When I open a Margaret Atwood book, I expect certain things: a strong yet tortured female lead, a plausible (though usually not preferable) future, an element of surrealism. And I know I’ll be challenged in my thinking on any- and everything from norms and values to gender roles, power structures, and evolution.
What I don’t expect to spend the afternoon ruminating over is pork.
I’m sure heroine Toby didn’t expect to waste much time worrying over that, either, nor any other meat. Not when she was 12, the world was fine, and her father taught her to shoot and they killed, skinned, and ate deer. Nor after the first phase/wave of disease claimed the lives of the last of her relatives and left college-aged Toby working at a Secret Burger joint to make ends meet.
But that’s where Adam One first came into her life, telling Toby that the light had come to him and told him not to eat anything with a face. When he then asked Toby if she’d eat her own relatives, survival-mode Toby’d immediately retorted, “I would if I was hungry enough.”
Yet, even though there wasn’t insta-like, Toby did eventually decide to follow Adam One and his group of God’s Gardeners back to their rooftop garden – to no longer be a “materialistic, atheistic, meat-eater” and instead choose kinder meals of lentil pancakes and pickled mushroom medley.
Of course, another major wave then floods the planet, wiping out the Gardeners and virtually all other human beings. Toby finds herself completely alone and some pigs cross her path…and it causes her significant moral strife. Adam One’s teachings have become so ingrained in her that she hears his voice telling her animal protein is the absolute last resort, but she’s also so hungry that she has to restrain herself from chasing down the pig with a kitchen knife to saw off a ham.
Such an emotional and intellectual road to walk – staying the moral high ground even when being dragged down by basic instinct. And a much easier line to tow in a time of plenty, rather than one of desperation. You can’t help but put yourself in Toby’s position (multiple times, actually – at each stage of her life) and wonder what you would do. Pretty much the epitome of “food for thought.” ;)
*There was one more thing I didn’t expect from this book: the songs. Because it’s not a few lines or verses, but an entire album’s worth of full-length pieces. I recommend picking up the audiobook version of this one to hear the singer (not the narrator, but another person altogether), guitar and all.