by Patrick Keeler
“You are what you eat.” It’s a trite aphorism amongst us sustainable food advocates, but never so literally has this adage been applied than in the new novel Animals by Don LePan.
We don’t often get the opportunity to digest fiction books about the food system at the SFUSA office, and one of my favorite genres is the utopian* or dystopian story, so with great enthusiasm I leapt at the chance to be among the first to read Animals.
Set in the 22nd century the premise of the novel is this: we’ve so terribly screwed up the food system due to our dependence on factory farming for the source of meats and proteins, that the result is mass extinction of our feedstocks. Pandemic disease and genetic engineering have wiped out all traditional sources of meat (and many vegetable products) in a matter of decades. Panic follows; there’s a deepening gap between the rich who can afford better alternative food and healthcare and those who cannot; there’s economic collapse along the entire supply chain of the meat-processing sector. Not to mention that genetic engineering (amongst other environmental ills) has led to a dramatic increase in the number of birth defects.
Panic about how the human race will survive sans meat in their diets, coupled with a crippled healthcare system now burdened with a 1 in 5 severe birth defect rate, leads to a deterioration of morality. Those with any birth defects or handicaps are classified as “mongrels,” and are kept either as family pets or are sent to “chattel pens.” You guessed it – those who can afford it eat human flesh. And with a new product to market, the former meat industry’s infrastructure is revived by demand for factory farmed human animals.