Kit Reed’s “The Food Farm” first appeared in Damon Knight’s Orbit 2 in 1967. It has been reprinted in Judith Merril’s SF 12, Voyages: Scenarios for a Ship Called Earth, Fat, Women of Wonder, Alpha 6, The Science Fiction Weight-Loss Book, Weird Women, Wired Women, and The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, as well as being translated into German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese.
In this story, Reed offers up Nelly, a teenage girl who is obsessed with two things: the singer Tommy Fango and eating. While her parents do not have any problem with her musical tastes, they are concerned with her voracious appetite and do everything they can to control her caloric intake. Their concerns makes them take extreme steps to keep her from eating too much, including locking her in her room. Nothing they could do, including starving Nelly worked as Nelly would break out of her room in the middle of the night to find food, either in the refrigerator or outside the house if necessary. Eventually, her parents sent her to the facility of the title, where food is not made available.
Seen through Nelly’s eyes, everything about the place is torture with the sole exception of her roommate, Ramona, who tries to help her get used to the idea of living on the massively reduced rations they are allowed. Ramona also has access to a recording of Tommy Fango, although the girls are only able to listen to it once a day. Although Ramona is able to come up with ways to make it through her days and tries to get Nelly to try her methods, Nelly refuses to give in, insisting in wallowing in the lack of food and focusing her energy on the matron who controlled her access to food.
Looking at the story from the vantage of 2022, there is definitely a certain level of fat-shaming that occurs in “The Food Farm,” not only from Nelly’s parents and the matron, but even Nelly, who looks at Ramona and thinks “She must have been monumental in her prime; she was still huge.” The whole premise of the story is that it is better to be thin. However, at the same time, it can be viewed as Nelly’s parents are trying to help their daughter with an eating disorder, even if they don’t realize that their success will ultimately be dependent on Nelly deciding that she has an eating disorder.
Ultimately, Nelly does come to a decision about her eating habits and finds a way to come to terms with them, whether it is through actual action or by receding into a dream world. Her issues with food and her idolization of Tommy Fango are intertwined. Her ability to presume upon his acceptance prior to being sent to the food farm and later her association of him with freedom and happiness, an illusion that Ramona helped cultivate, provides her with the ultimate acceptance she craves for who she is, not what she might look like.
Told through Nelly’s point of view, she is less than a reliable narrator, as becomes clear when Tommy winds up performing a concert for the girls at the facility. At this point, Reed allows the reader to decide if the rest of the action, as Nelly comes to terms with her situation and finds a solution that gives her what she thinks she wants, is actually happening or is part of Nelly’s imagination. Either way, “The Food Farm” becomes a study of vengeance and wish fulfillment.
Steven H Silver is an eighteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.