Vegania by Mark Norman Harris

Part I

There are two islands in an imaginary world. One is vegan, democratic and vaguely socialist. The other is inhabited by cannibals. We’ll call them Vegania and Cannabalia. Vegania had a veritable religion built around gastronomy and organized themselves into three distinct hereditary classes: farmers, blacksmiths and chefs. The farmers grew the raw ingredients, and the blacksmiths made the pots and pans, while the chefs were a rather privileged group who occupied themselves with cooking. The chefs came from good families who, through generations, passed down closely-guarded recipe tomes. These recipes, kept secret from the farmers and blacksmiths, were the reason for chef privilege. If the preparation of secret sauces were to become public knowledge, there would be little use for the chef class. The chefs understood this well and despite doing what was needed to perpetuate their privilege, they ensured that Vegania always ate well, and there was harmony on the island. Eventually, the island would be overrun by cannibals who would terrorize, consume and control the vegans, and their precious, harmonious society would be lost.

In the time immediately preceding the collapse of Vegania, a young and eager chef arrived on the scene. This youthful chef took a passionate and scholarly interest in his heirloom recipe book. Determined to master every dish within his tome, even the most obscure ancient ones, he worked harder than his contemporaries, chopping and mixing, and stirring until the flavours were perfect.

He demonstrated great potential, and drew high praise from all who sampled his cuisine. He rose quickly in the social ranks as was the custom for those who cooked well. However, one recipe was forever beyond his attainment. It was an ancient one, the Liberation Curry, and his tome described it well as sparking transcendental bliss, fertility and effortless digestion. He tried and toiled, using countless substitutions, but he lacked one single ingredient: the one that tied all the flavours together, inscribed in his tome as boiled Ambrosia.

Cannibalia, you see, was rather xenophobic and the unspoken rule was that foreigners, when they appeared, should to be communally eaten. While the cannibals may have had little in terms of a social contract, it was still considered impolite to eat one’s own family and friends. Foreigners then presented the easiest way to have human flesh without attachment.”

He sought the wisdom of his elder chefs, but none of them had the answers as to where he could find this mysterious Ambrosia. It was a farmer, in the end, who told him of the legend of a hero further up his family line who first found the secret spice. The Ambrosia, he explained, when boiled, became magic, a psychoactive aphrodisiac that aided in digestion. This secret spice however, was unique to Cannabalia. An ancestor of his had once arrived there by mistake due to a mix of strange winds and poor planning. He returned from this mysterious voyage on a raft piled high with exotic spices, one called Ambrosia. On the first night of his returned he unveiled his new dish, the Liberation Curry. Thirty minutes after that fateful meal, a mania, a joyful experience of raw collective effervescence took hold of the island. Excitement spread until every meal became spiked with Ambrosia. The herb proved too powerful a psychedelic for daily consumption, and this bliss degenerated into lethargy and hedonism. Birth rates exploded, and productivity collapsed. People stopped bathing and working, opting toward orgies and dancing and drums. Even the quality of cooking degraded. The island fell to disrepair and a summer of love became a failed harvest, then a winter-long famine. Sobered by the hunger pangs and infant deaths, they blamed the Ambrosia and vowed to never use it again.

The story captured the imagination of the young nameless hero, who was undeterred by this cautionary tale. Steadfast, he built a makeshift raft and after a banquet was held in his honour, he set off to Cannabalia with a trunk full of food and spices. He arrived on the island, and immediately began his search. Following the cryptic instructions and crude illustrations in his recipe book, he found the Ambrosia with surprising ease. It proved to be everywhere, growing wild like weeds, strangling the tiny plants around it. Imagining the praise that awaited him back home, he howled with glee, then pulled the plants from the earth by their roots tossing them into the trunk.

His shouting attracted the attention of nearby cannibals, who swiftly pounced upon him as easy prey. Cannibalia, you see, was rather xenophobic and the unspoken rule was that foreigners, when they appeared, should to be communally eaten. While the cannibals may have had little in terms of a social contract, it was still considered impolite to eat one’s own family and friends. Foreigners then presented the easiest way to have human flesh without attachment. In general, the island reserved its cannibalism for special occasions, and the practice served other functions, like balancing baby booms or silencing dissenters. While they did love the taste of humans, it would be more apt to call them casual cannibals, as it was an infrequent treat. Alas, cannibalism is the type activity so stigmatized that if performed even once it permanently defines an identity. It mattered little then that these islanders might also be accomplished musicians, or enthusiastic dancers. For outsiders looking in, their preference for human flesh made them monsters devoid of basic humanity.

