Here’s another installment in my continuing series about stuff I find in the news or my everyday life that eerily echoes a science fiction story of my acquaintance.
I was going on 13 years old when the movie Soylent Green hit the theaters, and it was one of the most depressing tales ever told. These were the days of Silent Spring, and The Population Bomb, and all manner of apocalyptic screeds that scared the willies out of everybody. Human beings were killing the planet, they told us, and we all needed to go down to Yasgur’s Farm and get ourselves back to the Garden.
Such a fun time to be a kid. My face was breaking out, and the world was going to end tomorrow. I wouldn’t make it to my Senior Prom, much less graduate from college, get married, and raise a family of my own. I’d be lucky if I managed to kiss a girl before we all died of fertilizer poisoning.
Anyhow, Soylent Green is a cinematic requiem for the human race, a Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation, pollution, famine, and despair. It’s 2022, and food riots are part of the daily routine. Unemployment is around 98%, on a good day. The old and hopeless file into euthanasia centers, where they commit suicide by lethal injection, to the accompaniment of soft classical music and panoramic videos of Earth’s lost natural beauty.
People subsist on a manufactured product called Soylent, which comes in a variety of colors, meets all nutritional requirements, and is made from vegetable proteins, which are in short supply. Soylent Green is the latest and greatest version, made from plankton, a resource that will never run out.
At least, that’s what the ads say.
Robert Thorn, a New York City detective remarkable because he actually has a job (and is played by Charlton Heston), happens upon a disquieting cover-up involving Soylent that becomes personal when his best friend, a retired university professor, checks into a euthanasia center. Thorn arrives too late to stop him, but not too late to obtain some frightening information before his friend expires. He follows the body to its final destination and discovers a secret the government wants hidden at all costs.
This movie is so old and well-known it probably doesn’t demand a spoiler warning, and not much imagination is required to figure out what comes next, but here you go:
The oceans, like everything else on Earth except human beings, are dead. Soylent Green is made out of people. Humanity’s final bulwark against starvation is cannibalism. Thorn catches several bullets as he tries to blow the whistle on the conspiracy, but his words are lost in the ever-present crowds that surround him. Even if the truth does get out, we’re all doomed. DOOMED.
So, you can imagine my reaction when I stumbled across this little project a few weeks ago. Yes, somebody’s making Soylent. The name is intended as tongue-in-cheek humor, I suppose, but the concept is the same. Soylent is a universal food powder you mix with water into a sort of milkshake—cheap, convenient, hypoallergenic, nutritious, and, of course, “green.”
The disturbing thing about most of the articles I read is that nobody made a connection to the 1973 movie. Will we never learn from our science-fiction film history? I had to scroll a long way through the comments to find a reference by some wag, buried in a sea of plaudits for the product and a smattering of debate about its nutritional, social, and digestive merits. A Canadian reporter, however, jumped right on it. Go figure.
Some people don’t like the flavor, texture, and/or color, so that’s something, I guess.
Bon Appetit. Here are some links if you want to be an early adopter: