From “salad days” to “meat walls”, M.T. Anderson serves up a four-course meal that is rich with savory and simply irresistible consumerism and corporate power with a dash of data mining and environmental decay. Feed is set in a near-futuristic dystopian society that is completely immersed in the internet and consumer activities controlled by the Corporations. This four-part novel concludes with the expected bittersweet decadent dessert of death, dying that turns sour upon receipt of the check. Who or what is the “Feed”? An analysis of a singular passage found in part three of this scrumptious novel will answer this question and the questions of who is feeding whom, why, and at what cost?
Part 3, “utopia”, ends with the chapter entitled, “our duty to the party”. After Violet and Titus have been at the party for a while, several of Titus’s friends decide to play a game of spin the bottle. After several spins, it was Marty’s turn. Marty’s spin ends on Violet. Marty’s advances towards Violet are unwanted and she states “Stop it all.” Marty is insistent. Violet begins her monologue with “Can I tell you what I see?” and it ends with “Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are feed! You’re feed! You’re being eaten! You’re raised for food! Look at what you’ve made yourselves!” At this moment, I realized that the title Feed was chosen for more than the obvious definition: a device or conduit for supplying something. At some level, it was food for cattle or livestock. And then I began to ask myself, “Who is being fed? What was the purpose of the feeding or the Feed?”
When the story began, I accepted that the feed was merely a connection to an extensive internet database that provided access to news, entertainment, and shopping. These activities occur in our society today. We enjoy the convenience and availability of products and services on a daily basis. The ability to connect immediately with a friend through “m-chatting” was exciting to me. It seemed so much easier than texting on my cell phone or sending a message through Messenger. The feed in my mind was one dimensional. The feed was designed for the consumer’s convenience. Everything is available at the moment it is thought.
As I continued to read, the real relationship began to unfold. I could see that the feed was the vehicle for corporations to obtain information from the user. The feed made it possible for the corporations to mine for information. This mining made it possible for the corporations to tailor-fit advertisements and promotions for the individual. This was successful and the result was an increase in profits. The relationship was no longer one dimensional. The feed was a two-way process. The person searches for information, seeks out entertainment, or purchases goods. And the corporations obtain information by accessing search patterns, conversations with others, what was dreamt, etc. The corporations were taking what they wanted. Pulling what they needed to continue to grow and become more powerful.
In my head, red lights began flashing and loud bullhorns began going off. I began to reflect on the relationship between the farmer and the steer. The farmer feeds his cattle every day to provide nourishment. He may have researched various feed types to find the best so that his herd is strong and healthy. The ranch hands take care of every need to ensure that the livestock is in top, premium condition. Cattle are expensive to raise and cattle ranches exist for one purpose: to slaughter, butcher and to sell. Who doesn’t like a tender, juicy steak now and then? So, who is the cow and who is the farmer in the novel Feed? Violet reveals this symbiotic relationship before she collapses: “Look at us! You don’t have the feed! You are feed! You’re feed! You’re being eaten! You’re raised for food! Look at what you’ve made yourselves!”
Returning to the relationship between the farmer and the cow we can examine another aspect of this relationship by asking the question: What happens to an animal that is sick or dying? Well, they are put down. It is not cost-effective to get medical assistance from a veterinarian when there are a thousand other heads that are completely healthy. The meat from the sick animal is no longer the established premium quality expected by the meat-loving consumer. In the novel, we learn of Violet’s deteriorating condition due to her damaged implant and malfunctioning connection. She and her father petition for assistance to get her feed repaired and operating at optimal levels. The corporations deny assistance because she is no longer a viable source of information. The repairs would not be cost-effective and not worth the time, energy, or resources. Like the unhealthy cow, Violet is “put down”. Her passing is gradual and painful. She is discarded by the system because she no longer holds value.
When my youngest sister was a toddler, I began reading her various books written by Maurice Sendak. One of her favorites included There Must Be More to Life Than Having Everything, or Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! This toddler-size novel shares a story about Jenny, the Dog, who laments, “There must be more to life than having everything”. In desperation, she takes off into the world to gain experience. She becomes a nanny to Baby. As the nanny, Jenny makes multiple attempts to feed Baby who screams “No Eat! No Grow! Shout!”
In the world created by M.T. Anderson, we witness the effects of having everything. There isn’t much challenge to life except to decide what to purchase next, even if it is something that we already have twenty of. Mindless purchases and entertainment augmented by environmental disasters and civil unrest are the frame-work. As I read the final chapters of the book that lead up to the inevitable end, I mourned the loss of Violet, who was a victim of a deeply entrenched, commercial society that no longer valued those things that we may consider most precious. I wanted to scream and yell at the corporations for being so evil that life had no value. I wondered, if Violet could scream one more time would her message be “No Eat! No Grow! Shout!” The simple exclamation of a baby that didn’t want to be controlled or told what to do, as is the nature of all children. Would her message to stop feeding the monster, so that it wouldn’t grow, be heard? Would her shout of desperation ring out a catalyst for change? M.T. Anderson provided an exaggerated possibility of our future. A future that we can conceive and understand. I echo Jenny’s lament: “There must be more to life than having everything.” Indeed there is more. Life. What in this world is worth the cost of a single life? What is the price tag you would put on your own life? We are feed that has been raised to nourish and fatten the pocketbooks of corporations. The cycle of consumerism is the conduit. The cost: the exploitation of natural resources and people. The ultimate cost: life.
Anderson, M.T., Feed, pages 197 - 203
Sendak, Maurice, There Must be More to Life Than Having Everything