The Stomach of Man Under Socialism: A Culinary History of Socialist America

Sidebar: Anything for Thanksgiving?
Sidebar: Anything for Thanksgiving?

And let these altars, wreathed with flowers
And piled with fruits, awake again
Thanksgivings for the golden hours,
The early and the latter rain!

-John Greenleaf Whittier, For An Autumn Festival (1859)

"Those of you who have always lived in New York do not think of this Thanksgiving game of ragamuffin as a strange custom, but the strangers coming to our city are greatly surprised, and ask what it means."- Reverend James Farrar (1909)

Every year on the final Thursday of November, Americans gather in their home kitchens and supper clubs to celebrate Thanksgiving, a food holiday tied up in the Cooperative Commonwealth's own dialectical reading of American history, a holiday born out of the triumph of the Yankee bourgeoisie over the feudal overlords of the South, now celebrated by the ever-victorious American proletariat. The dialectical struggle plays out on the plate- Thanksgiving's menu over the years being defined by a conflict between Francophiles and all-Americans, the dishes supplied by the bounty of Industrial Unionism but adorned in autumnal fare with a hint of the reactionary, the cornucopia a cry back to simpler and more agrarian past. The struggle carries on to the table- Thanksgiving was secular enough to have avoided a period of official disapproval but not secular enough to avoid an air of suspicion around its celebration[1]. Thanksgiving is not the only American holiday with a strong food component, but while other public celebrations are centered around Union or Party, Thanksgiving is a holiday of hearth and home, centered mostly on individual families- even when celebrated in large dining halls, it is an arrangement of many little Thanksgivings rather than one communal experience.

The menu varies across the Cooperative Commonwealth, but is marked at least in part by the appearance of foods which are absent from the American diet for the rest of the year- the centerpiece being the domesticated turkey, the vast majority of which are raised only for slaughter around Thanksgiving. The sudden spike in the slaughter of turkeys in the Cooperative Commonwealth in late November generates a glut in turkey tails, which grace the menus of union cafeterias and supper clubs (by way of pushy wholesalers) as 'seasonal specials' from December through January. Oyster stew appears on Thanksgiving menus as an ode to the era before refrigeration and transportation where the arrival of oysters at market was the calling in of winter, and to an America past which had a greater appetite for oysters. The regional divide between pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie is one with deep roots, calling back to a time when the very holiday of Thanksgiving was an act of Northern aggression against an aggrieved South, a sentiment that has not altogether disappeared even under the Cooperative Commonwealth but has left the holiday of Thanksgiving entirely. The pies are mostly indistinguishable from one another to one who is not in the know. American 'dressing', a savory bread pudding, is a relic from the American myth of the frontier, a frugal dish stretching bread and broth and the last of a garden's vegetables. It is most commonly prepared nowadays from a box, composed of dried ingredients suspended in time and space from any of the constraints which would necessitate such a dish.

Beyond the tensions and contradictions of the Thanksgiving menu (and it is something of an American joke that Thanksgiving is a time for the airing of family complaints and grievances, whether hosted in a cramped American home or in an airy rented cooperative hall), there is little that would stand out to a foreign observer at the table- it is simply a celebratory meal. Out in the streets, however, there is a practice which seems taken from the old mummer's play. American children go forth in the morning hours of Thanksgiving, dressed in a pantomime of hobos and vagrants, and beg for candy door-to-door.

The Ragamuffins, as they are called, are sometimes organized in to parades in larger cities, where the door-to-door begging has largely fallen out of fashion, but the distribution of candy has not. In smaller towns and cities, Ragamuffins very proudly take to the streets to knock on doors and ask 'Anything for Thanksgiving?' and take whatever prepackaged candies may be had into their soot-blackened hands.

The Ragamuffins are a tradition which go back at least to the beginnings of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the 1870s, although the traditional practice was largely limited to New York City and its horizons. The modern practice is thoroughly national and, rather than being some cultural descendant of the medieval wassail or the demands of carolers, it can trace its origins to a campaign by Industrial Union No. 460 (Confectionery Worker’s Section) to advertise the greater availability and variety of sweets in the late Fifties[2]. That campaign showed children in Ragamuffin garb eating candy, smiling underneath hats too large for their faces and within only a few years, Ragamuffins were found on Thanksgiving Day across the Cooperative Commonwealth.

The Ragamuffin tradition can be quite jarring to an unexpecting foreigner- the first time I encountered it, I was taken completely unawares and handed out old wine jellies and pennies from my coat pockets and gathered that I should count my good graces that I was a foreigner with an excuse to be stingy.

If nothing else, we should be able to rest easy that Cadbury won't be getting any ideas on encouraging British children to accost strangers for chocolate, any more than Britain's turkey farmers (I assume they must exist) will get the stolid British yeoman to abandon their gammons for an old Tom turkey. And if you do find yourself in America in November- pretend not to be home or plan ahead with the candy products of Industrial Union No. 460.

[1] The clear official favorite holiday of November is Evacuation Day, and the lighting of beacons in New York and New Jersey is televised annually. There is little official programming around Thanksgiving.

[2] Sugar rationing had begun in the Forties and had not been fully lifted when the Special Period began, the opening of Cuba to American trade and 'technical assistance' also coincided with the end of the Special Period and a widening and novel availability of sugar to Americans and their children.
 
Thanksgivoween. At least they're going out in the morning daylight hours.

