe development (Mars, “How Does Spaceflight Change Food Appeal?”). Currently, the Veggie edible plant grow chamber is used on the ISS to grow fresh fruit and vegetables aeroponically (Scoles). Novel ingredients, food not consumed extensively by humans, and advanced food technology may offer additional food options (Hendrich). Cultivated cow muscle tissue has already been produced in a 3-D bioprinter on the ISS, yielding a steak that was not eaten in space but did offer new possibilities for alternative protein sources (Gohd). Algae grown in space could offer forms of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and the ability to increase oxygen in the atmosphere as well as shield from radiation (Beall). Natural food packaging might become a food source if there were a way to use engineered seaweed or pectin that did not impede shelf life or food safety requirements (Yerramathi et al). A single-cell protein, called “air protein,” made in a bioreactor tank with only CO2, H20, electricity, and microbes could potentially enrich flour-based products, though it has yet to be tested in space (Solar Foods). And with the genetic modification capabilities of CRISPR technology, even the potential to harvest ourselves or alter human metabolic systems is foreseeable in that future space kitchen lab.

From an sf perspective, alternative food options and ways of preparing food could become more innovative and surprising. In Rachel K. Jones’s story "The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” (2017), harvested robot meat is the alternative protein. Robots are constructed with organs, skin, muscle, and tissues to perform human-like functions (i.e., lungs and sensory nerves for flavor detection, increased brain neural matter for mental capacity). In the story, a group of rogue robots mistakenly hijacks a food dispensary spaceship and needs to prepare food for humans to avoid unwanted attention. Aware of human preference for “edible organic compounds” mixed or cooked, the robot named Engineer creates recipes considered palatable to humans based on chemoreceptor reports from the robot named Jukebox. Dishes such as Salisbury steak with fungi sauce and meat cannoli with cilantro ganache are prepared with their robot meat, hydroponic plants, and fungi grown in the ventilation system.

While edible robot meat might seem a stretch of the imagination for an alternative food source, the role of robots and computer systems in the kitchen is increasing. For example, IBM’s Watson computer can imagine recipes based on various data inputs (Best). Sensory analysis devices such as Sensigent’s “Cyranose Electronic Nose” can detect flavor molecules (Sensigent). A BeeHex 3D food printer can prepare a meal (Wolf). And “The Deep Space Food Kitchen Challenge” is encouraging more novel food-tech development for space and earth (Deep Space Food Challenge).

Whatever the future holds for human space travel, survival will depend on continued innovative thinking around food. If speculative fiction is a guide, then if/as humans go farther in space it may well be that dietary preferences will change too. In Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s story “Vintage Millennial Cookery InfoManual by the Geusian Ladies’ Society” (2013), for example, organic ingredients are met with extreme disgust by a group trying to recreate pre-twenty-fourth-century Earth dinner parties on their spaceship. Molecular gastronomy techniques (i.e., injectables, infusions, solutions, suspensions, and doses) and chemical compounds (i.e., d-Limone, Xanthrine powder, galactan) are de rigueur for satiating one’s appetite here, while organic ingredients such as honey are thought offensive as a form of “insect excrement” and “bee vomit.” Such speculative thinking around outer-space foodways of the future might also offer inspiration for more present-day innovations on Earth.—Tiff Graham, Otis College of Art and Design

A Dystopian Kitchen. Judith Merril is best known for her work as a prolific editor of influential anthologies such as SF: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction (1956-1968)and England Swings SF (1968),as well as being an sf author in her own right. Her early work reveals to readers a resistant reimagining of the “housewife heroine,” while critiquing domestic trends in science and technology. For this roundtable, I explore Merril’s short story “That Only a Mother” (1948), examining how speculative kitchen technology affects the pregnant protagonist and her embodied relationship to these objects.

Scholarship on Merril’s short story has explored the historic and literary- thematic elements of Cold War motherhood and nuclear warfare. Feminist scholarship, such as that by sf scholar Lisa Yazsek, has closely attended to how women authors in science fiction, including Merril, have used the genre to negotiate postwar cultural challenges. Yazsek has highlighted in depth the thematic elements of the biological and reproductive costs of nuclear warfare in Merril’s work (see her “Stories ‘That Only a Mother’ Could Write”). In my view, this can also be linked to reproductive automation within the kitchen. Rather than seeing the domestic sphere as a singular space, a close reading of the specific site of the kitchen in sf writing such as Merril’s demonstrates a resistance to the norms surrounding domestic labor and reproduction.

