Soylent Green (1973) dir. Richard Fleischer
I’ve emphasized several times that dystopias are not supposed to “predict the future,” but are instead parables that use extreme situations to clarify our values. Soylent Green however, is the most dead-on.
Soylent Green is the most emblematic fictional look at a future past the “tipping point.” In 2022, overpopulation, abuse of the environment and greenhouse gases have combined to create a world devoid of the natural. Particular attention is paid to the food shortage.
In the fictional 21st Century, Americans eat people. In real life, our diets are far less healthy than that.
The point was recently punctuated by one blogger who designed ‘Made With Soylent Green’ stickers and started slapping them onto fast food menus and grocery store products. Fantastic idea.
Most of the food available is not food, but rather what Michael Pollan calls “edible foodlike substances.” And his advice to not “eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” is about as easy to take for us as it is for Charlton Heston in the world of Soylent Green.
I have it easier than most Americans. I live above the federally-mandated poverty level, I’m educated enough to understand food labels, and there’s even a natural foods store and seasonal farmers’ market in the city I live. But even for me, its cost-prohibitive to eat organic every day. And I’m not sure that processed, microwavable Indian food is “real food” either.
None of this is a secret. Was anyone surprised by allegations that Taco Bell beef is actually “taco meat filling?” Did anyone seriously believe Michelle Obama when she talked about how great Wal-Mart was for agreeing to insignificantly reduce sodium levels in a few of its low-end processed foodlike substances?
Soylent Green: Now With Reduced Fat!
Soylent Green is the 14th entry in my 45.1 Essential Dystopias list, and sadly, the last featuring Charlton Heston.
Food, Inc. (from which the second screen grab is from) is currently available on Netflix streaming.