"..food with its strange evil tastes.." (p. 60)
Visit any first-world market or grocery store and you would find that the shelves are usually stocked with an abundant selection of consumables. Finding something to eat in the first-world isn't much of a problem at all, the problem lies in accessible food prices. Considering that Oceania has absorbed the first-world as we know it, Oceania should have an excess supply of resources to combat the social issue of hunger. Especially for its higher populated regions like London, where Winston resides.
To our dwindling surprise, Big Brother does not share the same benevolent tendencies as today's “developed” nations.
In this post, we'll follow Mr. Smith as he describes an average day of meals for a working-class member of the Outer Party.
Today we find Winston at home during his lunch hour, although “he was aware that there was no food in the kitchen except a hunk of dark-colored bread which had got to be saved for tomorrow's breakfast” (p. 5). Presumably he had a hunk of bread that morning and won't be eating again for the next twenty-four hours, just another day. Winston opts for a “bottle of colorless liquid with a plain white label marked VICTORY GIN” (p. 5) to save his meal for the next morning. A shot of liquor for lunch on a empty stomach sounds like a terrible idea to the ordinary person; however this gin wasn't ordinary alcohol, it wasn't meant to be enjoyed but rather taken “like a dose of medicine” (p. 5).
We all, or most of us, share the experience of throwing down liquid courage. We cheer and watch and poke fun at our friend's scrunched up faces as our throats are seared and the warmth in our bellies are fueled. It's all fun and games until there's a bit too much to drink; but that isn't the case for Winston's gin, “th[at] stuff was like nitric acid, and moreover, in swallowing it one had the sensation of being hit on the back of the head with a rubber club” (p. 5). Drinking doesn't sound like it would be much fun anymore, but it helps as the “burning in his belly died down and the world began to look more cheerful” (p. 5). It's unclear if the burning sensation was from the liquor itself or if it had cauterized Winston's hunger, perhaps a bit of both with his newly optimistic outlook.
A single shot of Victory Gin does wonders as you'll need to consume very little to achieve its effects. However, it doesn't last long, “leaving a deflated feeling” (p. 26) as Winston sobers up. Big Brother seems to have figured out the hangover issue with booze, the pounding headache comes before the alcohol takes effect since Winston still needs to get back to work after his lunch hour.
What's Winston missing out on for lunch anyway? Let's find out.
The regulation lunch that is served to workers consists of a “pinkish-gray stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of milkless Victory Coffee, and one saccahrine tablet” (p. 49-50). It might not look too good, actually the “filthy liquid mess had the appearance of vomit” (p. 50), but it fulfilled everyone's essential macro-nutrients. As a bonus, they're also served gin to wash down their lunch. Remember, this gin isn't like the gin we know; this alcohol is medicinal.
Victory Gin is to be taken prior to eating and as Winston forces down the shot “he suddenly discovered that he was hungry. He began swallowing spoonfuls of the stew, which, in among its general sloppiness, had cubes of spongy pinkish stuff which was probably a preparation of meat” (p. 50). Clearly, this gin has been altered to not only suppress appetite but also to entice it.
During this scene, Winston is having lunch with a familiar comrade of his and interestingly “neither of them spoke again till they had emptied their pannikans” (p. 50). It could be that they are both considerably hungry since we know for a fact that Winston has very little food at home and wouldn't be eating much otherwise. So it would be reasonable for someone in a similar situation to gorge themselves when presented with a full plate. However, one could imagine it to be biologically repulsive to consume what looks like someone's puked up tofu drenched in pepto-bismol – well the tofu may be salvageable at the very least. In any case, regulation lunch is likely consistent with its appearance so either the effects of Victory Gin are demanding or its better to eat quickly and get it over with before the gin starts to wear off because it probably doesn't taste too great either.
Tofu has been around for quite some time and SPAM was created in 1937, so the idea wasn't entirely new to Orwell. Although spam is jokingly regarded as specially processed animal meat, it still contains pork product; even imitation crab is made with real fish. The processing of food exploded following McDonald's success in the 1950's and the evolution of its technology led way toward frozen meals. Eventually, consumer demand discovered plant-based “meat” that doesn't contain any flesh at all and is modified to have the appearance, and sometimes the consistency, of animal meat.
Do you think Winston and his comrades are eating actual meat preparations or plant-based “meat”? Would they even be allowed to consume animal products?
It is during this time that Mr. Smith begins to ask questions when he finds himself “meditat[ing] resentfully on the physical texture of life. Has it always been like this? Had food always tasted like this?” (p. 59). He goes on describing the metallic lunchroom and while pointing out the overcrowded grossness of it all, he becomes aware to something in his gut, “a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to” (p. 59).
Winston faces the realization that “there had never been quite enough to eat, one had never had socks or underclothes that were not full of holes, furniture had always been battered and rickety, rooms underheated, Tube trains crowded, houses falling to pieces, bread dark-colored, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient – nothing cheap and plenty except synthetic gin.” (p. 59)...well that explains the “gin”. Winston ends his rant with an awareness that the body deteriorated under these living conditions and understands it to be “a sign that this was not the natural order of things” (p. 59).
He speculates, “Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different?” (p. 60).
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