Could a more creepy/occult holiday arise from the collaborations of confectioners and movie makers? And actually with horror movies in general, including the Halloween franchise itself, it involved a lot of independent filmmakers. Could that be something the Commonwealth starts tolerating, to boost its presence in international film festivals and such? Or do we see some of that energy channeled into, say, concept albums?
 
Last edited:
Thanksgivoween. At least they're going out in the morning daylight hours.

Could a more creepy/occult holiday arise from the collaborations of confectioners and movie makers? And actually with horror movies in general, including the Halloween franchise itself, it involved a lot of independent filmmakers. Could that be something the Commonwealth starts tolerating, to boost its presence in international film festivals and such? Or do we see some of that energy channeled into, say, concept albums?
Thanksgiving doesn't have a horror component ITTL, the Ragamuffin costumes here are of hobos, bindlestiffs and the Bummery, not ghouls and goblins. It has the anarchic spirit of Halloween, but not really the macabre, and is followed by a familial dinner, so doesn't even have the nighttime hijinks of the other holiday. Halloween as we know it is probably a mostly Canadian affair and regional quirk.

As to horror films (and the American film industry in general) I haven't really given it much thought as it's not a topic I really know or care about a lot. The American film industry being centered in Jacksonville, Florida is essentially the only thing I've firmly decided.
 
Finally got around to reading this--I've seen it mentioned a few times. Absolutely incredible read, written in a very clear and enticing voice. Love the emphasis being placed on social history, since I think the subject is ill-explored on this site. I frankly don't think it's possible for the US to have a famine, seeing as it has a massive bread basket region, but I'm letting to let that go for a thoroughly enjoyable TL
 
Thanksgiving doesn't have a horror component ITTL, the Ragamuffin costumes here are of hobos, bindlestiffs and the Bummery, not ghouls and goblins. It has the anarchic spirit of Halloween, but not really the macabre, and is followed by a familial dinner, so doesn't even have the nighttime hijinks of the other holiday. Halloween as we know it is probably a mostly Canadian affair and regional quirk.
Dang, what a shame. At least we still got Thanksgiving, and an update on the same day, hahaha.
 
Halloween as we know it is probably a mostly Canadian affair and regional quirk.
I highly doubt this would be the case. Americans had begun to embrace Halloween by the late 1800s, and the amount of Irish immigration to the United States and their demographic tendency toward being overwhelmingly working class would mean that Irish-American culture is likely over-represented rather than under-represented in broader national American culture, as such I don't really buy that Halloween would be butterflied away or regionally specific as a holiday.

I do think it'd be different however, less commercial and more of an emphasis on home-made costumes and the more traditional aspects of the festivity that have been lost over the years, perhaps the mischievous and rowdy elements that developed in America with prank nights and property damage would be more culturally accepted and the holiday though popular would have a bit of a hooligan aspect to it on top of its celebration of the macabre. Those are just my opinions though.

Glad to see this timeline back! Every time I read back over it the Cooperative Commonwealth gives me a kind of Titoist vibe. Not sure if that's intentional or if perhaps I'm reading too much into it and putting my own opinions into it.
 
Glad to see this timeline back! Every time I read back over it the Cooperative Commonwealth gives me a kind of Titoist vibe. Not sure if that's intentional or if perhaps I'm reading too much into it and putting my own opinions into it.

I think I can see what you are referring to but honestly, that's probably one of the 20th century socialist states I am the least familiar with, so any influence isn't entirely intentional.
 
Lovely update as ever. What I love about this story is how wholesome it is. In contrast to the usual misery people associated with state socialism, you get why the workers of America would want to build this kind of society. More power to them!
 
I think I can see what you are referring to but honestly, that's probably one of the 20th century socialist states I am the least familiar with, so any influence isn't entirely intentional.
The way the economy is structured, through worker self-management and decentralized planning, is definitely reminiscent of 60s and 70s Yugoslavia. For a country with more natural endowments that is less war-torn and reliant on a single charismatic authoritarian leader to hold things together, it might work very well.

I'm sure you've got plenty of reading already, but happy to recommend books on Yugoslav history.
 
I think I can see what you are referring to but honestly, that's probably one of the 20th century socialist states I am the least familiar with, so any influence isn't entirely intentional.
The way the economy is structured, through worker self-management and decentralized planning, is definitely reminiscent of 60s and 70s Yugoslavia. For a country with more natural endowments that is less war-torn and reliant on a single charismatic authoritarian leader to hold things together, it might work very well.
This is more or less what I meant by referencing Titoism, the worker-self managed and decentralized nature of the economy and political structure, the existence of cooperatives that are allowed to function via market prices to some degree, etc. It's quite reminiscent to me of the Yugoslavian economy.

Even the struggles with agriculture, Yugoslavia tried to implement the more Orthodox Marxist-Leninist style of agricultural collectivization and it failed so they reorganized the entire sector into one composed of small farmers and agricultural cooperative that could, if I recall correctly, sell product both to the state and to other worker cooperatives etc.

I've always thought, and maybe this is a personal conceit, that the industrial unionism prevalent in militant proletarians within American history sort of has a logical endpoint in something resembling Titoism, a unique of market socialism and decentralized planning, so the unintentionality of the similarities on the authors part is all the more satisfying to me.
 
Chapter 5: The Protein of The Future- Today!
Chapter 5: The Protein of The Future- Today!

