Food and the Environment in a Sci-Fi Setting
by Yuejia Zhang
The Wandering Earth is a science fiction film series set in a dystopian future where the Sun rapidly ages and is expected to expand into a Red Giant. To ensure the survival of humanity, a monumental global project, the Wandering Earth Project, is undertaken, involving building massive engines on Earth to propel it away from the solar system to a new habitable one. In the Wandering Earth Project, the Earth is first made to stop rotation and then driven away from the Sun. During the process, the Earth's environmental system is radically altered.
The way the films portray the intimate relationship between the environment and the sustenance of life is intriguing. As the project pushes forward, extreme conditions - rapid increase in outer space radiation after Earth stops rotation and the sub-zero surface temperature after leaving the Sun – force people to move into the underground cities. These changes give rise to a series of societal and political discussions related to limitations in food production and shortages in food availability.
Amid these challenges, the film introduces several unconventional foods, adding a layer of novelty and humor to the narrative. In one scene, when the characters are walking in the debris of an African city, one mentions, "the mosquito pie … about this thick. 500,000 mosquitoes in one pie. But now there's not even mosquitoes anymore." While the mosquito pie adds a touch of quirky novelty and humor to the lines, it also reveals the underlying environmental threat in the film's world – even the mosquitoes cannot survive. Another unusual food in the film is the dried earthworms. These are brought up in the film in a sarcastic way as the 'regional specialty' in the underground city. On the one hand, it showcases the limited resources, but it also highlights the residents’ positivity towards their new lifestyle underground.
In addition, the film also features a scene in which residents receive food rations. When a woman holding a feverish child asked to move to the front of the line, people allow her. It is clear that even in this icy, apocalyptic crisis, the choice to be kind to others, especially to help women with children, is still the prevailing ethic in society. Hope for humanity is present. In contrast, when another man tries to cut in line by saying, "My wife is undergoing chemotherapy," he is turned down. "Who doesn't have a few chemo patients in their family these days?" It is evident that radiation sickness is widely impacting the post-rotation Earth society, further highlighting the environmental disasters.
Food in the Wandering Earth is a minor element compared with other grander themes. Nevertheless, as a fundamental and crucial sustenance, it serves as a backdrop to the theme of the consequences and effects of environmental catastrophes on human society.
The Wandering Earth. Dir. Frant Gwo. Beijing Culture, 2019.