You Are What You Eat
U.N Headquarters, Reykjavík, Iceland:
The Politician stands before a crowd, set above them at a simple stone lectern. He is apprehensive, dabbing his lips with a bamboo fibre cloth, his initials pushed into a corner, just like, until a few years ago, every idea he came up with in his political career. He smiles to himself, takes a deep breath of cold morning air, inhaling the support of the crowd, and begins his speech.
The sun rises over pristine rainforest, an undulating swell of green that produces 20% of the planet’s oxygen. The forest is alive with sound, and the fact that this area was a cattle ranch just twenty years ago is impossible to imagine. Frogs, skins iridescent in the morning light, add to the high-pitched songs of howler monkeys in the canopy. The shrill rattle of a million cicadas cuts through the steaming air, as local pickers pluck them from the vegetation and toss them into deep wicker baskets, ready to be fried up in a nearby city.
U.N Headquarters, Reykjavík, Iceland:
“…yes, 2116 promises to be a great year for us,” continues the Politician, “and by ‘us’ I mean the peoples of Earth. We have come so far in the last 25 years to build the future we wanted. Now look at our world! No hunger! No war! Climate change – a distant memory! We have saved our world through our diets, and now, 25 years after every nation on Earth signed the Treaty of Entomophagy, we will never look back, because our diet, our insects…” he takes a breath, filling his lungs to deliver the line he knows will make the front page across the globe and mark him out as the hero who turned the world ento-vegan, “our insects saved humanity!” The crowds cheer, the cameras flash, the Politician waves, striding triumphantly up the stone steps behind him.
Growing region, Zealand:
Crisp white clouds are scattered across an azure sky, as the farmhands walk amicably through the fields, picking tender grubs from their beds of chippings. “You guys see that speech las’ night?” asks one, a pockmarked man with a week’s stubble.
“Yeah,” replies another, a woman with a nasal voice.
“If y’ask me,” says a wizened old man with a glint in his eye, “The Politician’s a total phoney,” he picks another grub. “I remember meat, proper meat, not this bug stuff, and I bet he does too, look’n at ‘im. He says all ‘is stuff ‘bout ‘insects bein’ the way forward, but I reckon he misses burgers, bet he misses steak.”
The pockmarked man nods and continues to work, thinking of the armed guards that used to stand outside the abandoned butcher’s when he was a kid and wondering if his fellow picker is right.
An alley in Shanghai:
The whole operation takes less than two minutes.
The man is taken aside by an official-looking woman in police uniform, stabbed and bundled into the refrigerated truck with slick efficiency, his body stacked with those already harvested.
She slips into the cab and drives.
A penthouse in Reykjavík:
The Politician lives alone. He steps into the elevator, wondering how many times he will have to make that speech in his life. Behind his words, he misses meat, but knows he cannot go back on his life’s work now, tied up by the world he has made. What if the press were to discover his secret? He shudders at the thought. Those days in his childhood during the unsuccessful pescatarian regime, when his mother would cook him an illegal steak…
Remembering the glorious feel of it between his teeth – the iron taste of meat so rare it was almost blue – he shakes his head as the lift slows. The future he had wanted 25 years ago was not the future he wanted now.
Shanghai Deepwater Port:
The refrigerated truck grinds to a halt between two others identical to it. The woman slips out, watching the dock’s crane swing above her, framed against a night sky peppered with stars like bullet-holes, lifting identical containers onto a vast ship. She shudders at the thought of what each container holds, ready to be shipped off around the world to those with the deepest pockets. Her cargo is inspected by a tall man in a long black coat, who slips her the bulging envelope of cash that will support her for the next few weeks. She knows him only as ‘Dr Todd’, which she knows to be a false name. She has never told him hers. He nods and the crane whirrs to life, carrying the container from the back of the truck, with its chilled cargo onto the vessel.
She melts away into the night, wondering not for the first time if her ‘job’ is morally wrong, yet knowing that the envelope in her pocket will keep her coming back.
A penthouse in Reykjavík:
The politician reflects on his speech as he eats. He thinks about how great he must have sounded to the press, the proof in his hands in the form of the day’s papers. He looks at his food, juxtaposed against his speech splashed over the tabloids, then gazes from his window at the tiny beings in the world beneath him, barely even the size or significance of the insects they consume. He smiles.
The steak was good. It wasn’t quite like his mother’s used to be, but then it was a different meat, one that was far easier than beef to obtain in this world that his hypocritical words had created over the years, but just as illegal. He smiled – the future he had wanted then may not be the same as the future he wanted now, but the Politician didn’t have to live the same future as those pathetic insects he ruled over.
This was such a nuanced and imaginative piece of fiction with dialogue and characterisation that any writer would be proud to put on the page.” Kerry Hudson, Orwell Youth Prize Judge
Hugh Ludford was a junior 2020 Orwell Youth Prize winner, responding to the theme ‘The Future We Want’.
What was the inspiration for your piece?
I wanted my piece to be relevant now, and with the huge increase in the popularity of veganism over the last few years, I thought this would be an interesting field to explore. I added entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) to veganism as both are more sustainable than our global diet today. The idea of the corruption and hypocrisy was inspired in part by two quotes from Neal Shusterman’s book, The Toll – ‘Why must we always sabotage the pursuit of our own dreams?’ and ‘We are imperfect beings, how could we ever fit in a perfect world?’. These quotes gave me the idea of hypocrisy from those who implement change, and that humanity may never be ready to fully embrace a perfect future, tying in with this year’s theme – The Future We Want.
Why did you choose the medium of your chosen form (poem, fiction, essay etc) to communicate your idea about the future?
Originally, I had intended to illustrate my idea for the future through a newspaper report, but found it much harder to show different settings and character perspectives in this form. I really wanted to give my piece a more cinematic feel – of zooming out to see the big picture before zooming in on a single character and their views – and I decided that the best way to achieve this was by writing in a more scene-led narrative, which lent itself to a short story. I also used this medium to show the whole world, and how it had changed, rather than one country or location.
What is your one tip to young writers?
Read. A lot. I think that this is how you can get really familiar with the language and tone of different genres, which will let you write in a wider range of styles and voices. It doesn’t even matter what you read – ingredient lists, news articles, novels – none of it is wasted because anything you read will give you a better understanding of that particular style. Also, counter-intuitive as it may seem, leaving a piece you are writing for a while to do something else you enjoy can really help you gain a fresh perspective or new ideas. I find when I’m writing that my attention span and the quality of any new ideas will decrease over time, so getting out and doing something else can ‘reset the timer’ on my attention span and improve my writing.