“That Only a Mother” was first published in Astounding Science Fiction and is set in the near future of 1953. The protagonist Margaret is pregnant, framed within the backdrop of the nuclear warfare of World War III. Margaret’s absentee husband is a designer who works for the war efforts, leaving her solitary within the domestic setting. Margaret writes to her husband, relaying anxieties about her gestating body and nuclear contamination, although medical professionals have assured her that she is completely healthy. Margaret brings the child home alone, remarking with amazement the baby’s rapid development. The infant grows very quickly and is able to talk in full sentences despite being only a few months old.

Margaret continues to gloss over the newspaper and national news reports that are automated and printed in her kitchen. She scans the news reporting the increase of mutations in Japan and the low percentage of convictions for men guilty of infanticide, but comforts herself that “my baby’s all right” (93; italics in original). Throughout her reading, she considers her husband’s employment at Oak Ridge and the possibility of contamination, but she reaffirms that “MY BABY’s all right” (93; emphasis in original). When Margaret’s husband returns home to meet their child, he discovers that she has a severe mutation. As he inspects “the sinuous, limbless body”of the baby, his grip on the child tightens, significantly, in a “bitter spasm of hysteria” (95). The story concludes with the husband uttering about Margaret, “She didn’t know.... [S]he didn’t know” (95; emphasis in original).

Merril situates the story in a domestic setting, specifically placing key scenes within the kitchen. In one of the earliest scenes, the mechanized function of the kitchen is connected to the body of the main character. “Morning motions were automatic,” states Margaret, as she begins her day using the preprogramed function of the kitchen by pressing the “button that would start breakfast cooking” (88). Margaret’s gestating body becomes entangled with the automatic kitchen, as she is called to the space to consume food “in a futile attempt to appeal to a faulty morning appetite” (88). These reflexive actions early within the story foreshadow the evolving relationship between Margaret’s body and mechanization. In both instances, her body is articulated through technical adjectives. Margaret’s movement is “automatic” and unthinking, akin to her kitchen equipment that engages in the task of food cooking. Her appetite for such food is rendered “faulty,” belying a functioning appetite. In addition to these technological framings that connect her body to processes of automation, we learn that Margaret’s pregnant body feels like a “frankfurter roll in the ascending half of an old-style rotary toasting machine” (88). This use of synesthesia links Margaret’s embodiment to both private and public cooking technologies. Through these fragments within the narrative, we see her body being closely aligned to—if not usurped by—kitchen technology. The effervescent ease of push-button technologies within the kitchen removes physical and embodied domestic labor, limiting the knowledge and agency of the protagonist. In this highly technologized kitchen space, domestic labor is rendered obsolete, demonstrated through the framing of the protagonist’s embodiment and relationship to the world. 

The kitchen not only serves as a location in which food is produced, but also as a space where information is consumed. In addition to the highly technological food appliances, gadgetry such as a facsimile machine that prints out the morning newspaper is located in the kitchen (88). It is at the kitchen table where Margaret reads the newspaper and letters concerning fears about possible nuclear contamination while pregnant. Whereas the newspaper comforts Margaret in its claims of no further attacks, a letter from Margaret’s mother questions the health of the progeny in utero. These fragments of communication within the automated space of the kitchen inform Margaret of her health and wellbeing while working to dismiss any subjective knowledge or impulses that the main character has. The automation of both food and news within the context of the kitchen likens her positionality to that of an entrapped housewife. The unthinking domestic technologies that prompt Margaret throughout her day remove her from distinct situated knowledges. This reflexive automation of the kitchen space influences Margaret’s approaches to motherhood. Without the ability to reconsider or resist the forms of food technologies, news from her kitchen facsimile machine, or the advice of medical professionals, she is never able to conceptualize or recognize her child’s mutations.

Merril’s envisioning of the near future is a rich speculation of industrialization within the home, which renders the bodies of women as ongoing extensions of domestic technologies. Written and published prior to Motorama’s 1956 Design for Dreaming film, Merril clearly sought to locate futuristic kitchen technologies in a dystopian realm. The short story thus provokes contemporary questions about the advancement of kitchen technologies when they render all subjects ignorant and estranged from embodiment, intuition, and knowledge. Through the articulation of both real and futuristic technologies, Merril works to subvert contemporary tropes of housewife heroines by providing a technocratic domestic dystopia.—Kathryn Heffner, University of Kent, UK

“All the kitchen furniture was also gone, taken out and stored for fire fuel.” A great deal of speculative fiction continues to structure food experiences through conventions familiar to mid-twentieth century Euro-America. These conventions are both temporal and spatial: three meals a day are eaten at certain times; meals are prepared in kitchens and eaten in cafeterias or dining rooms or on TV tables. Challenging such customs, recent works of North American native futurism and SFF have revealed the ways in which many food traditions reinforce white-modern-coloniality. I propose that indigenous SFF uses the contestation of modern food conventions as a method for structuring native food experiences—that is, for practicing indigeneity through food. Further, I’m specifically interested in trends that contest the spatial form of the kitchen. I see at least two trends: the first is one in which the kitchen troubles indigenous life; the second sees native food experiences evading the kitchen altogether.