The captors attempted to explain their cultural norms to the vegan, to ensure he took nothing of his coming death personally. They told him plain and simple that he would be boiled, then eaten and enjoyed by all. They had hoped he would embrace the chance to immerse himself in a different culture, but the young vegan was disgusted and triggered by the utter disregard for his human life, and by the meat-based diet shamelessly enjoyed by the cannibals.

In a desperate attempt to spare his life and to promote a world free of meat and animal by-products, he offered a proposition. He insisted that he could prepare a vegan curry so delicious that it would surpass any meat-based equivalent. He told his captors of how he would amaze the island with never before tasted culinary delights, and that he would share his secret recipes, in exchange for his life and his freedom. The cannibals agreed, amused by the idea of a prey willing to prepare its own broth, and dragged him to the central common kitchen.

The nameless vegan hero got to work as curious cannibals gathered round. They had never seen a chef in action. He began by laying open his trunk now stuffed with Ambrosia alongside an extensive collection of spices brought from Vegania. He organized his work station, he wiped down surfaces and sharpened knives, as the cannibal salivated in amazement with each step taken. The chef, being back in his element, began to organize the cannibals as he had done with his staff back home, barking orders, demanding ingredients and screaming at them when simple tasks were improperly executed. Through this process, he taught them how to mash, shred and dice. But more importantly, he showed them the efficiency of strong leadership and divided labour. The evening was historic. Cannabalia was briefly united, realizing that food could be more than mere fuel, and by relenting their collective wills underneath a chef they forgot to view each other in terms of predator and prey. It was a ceasefire in the war of each against all. Amidst this cooperation, the chef was brewing a plan of his own.

Consulting his tome as the cannibals around him chopped and stirred, he began
boiling the Ambrosia for the Liberation Curry. If the legend was true, they would collapse into a transcendental orgy, and in that moment, he would make a quick escape. After hours of simmering, he took a final sip, slurping on the ladle, ever careful not to overdose. The flavors seemed perfectly balanced and with a howl of excitement, the chef called the cannibals to dinner.

Alas, cannibalism is the type activity so stigmatized that if performed even once it permanently defines an identity. It mattered little then that these islanders might also be accomplished musicians, or enthusiastic dancers. For outsiders looking in, their preference for human flesh made them monsters devoid of basic humanity.”

Bowls carved from human skulls were circled and filled. The tribe sat down, and fell silent, overcome by the simple joy of communal dining. Then the Liberation Curry started to kick in. It started with giggles, then stifled laughter, then it passed to group hugs, and finally a cathartic release of tears as they collectively realized in a single moment the absurdity of eating one’s own tribe. It was then that an alpha stood above them and delivered a speech that distilled and reflected all that they were feeling. Their hive mind channeled through his voice proclaimed:

Siblings! We have fought too long in a war of each against all. Let us no longer be predators and prey, but one cannibal family. We must stop this senseless carnage. We must learn from our dear prisoner and this dining experience. He showed us that we can dissolve our single interests beneath one chef, that we can work in unity, and hunt in harmony. Together we will be stronger than we ever imagined, and we will devour the weak and drive fear into the hearts of survivors. Tonight, we emerge as a single apex predator and we mark the occasion with flesh of this frail foreign vegetable man.

“Toss him in the curry!” They responded in a chilling unison.

The nameless hero had missed his chance to flee the scene, as eyes that glowed with hunger and determination turned upon him. He went to run, as fast as he could, adrenaline pumping through his veins and marinating his muscles. The alpha rushed the vegan, striking him hard across his head. He crumpled instantly, and deficient in iron, he bled and bled and bled. He was then stripped of all his clothing, hacked into pieces, diced into cubes and added to what remained of his Liberation Curry.

The flavour of his flesh was exquisite, for he was organic, free-range and ethically raised. The experience for the cannibals was the greatest bonding ritual. From that night forward, they ceased to eat each other, they began to dine together and they laid a plan to find more vegans, and turn them into livestock. With new purpose and unity, they felled trees and built rafts for an invasion. They studied the recipes from the dead chef’s tome, adding meat wherever possible, then set out within a cycle of the moon.

As Prometheus gave the first men fire, in thanks they burned him at the stake. This is how Vegania invited its enslavement.

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