“The industrialization of photosynthesis represents nothing less than the advance of socialism towards dominion over the most fundamental processes of nature.”- H.E. Spoehr, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Food Systems and Research Division (Industrial Union No. 460)

“Will someone please pass the ketchup?”- comment from the minutes of the All-Union Industrial Congress following testimony by H.E. Spoehr on chlorella cultivation

The Socialist Labor Party had done its level best to remove militant atheists, fruit-juice drinking vegetarians, sandal-wearing nudists, naturopaths, the artistic avant-garde and the many forms of dreamers and quacks from their ranks during the Twenties, all in pursuit of a more proletarian respectability. Some dreamers retreated to academia, where they would help to nurture the ‘wildflowers’ of a later generation. Some simply faded to irrelevance in the everyday of the Cooperative Commonwealth. Others- futurists, visionaries, and eccentrics with technical talent or enough bluster to pass for it- embedded themselves in the ‘clown alleys’[1] of the Industrial Unions- the madcap special project divisions formed in the aftermath of the Revolution which would themselves have varying levels of success and whose failures and fever dreams could be kept safely away from the public eye.

No one needs to be told of the success of Industrial Union No. 440’s ‘clown alley’- the closed academic colonies of the American Southwest have been made famous in the UK’s own thrillers and in the paranoiac dreams of the planners in Whitehall. But unknown in this country is the story of the Food Systems and Research Division (Industrial Union No. 460), which would flirt with disaster and dissolution before coming into its own and redefining American foodways and American food science in the aftermath of the Special Period.

The Food Systems and Research Division did not attract any undue attention in the Twenties, likely because it cost the Industrial Union and the Party almost nothing. The work it conducted was primarily literature reviews, with special attention paid to the developing science of vitamins and the translation of papers from German, and ‘assessments’ of the recalcitrant elements of the former United States Department of Agriculture and their extension offices. It took two major successes in the Thirties before the Food Systems and Research Division would be given an actual budget and any place within the Emergency Programs- the first was the use of taka-koji for the production of industrial alcohol covered in the chapter on bourbon whiskey, the second was a pilot project in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, San Diego Administrative Region for the refining of potash, iodine, acetone and various other constituent chemicals from the kelp of California’s shores[2].

Buoyed by Industrial Union No. 460’s cut as a middleman in the lucrative grain export contracts of the Forties, the Food Systems and Research Division found themselves flush with cash and charged with a new mission. The drafters of the Emergency Programs were keenly interested in finding a solution to what they perceived as an impending Malthusian crisis, both at home and abroad. Agricultural productivity within the United States had been almost completely stagnant since the Revolution, with increases in yields coming primarily from increasing acreage under cultivation, a trend which had in fact been accelerated by the export contracts now funding the Food Systems and Research Division. The spectre of hunger which haunted Europe was never far from the minds of the planners of the Socialist Labor Party and they turned to the Food Systems and Research Division for any idea of a way out.

Hans Ernst Spoehr, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Food Systems and Research Division, was an earnest believer in the power of science to change the world. He was an enthusiastic researcher himself, having focused his career on cataloging what was known of photosynthesis. He even kept a framed copy of his first published piece, a pre-Revolution work on the carbohydrate economy of desert plants, in his office. He was, if anything, too enthusiastic and, like many of the leaders of America's clown alleys, rarely found a project he wasn’t willing to approve. The Food Systems and Research Division soon had, among many others, a project for growing high-protein yeasts on sawdust, an archival research team for the bankrupt Battle Creek Sanitarium, an experimental working group collaborating with Industrial Union No. 430 on deriving flavor compounds from petroleum and a dedicated Japan and Far East team of nebulous purpose. Spoehr's eventual successor would fail to find any evidence of a project proposed to him which he had not approved.

The most prominent project of the Food Systems and Research Division- one which engaged academics across the Cooperative Commonwealth, captured the attention of the Party press, was presented before the All-Union Industrial Congress and had the full-throated support of General Secretary-Treasurer Spoehr- was that of chlorella cultivation. The Food Systems and Research Division had shown that they could pull valuable resources from the bounty of the sea, now it was asked that they try and pull calories.

And oh, what a marvel chlorella promised to be. A green single-celled algae, affectionately called ‘common pond scum’ in the Party press, chlorella was, from experimental results, the way out of the world’s Malthusian crisis. When grown in the laboratory, chlorella promised to capture 20% of energy from sunlight- with 1% being more normal for cultivated food sources. What’s more- dried chlorella was 50% protein by weight and was a ‘complete protein’, comparable to an animal protein in its amino acid composition and availability[3]. The estimates of per-acre yield were extrapolated out from early trials, with 40 tons per acre of dry weight believed to be not merely possible but attainable in a short time. That came out to nearly 40,000 pounds of protein per acre, where the greatest yield possible from a conventional plant, the soybean, was a much more modest 800 pounds per acre.

