TORONTO, Canada — It's appropriate that I would take a weekend trip to Toronto and return to New York with a 20-page academic paper exploring the role of food in Margaret Atwood's literary works.
I came across the paper because a very close friend from the city unearthed it and printed me a copy. I'm glad he did, it made for a fascinating read.
Atwood herself resides in Toronto, though her best-known dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, takes place in the US. The paper, first published in The Japanese Journal of American Studies, takes a deep dive (pdf) into how food is represented in that novel, as well as in Oryx and Crake. The latter interested me most because it's the one in which Atwood plays with the idea of artificial, super-processed future foods, including some that were clearly the product of biotechnological rejiggering of common goods.
Take for instance so-called "ChickieNob," which is described as a chicken engineered to have twelve drumsticks and no head. This is, of course, a far cry from what scientists in today's food labs are tinkering with, but the concept is an interesting and relevant one as I embark on an intense level of research for the book project.
For that very reason, I think it's noteworthy, too, that Atwood chose to set both these novels in the US. She expanded upon this decision in a book by Earl Ingersoll, a literature professor at State University of New York, College at Brockport:
"The States are more extreme in everything...Canadians don't swing much to the left or the right, they stay safely in the middle...It's also true that everyone watches the States to see what the country is doing and might be doing ten or fifteen years from now."
It just so happens that three of the world's eight food technology companies trying to get a high-tech meat product to market are based in Silicon Valley. And of those three, one has said it plans to be the first to get a lab-grown, "clean meat" product to market first.
I love that Atwood was playing with this idea.