Other thinkers at this roundtable will have a more specific sense of how to define a kitchen—for my purposes, only the contours are needed. Kitchens are enclosures holding the tools necessary for food preparation and cooking. Depending on several variables—geography, public exposure—they are differently racialized, gendered, and classed. Frequently, they are separate from the spaces in which food is consumed and the spaces in which food is cultivated or processed.

Of course, there are numerous works across indigenous SFF that adopt the kitchen as a form, appropriately recasting it as a communal space of teaching and receiving stories, as in Cherie Dimaline’s (Métis) Empire of Wild (2017). Or a space in which food can become magic again, as in the works of Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache): Elatsoe (2020) and A Snake Falls to Earth (2021). Similarly, paintings from Coyote & Crow (2022), a new tabletop RPG developed by Connor Alexander (Cherokee), show a Cahokian home with a kitchen at its center. A family laughs together, playing a holographic game. Elders use a high-tech kitchen to prepare a large soup for everyone gathered.

In other works, however, the kitchen appears as an almost-Lynchian space where the familiar reveals itself as horrific: where something alien to indigenous culture is put on like a costume, where something is pretended. In Rebecca Roanhorse’s (Diné) “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” (2017), the kitchen is the site of the story’s terrible apex, when all things familiar are revealed to be empty. In Leslie Marmon Silko’s (Alguna Pueblo) Ceremony (1977), the kitchen is the center of a home that houses the re-lived trauma—a vicious PTSD—that traps the protagonist.

Another trend emerges: native food experience without, outside of, or before the kitchen. This a trend that seems to disavow or reject the kitchen as a colonial spatial convention. Against the kitchen, food emerges from everyday life in its bareness, without a specific spatial fixity. Food is prepared and eaten in the same place, outdoors, or in a non-human encounter as an offering or sacrifice. The place in which it is prepared is without any of the tools we would associate with a kitchen—simply an open fire or taken raw. Some stories seem to be asking: is the kitchen an obstacle to an indigenous encounter with food? Or: what do we, as natives, need from such a form?

While Little Badger and Roanhorse have both played with this last trend, The Moon of Crusted Snow (2018) by Waubgeshig Rice (Anishanaabe) makes it far more explicit. Snow holds food as its central theme: the novel begins with an encounter between hunter and prey and continues to center such encounters. Very few of the work’s food experiences happen within kitchens—they occur in the field or via the field. Over the course of the novel, the world that pretends to dominate nature—the world of kitchens and houses and attitudes that support civilization—descends into chaos, revealing modern native life as always already post-apocalyptic. We’re made of intersecting catastrophes, both ancestral and dawning. In this, kitchens have become useless. Lives lived in this revelation need something else from food. Things that a kitchen can neither contain nor support.—Fitzhugh Shaw (Chickasaw), Independent Scholar

Fallout, Feminism, and the Dream of Domestic Automation. For many, the kitchen is a space of comfort, familial bonding, domesticity, nourishment, and fond memories. It is a familiar part of the home, recognizable across cultures with its standard array of appliances used in the act of food preparation. As this roundtable emphasizes, however, the kitchen can also be a space of gendered oppression, a room designed for women’s unpaid labor—a woman’s “place.” While this may seem like a dated stereotype, the majority of American women still report being the usual meal preparers (and planners, and grocery shoppers) in their household, whether they have children or not, and men who do cook spend about half the amount of time preparing meals as women. Indeed, the kitchen is a fraught space in terms of gender politics; even the design and placement of the kitchen in the home is a political issue. The kitchen can feel like a trap or a prison, a space where gendered inequalities regarding unpaid and underrecognized domestic labor are made manifest—an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meal preparation takes up a considerable amount of time, which is perhaps why so much sf envisions a future of domestic automation—robots or machines to do the cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc. From The Jetsons (1962-1963; 1985-1987) to The Fifth Element (1997) to The Orville (2017-present), we have been dreaming of robotic or otherwise automated meal preparation (conveniently instant and nutritionally balanced) for decades. Although sf is still a male-dominated genre (in terms of creators, characters, and audiences), and the examples listed above are not feminist texts, given the gendered nature of domestic labor, household automation is arguably a feminist dream.                Visions of domestic automation are particularly popular in sf with a retrofuturist aesthetic, harkening back to post-war America when companies such as Frigidaire promised automated kitchens that would allow tired housewives to sit back and relax. For example, General Motors’s 1956 promotional film “Design for Dreaming” advertising Frigidaire’s “Kitchen of the Future” promised that “whether you bake or broil or stew, the Frigidaire kitchen does it all for you. You don’t have to be chained to the stove all day, just set the timer and you’re on your way.”