How chlorella was to be used varied on the telling and the audience. When before the more staid planners of the pre-Special Period Party, chlorella was imagined as cheap animal feed- a way to convert abundant vegetable protein to the beef, cheese and eggs an American workingman would want. In the popular press and scientific journals, chlorella took more fanciful forms- a food of the future, a dried green mass molded into the shape of a steak, perfumed with a petrochemical essence of beef and butter or a green pellet, perhaps mixed with caffeine or ephedrine, to provide energy and nutrients in a portable means to the factory-worker on the go. In closed sessions with the food manufacturers of Industrial Union No. 460, chlorella was imagined as a filler- a way to cut more scarce inputs such as flour or pork while maintaining or boosting the nutritional content of bread or sausage, ensuring those products could maintain pride of place in the planning of the Emergency Programs. The color and taste were the most worrisome characteristics to the food manufacturers, but the men of the Food Systems and Research Division assured them that could be overcome with enough science.

More appealing than the culinary attributes of chlorella were its means of production. Chlorella cultivation would have no farmers- reactionary, pig-headed, beholden to the land, willing to sacrifice investment of capital each season till eternity to grub about in bare subsistence. Chlorella cultivation would have honest, proletarian pump operators, water chemists, drying technicians, sorters and inspectors; Red Card holders all. Chlorella cultivation would not, if properly situated, suffer from the vicissitudes of nature and nor would its harvest be limited by the whims of seasons. Gone would be the shadow speculation of farmers, the little bit of corn or wheat held back from each harvest in the hopes that the wholesalers would come back for more- chlorella would be harvested on a continuous flow, sent out into the nation's food supply daily, quantities strictly calculated and controlled. There would be no even rows torn from the nation's rapidly diminishing topsoil by a privately owned horse or a cooperatively owned tractor, but glass pipes, gleaming and bright, pumping algae bloomed under the charitable abundance of the sun to open-air extraction vats to be dried and packaged and sent off to feed the nation. Chlorella cultivation promised the industrialization of photosynthesis, the transformation of the farm to a factory.

Clown alleys like the Food Systems and Research Division moved quickly. On the basis of trial results from the University of Pittsburgh, they broke ground in 1949 on a large scale production facility in the sunny American Southwest, Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region. That facility would produce a prodigious amount of chlorella in the coming years, approaching if never quite reaching the maximum yields promised from the laboratory. Most of what was produced was sent as feed to the pig farmers of America, with samples sent to different manufacturers of Industrial Union No. 460. The manufacturers universally detested what they were sent, finding the chlorella difficult to work with and that their efforts to ameliorate the color and flavor denatured the protein in the chlorella and destroyed its nutritional value. It was recommended they try and find foods which were already green to add it to.

Manufacturer's reticence aside, all seemed to be going along according to the lofty predictions of only a few years prior- until it was asked that the Food Systems and Research Division make delivery of chlorella for the War on Hunger in early 1954, for distribution to the relief bakeries and the logistics network which had sprung up to try and combat the food crisis of the Special Period. Then, suddenly, the chlorella facility in the Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region had a hard time delivering even a tenth of what they had been delivering to American pig farmers. Or had been claiming to deliver, which was the reality.

H.E. Spoehr died of a heart attack in 1953. His successor as General Secretary-Treasurer - Julius A. Goldwater- found himself with a crisis on his hands. Goldwater, a nebbish spiritual seeker from California with a faculty for the Japanese language who had worked his way up from the Far East team of the Food Systems and Research Division, was no scientist himself. But now he was called to task to explain why the primary project of Industrial Union No. 460's clown alley had failed to produce anything useful- the chlorella which it was delivering was often contaminated and quickly went rancid, as it wasn't being fully dried to try and achieve higher weights for delivery. Very little of the chlorella produced was distributed to feed Americans in the Special Period. What’s more, when Industrial Union No. 460 sent in their own fixers to investigate the facility, they discovered that the site was itself far more expensive- and heavy on inputs of electricity and water- than had previously been reported. Chlorella cultivation was not only less efficient than it had been in the laboratory, it was less efficient than the conventional agriculture it promised to replace.

The promise that chlorella converted 20% of sunlight into useful biomass turned out not to be true- the reality under natural sunlight was closer to 2.5%. From the initial disappointing results, H.E. Spoehr had ordered adjustments to the facility- a complicated system of shades and rigging, accompanied by artificial lighting, large rotating paddles to provide greater agitation in the grow vats, each of them producing little effect- all while the results reported outwards remained close to those of the laboratory. And eventually, the adjustments to the facility stopped and the numbers reported remained right where they had been. H.E. Spoehr and the Food Systems and Research Division had been perpetuating a mass fraud- delivering something other than algae to feed pigs which may have never existed.

Why, exactly, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps Spoehr and the administrators of the project didn't want to report such a large failure, especially as they had continued to invest resources and funds into it. Perhaps they didn't want to embarass the local Party cadres who had helped to build the giant, gleaming facility in the desert. Perhaps the lie itself got too big before the results they so desperately wanted could materialize. The recriminations and trials within the Food Systems and Research Division would continue after the Special Period, with some being public and others being handled within the Party. Spoehr was cast as a shadow Technocrat in some accounts, as a petty-capitalist in the economy of favors in others, a dreamer outmanuevered by men of more material persuasions in the most favorable accounts.

General Secretary-Treasurer Goldwater was not a man to let a good crisis go to waste. He would hang out to dry nearly every man associated with the algae project, working quickly to dissociate himself and his colleagues in the Far East Division from the 'chlorella cranks'. But more than political expediency, he recognized that the ground had shifted, and the taboos against the 'coolie ration' had evaporated as surely as dust had scoured towns of Texas from the map. He recognized that 'legibility'- as Anne Decker had called it- was no longer necessary for any proposed solutions. The simplest way to feed men was to feed them like pigs.

