Cal placed his glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice in the carbonation machine, and pressed a button, making the juice in the glass begin to fizz. He then took a sip and sat down at the counter.
“Barney,” he said to his friend, “is this still soda?”
“Some say it is,” Barney replied, “at least, that’s what them government guys want us to think.”
Cal took another sip and looked around the room. The people in the restaurant were all sitting at their tables, eating the plain-looking, and bland tasting government approved rations – their “essential mix”. This was one of the few foods that could legally be served since the nationwide ban on sugars, fatty foods, white flour, and whatever else the government deemed unhealthy. The people were all very skinny-looking, and some appeared to be little more than skin and bones. As Cal sipped his carbonated juice, he feared it would only be a matter of time before that would become banned too.
“You know, Cal,” Barney said, discretely to Cal, “I know a place where you can get real soda.”
“Real soda?” Cal said, a bit uncertain.
Barney put his finger up to his lips.
“Apparently,” Barney said quietly, “the owner has friends in the black market who can supply real soda, and not just that. They got all them banned fatty meats, and even pastries. All you need for a real meal.”
“Is that right?” Cal asked.
“Just go to 1962 Waterman Avenue,” Barney whispered, “talk to the man at the counter, and tell him the password, ‘black leopard’. He’ll show you the way. But keep it quite!”
After Cal finished the juice, he left the café. He was quite hungry, and interested in finding out if a place like Barney described was real. It almost seemed too good to be true. He went to the address that Barney mentioned, and arrived at a small building with a sign above the door reading “Granny’s Café.” He walked in.
Inside, the café looked like any other café he’d been in since the food bans, people mostly eating the essential mix, despite its bland flavor. Some of them had side dishes, like raw mashed potatoes, no butter, or a salad consisting of just torn lettuce, no dressing.
The essential mix, on the other hand, had its production subsidized by the government. It was designed by expert scientists to contain all of the essential vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy life, and thus, quickly became the government’s weapon of choice in their fight against “unhealthy” foods. With the government subsidies, and the high demand for other foods, the prices of the other legal foods rose, leaving the essential mix as the cheapest, most readily available food out there.
Cal reflected on this for a moment, seeing this café run like every other café made him skeptical, but Barney was an old friend, and Cal figured it was worth looking into.
He walked to the front counter, and sat there. On the counter, he saw a glass case, with a black binder in it, labeled “cookbook”. It was filled with several sheets of loose-leaf paper, likely containing recipes.
“My family’s old cookbook,” a voice from the counter said, “no legal recipes in there, though, so we keep it locked up.”
“How sad,” Cal said, turning to see the dark-haired man standing behind the counter.
“So, what will it be,” the man asked, “essential mix?”
“Actually,” Cal said, “Black leopard.”
The man paused for a moment. He carefully looked around the room for a brief moment.
“Come with me,” he said.
He walked out from behind the counter, and entered a hallway in the side of the café. The sign above the hallway said “restrooms”.
Cal followed the man past the restrooms, to a door labeled “closet”. The man opened the door. The room inside was filled with wooden crates, and looked like it actually was a closet at first, until the man pushed on the back wall, opening a secret door. Behind the secret door was a staircase.
“Just head down there,” the man said, “Mick will take care of you.”
“Thanks,” Cal said.
Cal proceeded to walk down the stairs into the café’s basement, where he found another café, though significantly more elegant than the one upstairs, though far less popular. Only a handful of people were present, no less skinny than the people upstairs, but most of them had dinner plates in front of them that contained meats, pastries, or other foods that were banned elsewhere.
Another dark-haired man was standing in front of the door Cal had just walked through.
“Welcome to the real Granny’s Café,” he said, “the name’s Mick. I haven’t seen your face around here before.”
“I’m Cal,” Cal said.
“So, Cal,” Mick said cautiously, “How’d you learn the password?”
“My friend Barney told me about this place,” Cal replied.
“Well,” he said, “if you know Barney, you’re alright here. So, what should we get you?”
“A cola,” Cal said.
“I’ll get one for you,” Mick said, “anything else?”
“What do you have?” Cal asked.
“I’ll get you a menu,” Mick said, “just sit down anywhere.”
Cal sat down at an empty table. Mick approached him soon after with a menu, and the cola he’d ordered. Cal took a sip and could hardly believe his taste buds for a moment, this was real soda.
He then looked at the menu, and inspected the dishes on it. None of them were legal, and he could hardly believe it. He took his time deciding, as everything looked so good. Nothing on the menu was cheap, but Cal knew it would be worth it. As he read through the menu, he thought about each item, and the memories of when he’d had the foods before, it made it difficult to decide: what food did he miss the most.
As he sipped the soda, Mick approached him.
“Enjoying your drink?” Mick asked.
“You have no idea,” Cal replied.
“I get that response a lot from first-timers,” Mick replied with a slight chuckle, “so, made up your mind yet?”
“No,” Cal said, “everything looks so good.”
“Might I suggest something from page four,” Mick suggested, “those are Grandma’s secret recipes. They’re also our most popular picks.”
“The ones from the book upstairs?” Cal asked.
“Exactly,” Mick said.
Cal turned to page four, and saw the list of foods there. He was about to pick one when he heard a banging upstairs. Everybody in the place looked around to find the source of the sound. It didn’t take long for them to notice: a group of five police officers had entered the café. Their guns were drawn.
“We’ve got this place surrounded,” the lead police officer said, “put your hands up, and step away from the junk food!”
Out of fear of the police officers, Cal, Mick and everybody else put their hands up. Cal’s stomach turned as he came to the realization that he would never actually get to taste any of the banned foods from the menu.
Less than a minute later, another man walked down the stairs. This man was tall and dressed mostly in black, and his belly was hanging forward over his belt.
“We’ve got them, Agent Benedict,” the officer said.
“Excellent,” Benedict replied, “fifth illegal café this month. When my bosses in the government hear of this, I’ll be promoted for sure. I’ll make sure you and your men also get rewarded. Take them away.”
With that, the police officers approached Cal, Mick, and the others, and began to escort them out of the illegal café. Benedict walked over to the kitchen door and opened it.
“Now, let’s see some of that evidence,” he said with a smile, and picked up a fork.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
They say the best way to write a story about a dystopian future is to take one social issue, and take it to the extreme. That is what I did here, with the issue of what the government is doing about healthy eating. I’m not saying that healthy eating isn’t a good thing, but I think the government may be taking it too far at times (i.e. the proposed sugar taxes). I ultimately do not believe it will ever go this far, but sometimes, I feel like it’s the direction we’re going. I feel that government involvement in this issue is not a good thing; what people choose to eat is their own business.
Matters of the government’s nosiness aside, I wrote “Granny’s Café” to be a slice of life in a future where good foods are banned. In the story, I originally wanted to outright ban all foods except the “essential mix”, but realized that having some other unbanned foods could help get the point across better, and didn’t want to take it too far. I also got a few ideas from conversations with my mother, specifically the idea about opening with Cal using the seltzer machine, and ironically calling the underground cafe “Granny’s”, though the eponymous granny is never actually seen.
This is a story where you might want to pay attention to some of the details. I had a lot more detailed world in mind for this concept, but for a short story, there’s only so much I can say before it starts to become too much of a dull, exposition-heavy, world description. A few examples include how I left it somewhat ambiguous about what is actually banned, and where all this is taking place. I decided to leave such details to the readers’ imagination. There are a lot of likely implications of this food ban that I didn’t mention in the story, but I simply decided not to sweat the fridge logic.