Are there supermarkets? Specialty groceries? Farmers markets? Hell, do people even bother cooking at home? Does everyone crowd into the same diners and cafés? Are there bistros and bars? What does your city look like at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What time do those meals start?
I can ask and answers those questions about my current city (Santa Monica, California), and I’m going to start asking them next month when my family moves to Seattle, Washington. I can do the same with cities I’ve visited, and I can get a surface understanding of that neighborhood. Food is the thing that unites all humans. We all have to eat. How we eat, however, is open to interpretation.
What kind of a place is Santee Anchorage, the setting of Windswept? It’s industrial, for starters, and that means industrial food. Most of the population is from Asia and the Pacific Islands, but there are pockets from Eastern Europe and South America. All those people would be working, and they would want food to get them through a long shift. That meant kumara and samosas and burritos and tsepilinu (aka meatballs wrapped in shredded potato aka the one food my Lithuanian grandmother made that I miss more than anything in the world. When I build a time machine, it will be just so I can go back and eat tseps), food that’s filling and comforting. And, while everyone would stick with people who shared the same language and customs, they’re also hustlers, and that means doing business with people who are different. And that means you’re going to get some foods mixed together. Those kumara are going into samosas. Some carnitas is going to show up inside a tsep.
All of this is stuff we take for granted. For the shattered corporate survivors of Windswept, food isn’t just important for calories; it’s a key part of how they express their humanity. Our cultural rites revolve around food: a Persian bride and groom feed each other honey, Hindus offer rice balls at funerals, and every Christian has bread and wine. We need to eat to stay alive, but I think we need to cook to stay human. Civilization didn’t start with fire; it began with caramelized onions.
And the people of Santee Anchorage love them some caramelized onions, preferably atop some bulgogi and kimchi and wrapped up in a tortilla. All those smells, all those tastes, all that life, all served up on a plate. In their previous lives, Santee’s denizens ate packaged Nutrifood, served only in the three approved flavors. Here, they’re free to cook and eat whatever they want. A world worth building is one worth living in, and I would love living in Santee, especially around dinner time, when the grills are lit and the bakeries are closing down for the day. I hope you like visiting there. Bring an empty stomach.
Adam Rakunas has worked a variety of weird jobs. He’s been a virtual world developer, a parking lot attendant, a triathlon race director, a fast food cashier, and an online marketing consultant. Now a stay-at-home dad, Adam splits his non-parenting time between writing, playing the cello, and political rabble-rousing. His stories have appeared in Futurismic and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Windswept is his first novel — it is out now, published by Angry Robot Books.