Soybeans and peanuts were the most efficient and available forms of plant protein to American planners. Goldwater and the Food Systems and Research Division threw every possible solution to relief planners. Toast soaked in hydrolyzed soy protein, a savory snack for young and old. Nuttolene, a canned loaf of peanuts, soy, and corn. Protose, a mixture of peanuts and flaked corn meant to be cooked and eaten like a pork cutlet. Soy flour was soon added to relief bakery inventories to stretch wheat flour, the precise ratios decided by the test kitchens of the Food Systems and Research Division to maximize protein and minimize bake time. And most famously, tofu- the gastric distress some felt from soy meal could be minimized by the ancient technology, here joined to a prefabricated tofu press which could be assembled and used in any of America's relief bakeries (and which would become part and parcel of Subsistence Homesteads in the Sixties and Seventies).

It is Goldwater that we have to thank for smoked tofu and tofu avec caramel au vinaigre- themselves later innovations of the Food Systems and Research Division to get Americans to eat the meat substitute away from crisis or campaigns in the countryside. Their most recent such innovation is a salty puffed tofu snack, most similar to scratchings in an English pub. And it is Goldwater who saved the Food Systems and Research Division from likely dissolution- so we have him to thank for America's large flavoring and fragrance industry, born from the collaboration with I.U. No. 430, which in turn shaped American wine and spirits.

Goldwater shaped American ways of eating far more than his predecessor, whose only influence today is the blue-green supplement given to American schoolchildren in their physical education courses [4]. While the emergency vegetarianism of the Special Period did not remain, Goldwater established meat substitutes as a tool in the belt of planners and administrators and they would return to them for reasons of economy and public health in the coming decades. It is not uncommon nowadays for American diners to go meatless, and sometimes they are given little choice in the menus of the day. A preference for tofu or the vegetarian loafs of the Cooperative Commonwealth's factory-kitchens is in some circles, a marker of political identity, a wildflower's signal to another that they are a right and proper socialist, an echo of tofu's place within the Subsistence Homesteads and the Nearing Movement's time in the countryside. To others, it is simply what is on the menu.

Visitors to the Cooperative Commonwealth should not balk at trying tofu or nuttolene or protose. They can be prepared in a number of different ways and at their most offensive, tend towards blandness.

If nothing else, at least it's not an algae burger.

[1] The term in American English comes from the cant of circus workers- early adherents of the IWW- and refers to a concealed backstage area to and from which fully-costumed clowns can easily retreat or appear by command from the ringmaster.
[2] In a uniquely American complication, this pilot program’s proper place would be hotly debated between Industrial Union No. 130 (Fishery Workers’), Industrial Union No. 210 (Metal Mine Workers’), Industrial Union No. 430 (Chemical Workers’) and Industrial Union No. 460 (Foodstuff Workers’) before eventually being decided in arbitration between the different unions for division of responsibilities and coordination of efforts, but the Food Systems and Research Divison had already notched the win. The kelp fields of California would go on to provide the majority of America’s potash and would cut out reliance on imports from Germany and Canada until the later exploitation of potash in the Permian basin.
[3] The planners of the SLP in the Forties and Fifties disdained vegetable protein as strictly inferior to animal protein, deriding it in their minutes as a 'coolie ration'. With the food insecurity of Europe in the time, they often focused in on avoiding the protein deficiencies of the continent.
[4] Although, ironically, this is not chlorella at all but a different- and more productive- algae called spirulina, which was not known in Spoehr's time, being discovered by a researcher in French Equatorial Africa in the 1960s. The facility in the Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region has held on to the present day and sells its output primarily to American schools and the countries of Southeast Asia.
 
Last edited:
Chapter 7: The Protein of The Future- Today!

“The industrialization of photosynthesis represents nothing less than the advance of socialism towards dominion over the most fundamental processes of nature.”- H.E. Spoehr, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Food Systems and Research Division (Industrial Union No. 460)

“Will someone please pass the ketchup?”- comment from the minutes of the All-Union Industrial Congress following testimony by H.E. Spoehr on chlorella cultivation

The Socialist Labor Party had done its level best to remove militant atheists, fruit-juice drinking vegetarians, sandal-wearing nudists, naturopaths, the artistic avant-garde and the many forms of dreamers and quacks from their ranks during the Twenties, all in pursuit of a more proletarian respectability. Some dreamers retreated to academia, where they would help to nurture the ‘wildflowers’ of a later generation. Some simply faded to irrelevance in the everyday of the Cooperative Commonwealth. Others- futurists, visionaries, and eccentrics with technical talent or enough bluster to pass for it- embedded themselves in the ‘clown alleys’[1] of the Industrial Unions- the madcap special project divisions formed in the aftermath of the Revolution which would themselves have varying levels of success and whose failures and fever dreams could be kept safely away from the public eye.

No one needs to be told of the success of Industrial Union No. 440’s ‘clown alley’- the closed academic colonies of the American Southwest have been made famous in the UK’s own thrillers and in the paranoiac dreams of the planners in Whitehall. But unknown in this country is the story of the Food Systems and Research Division (Industrial Union No. 460), which would flirt with disaster and dissolution before coming into its own and redefining American foodways and American food science in the aftermath of the Special Period.

