‘Land of Milk and Honey’ is our future

A chef’s desire, appetite and pleasure in C. Pam Zhang’s latest novel.
“Land of Milk and Honey” by C. Pam Zhang went to press Sept. 26, garnering praise and a 3.82 rating on Goodreads. The novel is set in a near future London, where a chef struggles with a smog-covered, barren Earth where all agriculture is lost. Other than government sponsored lentils, flour and freezer-burnt fish, all agriculture has been smothered by a thick, black cloud.
The unnamed narrator is summoned to a mountaintop in Italy to be a private chef under mysterious circumstances. Upon arrival, she learns that the mountaintop is a community for the ultra-rich, a kind of Ninaveh where the upper crust cultivates fresh produce, rare animals and spices for consumption. Using genetic cloning, the community is able to reverse extinction and raise long-dead animals and plants from the dead.
The community almost functions as the antithesis of a commune. Only the extremely wealthy, powerful and upper echelon of society are admitted into “paradise” which quickly turns into a yellow wallpaper-essque hell. After lying on her resume, the narrator is trapped within the community, pressured by her employer to stay on for a secretive project.
Stunned by the wealth, prestige and wanton abundance of food, the narrator meets the founder’s charismatic daughter, Ava, and they begin a complex, dark and transactional relationship. The novel touches on themes of desire, pleasure, appetite and opulence, both in the narrator’s relationship to food and to Ava. The book also holds biblical references and religious overtones. The title itself pulls from the Old Testament of the Bible, referring to the promised land as flowing “with milk and honey.” The commune corrupts this ideology to form a manifesto and postulate themselves as “chosen.” The unnamed narrator becomes religious throughout the novel, aware of the sin and gluttony around her, and learns to fear the consequences of her actions.
This novel is extremely relevant, the threats of climate change and the loss of biodiversity are integral to the plot. The take on dystopian fiction is fresh, falling away from pandemics, natural disasters or authoritarian regimes, instead imagining a near future that could be very real. The book has garnered praise for its fresh take on dystopia, the satirical take on opulence and its exposure of the ultra-rich and the desire to survive.
However, the book almost slips into the pit of “Booktok” themed reading lists. A huge wave of novels about food, body horror and feminine desire have hit bookstores nation-wide with books such as “A Certain Hunger,” “Ripe” and “Tender is the Flesh” selling out. Concentrated around the relationship with food and pleasure, the book seems almost derivative from these titles. However, “Land of Milk and Honey” brings in societal and class commentary, keeping the take fresh. The book treads closely to these titles, pulling from similar themes but still retains integrity as its own unique work.
“Land of Milk and Honey” was enjoyable and a quick read that still held depth and critique. The world building felt lush, especially descriptions of food, the opulence of the community and the Garden of Eden portrayal of an elite, sheltered society surrounded by a barren landscape. The novel felt consuming, aptly so, excelled at character development, the use of the moral gray and how immersive the story felt.

Post Author: Ailis Reavey