April 12, 2014

Short Story: Food Nazis

I could tell that the Food Nazis had been in my apartment again, although this time they'd tried to hide it. Usually when they'd been, I came home to a shambles with everything I owned strewn about the place. This time, I noticed that several items in my fridge had been moved out of position and a small packet of salt was missing from my pantry cupboard.

The Food Nazis, or as they're better known by most of the population, the Department of Health, probably visits several thousand people in our city. The actual percentage of the population is unknown to most of us, because people with genetic anomalies such as mine, are strongly discouraged from communicating with each other, and the Government will not divulge the statistics about those of us with abnormalities, claiming that it is irrelevant and discriminatory.

My older brother and sister were genetically improved at conception like the majority of the population. Unfortunately, I was an unexpected and ultimately unpleasant surprise for my parents. By the time my mother found out she was several months along in her pregnancy with me, it was far too late to ensure my genes were enhanced. Most women in that situation aborted the foetus, but my mother was one of an old-fashioned, frowned-upon minority who believed that life was sacred. The Department of Health threatened my parents when they chose to continue with the pregnancy, or should I say, encouraged them with disincentives to do so.

My siblings don't speak to me. I like to think it's because they unconsciously believe they'll catch what I have, though more likely it's because of sheer embarrassment. My genetic anomaly is obvious: I'm fat. Some ancestor or two of ours had the audacity to be born with fat genes and passed them down the line to me.

There are others like me. I've seen at least three other fat people, a child with curly hair and several women with overly large buttocks. For others in the population, their anomalies are not so physically obvious such as improperly functioning organs or learning disabilities. Although the law states that we are not to be discriminated against, we are, and often not in very subtle ways.

Our culture has reached a "New Zenith of Health,' (as Government promotions tell us) because when people purchase food using their citizen's cards, they are allowed wholesome options, based on their individual health status. This is 'for our own good and for the long-term good of our society.' For me that means salads, vegetables and lean meats, although lean meats are the only ones available any more. All animal stocks were genetically modified decades ago to produce only lean options.

For people like my cousin Janjhu, it can be quite challenging. When she was modified at conception, a small error crept into the genes and she was born with an exceptionally fast metabolism that makes it hard for her to maintain the acceptable ideal weight. As Janjhu is a close relative and has been a good friend of mine since childhood, the authorities don't stop us from meeting up, as we did last week at the BPlus Government Cafe.

"I can't eat any more. I'm so sick to death of being force-fed," she groaned. Her plate had included a protein-enriched mock-burger, mock-fries, and a calcium and kilojoule-laced milkshake, which was followed up with ice-cream and naturally-sweetened low-fat cheese-cake.

As always, I tried hard not to look at her with envy, or to drool over the remains of her half-eaten meal. No matter how much I ate, I was perpetually hungry.

"Check out who's at your ten o'clock," I said, glancing at him from the corner of my eye.

"I couldn't be bothered," she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand.

"You wouldn't believe the sneer on his face Oh, oh. Now he and his friend are coming towards us," I added. "I wonder what witty observation they'll share with us."

"Hello ladies," the first one said with a condescending smile as he looked at the both of us. He was physically ideal with broad shoulders, a lean stomach and a strongly handsome face. "You girls must be twins!"

Without even looking up from her plate Janjhu said, "Aren't you the guy I rejected at the dance last week? The one who begged me to take him home and cried when I said no?"

Glancing up at him she finished with, "Oh no. You're not him. He was actually good looking."

"Skinny freak," he snarled as they walked away.

Giggling I said, "That was beautifully done."

"Yeah," she replied with a sigh and a shrug of her shoulders, "I've got a million of them."

"Will I be seeing you at the gym after work?" I asked.

"Yes. Oh, the abundant joys of weight-lifting and muscle-building," she replied with a smile.

"And I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to running 10km on the treadmill and the ever-present delight of my daily cardio workout," I said. "And of course, my firm favourite is the weekly weigh-in, followed by the well-intentioned lecture."

"Fat-ass!" somebody hissed behind me.

Turning I saw the culprit and said, "Oh, my ass is not all that's fat. I have an overly large stomach, huge legs and arms and I'm working on a particularly magnificent double-chin. I see you've achieved you're goal of an ugly, fat mouth!"

Swinging back, I linked arms with my laughing cousin and exited the cafe.

"Nice work, Janjhu said. "You are getting so good at that!"

"Only because I've learned from the best!"

* * * * * * * * * *

My cousin was not only a nice person, she was also brilliant with computers and worked in one of the Government's statistical sections. To me it sounded like one of the dullest jobs on the planet, but she had schemed and worked her way there with one ulterior motive: to help people like us.

Circumventing the normal channels, she'd begun quietly accumulating data from government cafes and gyms. From these she'd been able to determine what other people in our city were likely to possess a genetic anomaly from both their food intake and their gym activities. She was unable to access medical data or school records without raising suspicion and so had focussed her initial attention on people like us who had metabolic disturbances and had to eat and exercise differently from the rest of the population.

Once we had a list, we each investigated potential candidates for our secret group. We had no intentions of overthrowing the government, but simply wanted to meet with similar people so that we could encourage and support each other. From the initial investigation of 87 candidates, we'd found 64 who fitted our profile and the group had been meeting in a disused building for several months.

"Does anyone know if Kaelar is coming?" Janjhu asked.

"He said he was going to try and make it to Tonga and try to hide away there until the cruise-airship left," Arien said.

"The Government wouldn't permit any of us to go to the islands," I said. "Not since seven of the island nations refused to become a member of the United Nations Health Taskforce."

"Can you imagine trying to enforce such ridiculous physical restrictions on people who are naturally, genetically larger?" Pearlice, the woman next to me said. "Plus they felt it impinged on their cultural identity."

"I know," I replied. "How many nations are still refusing to join?"

"Fourteen, although I've heard that Greenland is reconsidering its stand," she said quietly as Arien resumed speaking.

"Kaelar felt that because he had a fast metabolism, rather than a sluggish one, the government may not have seen it as a danger to allow him to go where 'fat is beautiful.'"

"Considering how many thousands of tourists go there to gawk at the fat people, he might have been able to slip through unnoticed," Berzra said.

"Does anyone have any news they'd like to share with us tonight?" Janjhu asked.

"You probably know that my sister Berdha is a doctor?" Berzra said, "She said that Merteen Charnigne is going to be euthanised later in the week."

The group let out a collective gasp.

"Three months ago she was severely injured in a transmat accident and ended up as a quadriplegic," he said.

"I never heard that," someone said.

"It wasn't released on the news," he said.

"How can they euthanise her?" I asked. "She's one of the best loved musicians of the last quarter century. Surely she can contribute even as a quadriplegic!"

"We all know that the Government regulations demand that people be classified as a burden on society if they fit the criteria of physically incapable of looking after themselves; quadriplegic and/or mentally ill amongst many other standards. Since the accident Merteen has been depressed and requires both a feeding and breathing tube to survive. That more than fits the government's 'burden on society' category."

"It's disgusting!" I said. "I wish that ....

Several candles fluttered out as the doors smashed open and a squad of officers from the Department of Health burst in.

"You are all under arrest under Section 7A sub-section (b) of the Government Health Act."

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