"the flavors you teach them to desire"
October 11, 2021 1:27 PM   Subscribe

"A perfect egg is a slash of light on a gray day." "The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes" by Siobhan Carroll is a bittersweet short fantasy story about cooking, grief, beauty in the midst of war, and teaching the next generation. (Previously.) "On the Feeding Habits of Humans: A Firsthand Account" by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali and Rachael K. Jones is a short and bittersweet, but mostly hopeful, science fiction story about foodways: Feeder TikTik approaches the [human] Feeder with their haustellums extended and extrudes the greeting-scent. Also available as a one-hour audio recording.

From "The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes":
A Kagua stew should announce itself with a burst of steam, a rush of fragrance. You smell it first, and then see it, as its rich liquid is tantalizingly spooned over the pasta, which is set on the table with the stew. Examine the meat. It should be, like the meat Leu prepared, tender and packed with flavor. From time to time one bites through one of the tiny pockets of parsley and garlic, and their unexpected flavors burst in your mouth. The faint hint of nutmeg is there but always eluding you, like a sound from another room. And in the broth one can taste the deep flavor brought by the char leaf, something powerful and dark and strange.

(The first time I heard of Leu’s Kagua stew, it was a tale of well-fed enemies, repeated in the dark cellar where we had gathered to hide. It was meant to be a tale of anger, but there was a hint of wonder in it. That stew, I was told—this from one of the prisoners escaped from Oon—that stew tasted like the heart of a fire, a deep meaty taste that burned you from the inside, glorious and terrible.)

(When I heard this story, I had not eaten in three days. I was in pain, from my broken legs, yet survival burned in me like a fever, dragging me from day to day without me ever choosing to live. The world had no color in it, the food had no taste, the words people spoke were empty of meaning. It was a dark place, and there was no way out.)

(When I heard the story of Leu’s stew, a thought came to me through my haze of pain: I wanted to taste that stew. It caught me by surprise, so used had I become to the routine misery of exhaustion and fear. The idea of wanting anything more had long disappeared. I lay in that cellar amazed as the thought bloomed in me. There was something beyond survival. And with this stew, it had come back into the world.)
From "On the Feeding Habits of Humans: A Firsthand Account":
The next morning, it requires careful planning by Soldier to safely enter the MLK Elementary. Human young are born much more frail than ours. The local feeders have accounted for this by installing brood feeders at the schools to deliver extra nutrition while the young are separated from their primary feeders.

We find Brood Feeder Xiang in a vast room called “the cafeteria”, nourishing the young via trays containing an assortment of foods. According to Feeder TikTik’s analysis, none of the foods provides complete nourishment the way Feeder Aisha’s secretions or Feeder Bogolomov’s powders do. We ask Brood Feeder Xiang why this is.

As long as they eat lots of variety, they’ll get all the nutrition they need. Part of my job at MLK is giving the children opportunities to try new things.

The human younglings weave around us as the meal continues. When a bell rings, they line up to dispose of uneaten food and return their trays to Brood Feeder Xiang. All three of us emit confusion pheromones. Why are the young permitted to reject the Feeder’s selections?
posted by brainwane (7 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Mmmmmm tasty selections, thank you!
posted by Jesse the K at 2:09 PM on October 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

That first one was really engaging, distracted me away from cleaning long enough to finish it.

Though after having read too much of MeFi favorite Bret Devereaux's blog, I feel afflicted with enough pedantry to add this to the evil overlord list:

- If one of your junior officers, especially one who spends far too much time cosplaying evil by decking themselves out in grisly trophies like skulls or scalps or something, criticizes your leadership because they think an aspect of basic soldiering, like sending soldiers out to forage for food, is insufficiently badass, execute them immediately for incompetence. It will save you them stabbing you in the back later and you will get to replace them with someone loyal and competent.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:34 PM on October 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

These short story posts are fabulous. I had no idea modern sci-fi / fantasy was so good.
posted by Vatnesine at 4:51 PM on October 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

brainwane: For a while I’ve wanted to say that whenever you do a short sci-fi post, I bookmark the stories to read later, but due to my backlog, by the time I’ve read them it’s usually months later and I can’t express my appreciation on your original post. So thanks for these posts, both past and future, from a person who will appreciate them eventually.
posted by ejs at 5:09 PM on October 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

The melancholy of the first, and the way the storyteller talks about the story both being told now and history- a meta of choices about choices, balanced by the physical senses of the food so the story itself is a stew of different elements combining to something more than history.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:42 PM on October 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have only read the first so far, but those closing paragraphs are extraordinary: wisdom and sadness and witness, and love.

I love the narrative device, too - it's not merely engaging, it carries the heart of the story: this is not the only story, not the only way to remember; and as we carry on our craft, we are telling this stories.

Thank you so much for these, brainwane. I am so grateful that you have brought them to our screens.
posted by kristi at 10:41 PM on October 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

As someone completely obsessed with food and a lover of sci-fi - yeah! Brainwane - I've said this on your posts before but thank you for this service to the community. It's a real pleasure!
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:46 PM on October 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

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