Illustrations by Henri Lanos for H.G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), via Wikimedia Commons
A nut was a nutrition-unit, creation of the Ministry of Synthetic Food. –Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed (1962)
If you should ever plan a trip to utopia, you’ll want the pack your loosest clothes. The food there is fantastic — and there’s plenty of it. The land of Cockaigne, the subject of legend in Europe going back to the Middle Ages, greets visitors with streets paved with buttery pastries in place of cobblestones. In the New World, the fabled city of El Dorado, said to lie hidden in the jungles of Colombia, offers paradise for gourmands and treasure hunters alike. There fountains, if they don’t spray jets of rose water, issue great gouts of sugarcane liquor. Further north, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, which fueled the dreams of hobos throughout a depression-plagued United States, is home to lemonade springs and hens that lay hard-boiled eggs.
Travel to dystopia, on the other hand, and you’ll want to pack a lunch. There is local cuisine, of a kind. But it will make you question, whether, in a place in which life has reached its greatest potential for awfulness, the food of the place hasn’t, as well.
On a December evening in 1903, the streets of Ybor City, Florida rang with gunfire. Two men had dueled and, in so doing, sustained grave injuries. One of the duelists, Mexican national Enrique Velázquez, would find himself the worse for the exchange, his bullet wounds carrying him off five days later. His antagonist, Spaniard Jesús Fernández, managed to survive his injuries.
Let the amelioration in our laws of property proceed from the concession of the rich, not from the grasping of the poor … Let us understand that the equitable rule is, that no one should take more than his share, let him be ever so rich. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Man the Reformer” (1841)
Of those writers who flung themselves against Mt. Monadnock’s steep, rugged slopes, arguably the most famous and widely read, Walden author Henry David Thoreau, came not to pen soaring verse, as his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson enjoyed doing, nor solely to thrill at the view. Over the course of his relatively short life, Thoreau scaled Monadnock four or five times. Each time he’d train to Cheshire County, New Hampshire from his native Concord, Massachusetts wearing hobnailed boots and carrying plum cake and salt beef, his preferred camp rations. He detailed these expeditions in his journals. From them we know that Thoreau certainly admired Monadnock’s views. Yet what excited him even more than the summit were the summit’s berries: blueberries and huckleberries, and even the rare mountain cranberry. On Monadnock the sun-kissed treats thronged in easy abundance. “Nature heaps the table with berries for six weeks or more,” Thoreau wrote, a profusion “wholesome, bountiful, and free.” As they presented “real ambrosia” for anyone with enough energy to reap, Thoreau found it absurd that so few people stirred to the task.