It’s weird how often food is mentioned in the science fiction we’ve read so far. Snowman goes into obsessive detail with his food, constantly recounting it, even physically shaping the landscape with the “Snowman Fish Path.” More importantly, though, he shapes the culture of the Crakers; his demand of a weekly fish is a direct expression of cultural power via diet, also expressed by John in Part 4 of Red Mars.
When comparing the diets of the Marsian settlers on Red Mars with earlier novels we’ve read, it’s interesting to note that their diets transform in exactly the opposite way. In Red Mars, they begin with ‘space’ food, literally; but by the time John is running his diplomatic detective show, he is able to bring exotic wines to the places he visits and indulge in feasts of “roast beef and potatoes” (270) or “basted lamb and dill-flavored yogurt, delicious and exotic” (280). Meanwhile, Jimmy in Oryx and Crake eats a relatively normal diet in his childhood, devolving to hybridized ChickieNobs in his college and young adult years, and finally down to the occasional Jolt Bar and weekly fish in the post-apocalypse world.
In Lilith’s Brood, food, and particularly animal meat, is again an essential point of control: she cannot wander very far until she is given access to food, to opening the cabinets, literally accepted into the culture (family) of the Oankali. The colonists she trains occasionally erupt in violence over the desire for hamburgers and steaks, enraged, apparently, by the vegetarian diet of the Oankali. So it is not just hunger that fuels this anger, because the colonists are well fed; it is a simple desire for domination, total control through consumption of another animal, in a world where they themselves feel powerless.
John’s travels through the Martian settlements, by contrast, shows increasing variation in the diets of the Martians, mimicking the breakup of social/political groups through the breakup of dietary choices. In his confrontation with Helmut, he has the aforementioned “roast beef and potatoes;” with the Arabs, he has the meal of lamb which he deems “exotic,” an interesting word, given the tiny number of people (relatively) thus far on Mars. Cultures outside the west are still deemed ‘exotic,’ and therefore are essential to his search for the Coyote, another ‘exotic’ figure.
There is no mention of vegetarians in John’s diplomacy or vegetarian meals; cultural uniqueness (or rather, superiority) is expressed by the consumption of animals, and so to impress John, a visiting diplomat, both the German Helmut and the Arabs present meat-based meals. Vegetarianism, in the previous two novels, is equated with simple functionality—Crake with his rabbit genes and the Oankali with their prisoners’ gruel use food only as fuel, necessary for life but unnecessary in any cultural functions. John’s pointless attempt at being a detective, therefore, is characterized by indulgent (and unnecessary) feasts of animal meat.
Diet is an equally important factor in rejecting the overall governance of Mars; before John’s chapter, Michel discovers Hiroko’s secret group, including (possibly) the Coyote. They do not eat animal or plant-based food, but Marsian dirt, consuming that which they hope to become: “This is our body” (230). Their consumption embraces solely the cultural act of eating, entirely ignoring food-as-fuel, instead embracing food-as-ideology. Although they claim to want to leave the settlement because of its overt reconnection with Terran ideologies and governments, they actually promote the continual divisions and hierarchies now rampant in the Martian society, mirroring Terran society. First, they leave, physically splitting the group; second, they consume as a way of claiming, a way to actuate their power over Mars as more legitimate than any other claimant’: Mars is their body, and no other’s.