The Food Systems and Research Division did not attract any undue attention in the Twenties, likely because it cost the Industrial Union and the Party almost nothing. The work it conducted was primarily literature reviews, with special attention paid to the developing science of vitamins and the translation of papers from German, and ‘assessments’ of the recalcitrant elements of the former United States Department of Agriculture and their extension offices. It took two major successes in the Thirties before the Food Systems and Research Division would be given an actual budget and any place within the Emergency Programs- the first was the use of taka-koji for the production of industrial alcohol covered in the chapter on bourbon whiskey, the second was a pilot project in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, San Diego Administrative Region for the refining of potash, iodine, acetone and various other constituent chemicals from the kelp of California’s shores[2].

Buoyed by Industrial Union No. 460’s cut as a middleman in the lucrative grain export contracts of the Forties, the Food Systems and Research Division found themselves flush with cash and charged with a new mission. The drafters of the Emergency Programs were keenly interested in finding a solution to what they perceived as an impending Malthusian crisis, both at home and abroad. Agricultural productivity within the United States had been almost completely stagnant since the Revolution, with increases in yields coming primarily from increasing acreage under cultivation, a trend which had in fact been accelerated by the export contracts now funding the Food Systems and Research Division. The spectre of hunger which haunted Europe was never far from the minds of the planners of the Socialist Labor Party and they turned to the Food Systems and Research Division for any idea of a way out.

Hans Ernst Spoehr, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Food Systems and Research Division, was an earnest believer in the power of science to change the world. He was an enthusiastic researcher himself, having focused his career on cataloging what was known of photosynthesis. He even kept a framed copy of his first published piece, a pre-Revolution work on the carbohydrate economy of desert plants, in his office. He was, if anything, too enthusiastic and, like many of the leaders of America's clown alleys, rarely found a project he wasn’t willing to approve. The Food Systems and Research Division soon had, among many others, a project for growing high-protein yeasts on sawdust, an archival research team for the bankrupt Battle Creek Sanitarium, an experimental working group collaborating with Industrial Union No. 430 on deriving flavor compounds from petroleum and a dedicated Japan and Far East team of nebulous purpose. Spoehr's eventual successor would fail to find any evidence of a project proposed to him which he had not approved.

The most prominent project of the Food Systems and Research Division- one which engaged academics across the Cooperative Commonwealth, captured the attention of the Party press, was presented before the All-Union Industrial Congress and had the full-throated support of General Secretary-Treasurer Spoehr- was that of chlorella cultivation. The Food Systems and Research Division had shown that they could pull valuable resources from the bounty of the sea, now it was asked that they try and pull calories.

And oh, what a marvel chlorella promised to be. A green single-celled algae, affectionately called ‘common pond scum’ in the Party press, chlorella was, from experimental results, the way out of the world’s Malthusian crisis. When grown in the laboratory, chlorella promised to capture 20% of energy from sunlight- with 1% being more normal for cultivated food sources. What’s more- dried chlorella was 50% protein by weight and was a ‘complete protein’, comparable to an animal protein in its amino acid composition and availability[3]. The estimates of per-acre yield were extrapolated out from early trials, with 40 tons per acre of dry weight believed to be not merely possible but attainable in a short time. That came out to nearly 40,000 pounds of protein per acre, where the greatest yield possible from a conventional plant, the soybean, was a much more modest 800 pounds per acre.

How chlorella was to be used varied on the telling and the audience. When before the more staid planners of the pre-Special Period Party, chlorella was imagined as cheap animal feed- a way to convert abundant vegetable protein to the beef, cheese and eggs an American workingman would want. In the popular press and scientific journals, chlorella took more fanciful forms- a food of the future, a dried green mass molded into the shape of a steak, perfumed with a petrochemical essence of beef and butter or a green pellet, perhaps mixed with caffeine or ephedrine, to provide energy and nutrients in a portable means to the factory-worker on the go. In closed sessions with the food manufacturers of Industrial Union No. 460, chlorella was imagined as a filler- a way to cut more scarce inputs such as flour or pork while maintaining or boosting the nutritional content of bread or sausage, ensuring those products could maintain pride of place in the planning of the Emergency Programs. The color and taste were the most worrisome characteristics to the food manufacturers, but the men of the Food Systems and Research Division assured them that could be overcome with enough science.

More appealing than the culinary attributes of chlorella were its means of production. Chlorella cultivation would have no farmers- reactionary, pig-headed, beholden to the land, willing to sacrifice investment of capital each season till eternity to grub about in bare subsistence. Chlorella cultivation would have honest, proletarian pump operators, water chemists, drying technicians, sorters and inspectors; Red Card holders all. Chlorella cultivation would not, if properly situated, suffer from the vicissitudes of nature and nor would its harvest be limited by the whims of seasons. Gone would be the shadow speculation of farmers, the little bit of corn or wheat held back from each harvest in the hopes that the wholesalers would come back for more- chlorella would be harvested on a continuous flow, sent out into the nation's food supply daily, quantities strictly calculated and controlled. There would be no even rows torn from the nation's rapidly diminishing topsoil by a privately owned horse or a cooperatively owned tractor, but glass pipes, gleaming and bright, pumping algae bloomed under the charitable abundance of the sun to open-air extraction vats to be dried and packaged and sent off to feed the nation. Chlorella cultivation promised the industrialization of photosynthesis, the transformation of the farm to a factory.

