C Pam Zhang’s newest novel, Land of Milk and Honey, centres around the politics of food. When climate disaster strikes and a rolling smog covers the earth, much of the world’s sustenance is lost. But one chef who receives employment from a rich employer must impress his wealthy benefactors with the now-rare resources the wealthy research facility has cultivated atop a mountain above the toxic air. As the chef goes about her duties and her employer changes her role, she begins to wonder has she found a home in microcosmic utopia or is it in fact a green-washed prison?
Despite Zhang’s poignant rolling prose as her narrator aches for nourishment in all its messy forms beyond the immaculate quenelles or tweezer-curated plates that fill her day, there’s still something lacking. Land of Milk and Honey’s central chef may recoil from the bourgeoisie of her employer, but despite her disdain, her fellow staff members remain voiceless. The narrator is equally at odds with the rich investors she serves and the people that she shares a kitchen with. The voices of the many are the missing ingredient.
Between the pages filled with exuberant displays of wealth and greed, which is viewed with the detached horror reserved for actions of the rich, there are some bursts of humanity. Hope is delivered with the ways that people adapt their foods, evolving their palates for survival’s sake. Like many climate-conscious novels, Land of Milk and Honey can see beyond the end of the world. But it fails to see beyond capitalism.
Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang is out on 28 September (Cornerstone, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.Billie Walker is a freelance journalist.
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