A couple of days ago, I viewed Tim Fehlbaum’s directorial debut Hell, which “tells the story of a group of survivors in post-apocalyptic Germany in the year 2016, when solar flares have destroyed the earth’s atmosphere and temperatures have risen by 10°C.” As my posts here on The Walking Dead and The Road would indicate, I often find my mind wandering to cheerful thoughts of post-apocalyptic times. One of my dominant obsessions in this domain–as it appears to be of the productions just named–is food, or rather, the lack of it.
Here is an excerpt from a post I wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy:
Somehow, through this all, the most unsettling image yet was [of] a row of empty food shelves at a coffee shop; on asking the barista why their normal snack offerings were not available, I was told it was because the usual deliveries were not being made by trucks. At that moment, again, I became aware I lived on an island, one serviced by road and train connections to the ‘rest of the world,’ that bridges and tunnels were still lifelines for it, that most connections between its points occur in relatively mundane, non-glamorous, and as Sandy showed, eminently disruptable ways. It was at that moment too, that the fragility and contingency of our existence here became just a little clearer; I was reminded again of the logistical connections, of the coordinated work of hundreds and thousands of men and women that keeps everything ’normal’ on a day to basis: those trucks that make deliveries day and night, the gas that keeps them running (and that heats our buildings). All those supermarket shelves–normally bursting to the seams with packaged goods and produce efficiently delivered from afar–would rapidly empty, if the gas-tunnel-truck disruption continued. (For remember: we live on an island, we don’t grow our food around here.) This city is only able to play home to ten million people because a vast interdependent network of supply chains lets it do so.
The vast majority of us do not grow or produce our own food; we buy it from stores, which are supplied by a vast transportation network, in turn supplied by a vast manufacturing network (dependent on other networks of supply and manufacture and so on). When the apocalypse strikes, the first thing to go will be these two networks: those who man them will be incapacitated, production lines will break down, deliveries will cease. In response, panicky runs on the remaining food supply will begin, as will hoarding. Violent clashes for food will be inevitable; these will continue as it will become increasingly evident that no more supplies are forthcoming. And because fuel will be in short supply too, looking for food will become extremely difficult. Cities will rapidly become dying–and killing–zones.
The resultant desperate situation is, I think, only dimly grasped; the cannibalism that is a recurrent feature of modern takes on the post-apocalypse is a grim acknowledgment of it. (The Walking Dead comics feature it; the television show has not done so yet.) The shortage of food and the ensuing mass starvation will almost certainly be the grimmest–and least ennobling–aspect of the disaster that our modern culture seems to spend so much time speculating about.