Clown alleys like the Food Systems and Research Division moved quickly. On the basis of trial results from the University of Pittsburgh, they broke ground in 1949 on a large scale production facility in the sunny American Southwest, Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region. That facility would produce a prodigious amount of chlorella in the coming years, approaching if never quite reaching the maximum yields promised from the laboratory. Most of what was produced was sent as feed to the pig farmers of America, with samples sent to different manufacturers of Industrial Union No. 460. The manufacturers universally detested what they were sent, finding the chlorella difficult to work with and that their efforts to ameliorate the color and flavor denatured the protein in the chlorella and destroyed its nutritional value. It was recommended they try and find foods which were already green to add it to.

Manufacturer's reticence aside, all seemed to be going along according to the lofty predictions of only a few years prior- until it was asked that the Food Systems and Research Division make delivery of chlorella for the War on Hunger in early 1954, for distribution to the relief bakeries and the logistics network which had sprung up to try and combat the food crisis of the Special Period. Then, suddenly, the chlorella facility in the Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region had a hard time delivering even a tenth of what they had been delivering to American pig farmers. Or had been claiming to deliver, which was the reality.

H.E. Spoehr died of a heart attack in 1953. His successor as General Secretary-Treasurer - Julius A. Goldwater- found himself with a crisis on his hands. Goldwater, a nebbish spiritual seeker from California with a faculty for the Japanese language who had worked his way up from the Far East team of the Food Systems and Research Division, was no scientist himself. But now he was called to task to explain why the primary project of Industrial Union No. 460's clown alley had failed to produce anything useful- the chlorella which it was delivering was often contaminated and quickly went rancid, as it wasn't being fully dried to try and achieve higher weights for delivery. Very little of the chlorella produced was distributed to feed Americans in the Special Period. What’s more, when Industrial Union No. 460 sent in their own fixers to investigate the facility, they discovered that the site was itself far more expensive- and heavy on inputs of electricity and water- than had previously been reported. Chlorella cultivation was not only less efficient than it had been in the laboratory, it was less efficient than the conventional agriculture it promised to replace.

The promise that chlorella converted 20% of sunlight into useful biomass turned out not to be true- the reality under natural sunlight was closer to 2.5%. From the initial disappointing results, H.E. Spoehr had ordered adjustments to the facility- a complicated system of shades and rigging, accompanied by artificial lighting, large rotating paddles to provide greater agitation in the grow vats, each of them producing little effect- all while the results reported outwards remained close to those of the laboratory. And eventually, the adjustments to the facility stopped and the numbers reported remained right where they had been. H.E. Spoehr and the Food Systems and Research Division had been perpetuating a mass fraud- delivering something other than algae to feed pigs which may have never existed.

Why, exactly, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps Spoehr and the administrators of the project didn't want to report such a large failure, especially as they had continued to invest resources and funds into it. Perhaps they didn't want to embarass the local Party cadres who had helped to build the giant, gleaming facility in the desert. Perhaps the lie itself got too big before the results they so desperately wanted could materialize. The recriminations and trials within the Food Systems and Research Division would continue after the Special Period, with some being public and others being handled within the Party. Spoehr was cast as a shadow Technocrat in some accounts, as a petty-capitalist in the economy of favors in others, a dreamer outmanuevered by men of more material persuasions in the most favorable accounts.

General Secretary-Treasurer Goldwater was not a man to let a good crisis go to waste. He would hang out to dry nearly every man associated with the algae project, working quickly to dissociate himself and his colleagues in the Far East Division from the 'chlorella cranks'. But more than political expediency, he recognized that the ground had shifted, and the taboos against the 'coolie ration' had evaporated as surely as dust had scoured towns of Texas from the map. He recognized that 'legibility'- as Anne Decker had called it- was no longer necessary for any proposed solutions. The simplest way to feed men was to feed them like pigs.

Soybeans and peanuts were the most efficient and available forms of plant protein to American planners. Goldwater and the Food Systems and Research Division threw every possible solution to relief planners. Toast soaked in hydrolyzed soy protein, a savory snack for young and old. Nuttolene, a canned loaf of peanuts, soy, and corn. Protose, a mixture of peanuts and flaked corn meant to be cooked and eaten like a pork cutlet. Soy flour was soon added to relief bakery inventories to stretch wheat flour, the precise ratios decided by the test kitchens of the Food Systems and Research Division to maximize protein and minimize bake time. And most famously, tofu- the gastric distress some felt from soy meal could be minimized by the ancient technology, here joined to a prefabricated tofu press which could be assembled and used in any of America's relief bakeries (and which would become part and parcel of Subsistence Homesteads in the Sixties and Seventies).

It is Goldwater that we have to thank for smoked tofu and tofu avec caramel au vinaigre- themselves later innovations of the Food Systems and Research Division to get Americans to eat the meat substitute away from crisis or campaigns in the countryside. Their most recent such innovation is a salty puffed tofu snack, most similar to scratchings in an English pub. And it is Goldwater who saved the Food Systems and Research Division from likely dissolution- so we have him to thank for America's large flavoring and fragrance industry, born from the collaboration with I.U. No. 430, which in turn shaped American wine and spirits.