Although the video assumes heteronormative, patriarchal gender roles that see the kitchen as a woman’s space, the fact that it’s offering automation as a way to free a woman from domestic imprisonment can be read as feminist. This is only cautiously feminist, however, as it offers no space for questioning why she was chained to the stove in the first place or for dismantling the power structures underpinning her role as housewife—it was 1956, after all. Still, even today the kitchen can feel like a prison for women (van de Schoot and Smith), meaning that domestic automation can still offer at least some feminist liberation.

One of the best-known examples of contemporary retrofuturist sf is the Fallout (1997-2018) video game series, set in a postapocalyptic version of the United States in which futuristic technologies such as advanced weapons, robots, and artificial intelligence are presented alongside postwar American aesthetics such as 1950s-era architecture, art, interior design, and music. The series features sassy robotic domestic servants such as Codsworth (a loyal butler companion who will fight enemies and also tell jokes upon request). In Fallout 4 (2015), the player first meets Codsworth in his kitchen, a pristine retrofuturist space where robots and appliances do all the work, and he cheerfully offers the player-character the perfect cup of coffee and the morning’s newspaper. As soon as the player-character’s baby starts crying, Codsworth happily announces that he will go change the diaper, and if spoken to he’ll say lines such as “Don’t worry about the dishes. That’s my job!”

Fallout’s retrofuturism harkens back to postwar America—a time and place where women were still generally expected to be housewives and take on most domestic labor. As idealized as the image of the happy housewife was in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a clear recognition of her desire for freedom—to no longer “be chained to the stove all day.” Although Fallout is not a feminist text, it does present automated kitchens and robotic domestic servants as part of a utopic dream, thereby demonstrating the recognition that life would be better if we did not have to do that work.

Interactive sf media such as Fallout give us the opportunity to envision, explore, and engage with the retrofuturistic automated kitchen and the robotic servants that inhabit it. Fallout offers a taste of what life might be like without the chains of domestic labor. While the kitchen might be just background decoration (the player can’t interact with it), it symbolizes what this ideal future has to offer. That is, until the bombs fall.

Like much postapocalyptic sf, Fallout is a cautionary tale portraying a bleak world plagued by radiation, violence, and tribalism. In Fallout 4 the player emerges from their cryogenic sleep over 200 years after nuclear war has devastated the world, and nearly everything not protected in underground vaults has become grungy, dirty, broken, and rusted. Kitchens have gone from pristine spaces of automated efficiency to abandoned, abject spaces full of dirty, rusted appliances.

While they are still mostly just background decoration, the kitchens in this postapocalyptic vision of America now symbolize the loss of that idealized world in which women were free from domestic labor. Worse still, the story blames unchecked consumption, greed, and scientific development for the nuclear war, thereby suggesting that the quest for automation is at least partially to blame for the horrific state of the decimated world. Although the series criticizes humanity’s behavior in general, it seems to be shaking its finger more specifically at women who dared to dream of freedom from the kitchen.

But as long as women continue to take on the lion’s share of housework, domestic automation remains an important feminist goal. Imagine what women could achieve if they were liberated from all that unpaid, largely unrecognized labor? Yet Fallout offers us a glimpse of utopia only to snatch it away, replacing it with a devastated, hostile wasteland. The dream kitchen, with its robot servant, where a woman is not forced to spend her time chained to the stove, is replaced with a burned out, rusted, bleak space. The series ruminates on the hubris of humankind (mankind?), and while its point that unchecked consumption, greed, and development will inevitably lead to devastation is cogent, I don’t think the desire for automation is the problem. For those of us who labor for the majority of our lives (for most women that labor is both in the workplace and at home), the desire for a convenient, easy, post-labor world is not a result of laziness but an understanding that we could do so much more with our lives if we didn’t have to spend so much time working, cleaning, organizing, and cooking. The ideal kitchen of the sf utopia is indeed one in which we don’t have to spend time. Can we seek that freedom without the devastation Fallout suggests is inevitable? Can we have our automatically baked perfect Frigidaire cake and eat it too?—Sarah Stang, Brock University

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