Goldwater shaped American ways of eating far more than his predecessor, whose only influence today is the blue-green supplement given to American schoolchildren in their physical education courses [4]. While the emergency vegetarianism of the Special Period did not remain, Goldwater established meat substitutes as a tool in the belt of planners and administrators and they would return to them for reasons of economy and public health in the coming decades. It is not uncommon nowadays for American diners to go meatless, and sometimes they are given little choice in the menus of the day. A preference for tofu or the vegetarian loafs of the Cooperative Commonwealth's factory-kitchens is in some circles, a marker of political identity, a wildflower's signal to another that they are a right and proper socialist, an echo of tofu's place within the Subsistence Homesteads and the Nearing Movement's time in the countryside. To others, it is simply what is on the menu.

Visitors to the Cooperative Commonwealth should not balk at trying tofu or nuttolene or protose. They can be prepared in a number of different ways and at their most offensive, tend towards blandness.

If nothing else, at least it's not an algae burger.

[1] The term in American English comes from the cant of circus workers- early adherents of the IWW- and refers to a concealed backstage area to and from which fully-costumed clowns can easily retreat or appear by command from the ringmaster.
[2] In a uniquely American complication, this pilot program’s proper place would be hotly debated between Industrial Union No. 130 (Fishery Workers’), Industrial Union No. 210 (Metal Mine Workers’), Industrial Union No. 430 (Chemical Workers’) and Industrial Union No. 460 (Foodstuff Workers’) before eventually being decided in arbitration between the different unions for division of responsibilities and coordination of efforts, but the Food Systems and Research Divison had already notched the win. The kelp fields of California would go on to provide the majority of America’s potash and would cut out reliance on imports from Germany and Canada.
[3] The planners of the SLP in the Forties and Fifties disdained vegetable protein as strictly inferior to animal protein, deriding it in their minutes as a 'coolie ration'. With the food insecurity of Europe in the time, they often focused in on avoiding the protein deficiencies of the continent.
[4] Although, ironically, this is not chlorella at all but a different- and more productive- algae called spirulina, which was not known in Spoehr's time, being discovered by a researcher in French Equatorial Africa in the 1960s. The facility in the Phoenix-Mesa Administrative Region has held on to the present day and sells its output primarily to American schools and the countries of Southeast Asia.
I had big Soylent Green vibes in the middle of that section, but you turned it around. Too bad it’s still tofu, though
 
Wildly inventive framework to examine a popular, but usually thinly developed scenario --a Socialist America.

I love what you're doing here.
 
Really interesting scenario cooked up in America. It also feels right at home for a centralized Socialist government, I should say.

Soybeans and peanuts were the most efficient and available forms of plant protein to American planners. Goldwater and the Food Systems and Research Division threw every possible solution to relief planners. Toast soaked in hydrolyzed soy protein, a savory snack for young and old. Nuttolene, a canned loaf of peanuts, soy, and corn. Protose, a mixture of peanuts and flaked corn meant to be cooked and eaten like a pork cutlet. Soy flour was soon added to relief bakery inventories to stretch wheat flour, the precise ratios decided by the test kitchens of the Food Systems and Research Division to maximize protein and minimize bake time. And most famously, tofu- the gastric distress some felt from soy meal could be minimized by the ancient technology, here joined to a prefabricated tofu press which could be assembled and used in any of America's relief bakeries (and which would become part and parcel of Subsistence Homesteads in the Sixties and Seventies).
I think America has a lot of inspiration back home for these new vegetable protein loaves, like Scrapple or even the basic meatloaf but just replace all of the meat with the "filler". They could also do a lot more to maximize the output of soybean products like offering leftover tofu skins or soya chunks as a snack or ingredient. As for peanuts, I can imagine America developing some kind of peanut famine relief product as it was hinted that America did suffer through a food crisis period during previous posts, IIRC.

For kelp/seaweed, I wonder if America will adopt MSG from Japan as a food additive to improve the "umami" flavor for something like a Salisbury Steak or a Protose/Nuttolene with gravy. Yellow peril probably wouldn't matter in the eyes of the Socialists who see it as an efficient flavor enhancer that won't cause people's hearts to go out due to high sodium intake.

Goldwater established meat substitutes as a tool in the belt of planners and administrators and they would return to them for reasons of economy and public health in the coming decades. It is not uncommon nowadays for American diners to go meatless, and sometimes they are given little choice in the menus of the day. A preference for tofu or the vegetarian loafs of the Cooperative Commonwealth's factory-kitchens is in some circles, a marker of political identity, a wildflower's signal to another that they are a right and proper socialist, an echo of tofu's place within the Subsistence Homesteads and the Nearing Movement's time in the countryside. To others, it is simply what is on the menu.
My god, America is already unrecognizable but this takes the cake. What the hell is America without a massive industrialized meat industry that slaughters chickens, pigs, and cows by the conveyor so we get meat for less than $5-10/lb? This is an utter travesty. /s

Visitors to the Cooperative Commonwealth should not balk at trying tofu or nuttolene or protose. They can be prepared in a number of different ways and at their most offensive, tend towards blandness.
Asian visitors would be horrified and disgusted by the blandness of America's tofu, that's for sure.
 
Asian visitors would be horrified and disgusted by the blandness of America's tofu, that's for sure.
The way it’s phrased, the worst examples of American tofu are bland. The author clearly means for the better examples to be just as good as any other food. Besides, I’m sure a visit to the Southwest could be arranged…

So far as potash is concerned, it seems odd to me that kelp farming would be dominant when the United States has large mineral potash deposits (e.g. in New Mexico). Was that just a temporary thing before they learned of and began exploiting those?
 
Top