Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene


Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene

Book 2 ︎︎︎ Recipes for Scarcity

This Book Belongs To:
Lyla M.

November 26, 2133

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Insects have been completely eradicated from the environment. Produce like apples, blackberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and sunflowers have disappeared due to the extinction of pollinators like honey and native bees, butterflies, and moths. Even other pollinators like birds and bats are quickly declining now that their main food source has gone missing.

As produce becomes less accessible, humans must depend more heavily on starches like wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes that do not rely on pollinators to bear fruit or produce seeds.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Mom’s side of the family yesterday. Lots of sweet potato pie, toasted bread, mashed potatoes, lentils—the usual.
             We typically spend Thanksgiving with Dad’s side of the family closer to home in Illinois, but Mom was really determined to come out here this year. I don’t think they meant for me to hear, but Great-Grandma Jules isn’t doing too well (she is almost a hundred years old…).
             I sat across from her during dinner. There weren’t many of us—just Mom, Dad, Aunt Risa, Aunt Nadia, and a few cousins. Great-Grandma Jules took a bite of sweet potato pie and mumbled, “this isn’t very sweet.” Aunt Risa, who baked it, burst into laughter and said something about how we all didn’t have the chance to be spoiled by real apples.
             We chuckled around the table. I don’t think Great-Grandma Jules appreciated it, as she quickly looked at me with solemn eyes. “Have you ever tried an apple?”
             I’ve heard of them, but I have no idea what they look like. Mom told me about how special applesauce was when she was little, because it was so difficult to find. But it got to a point where apples, along with a lot of other fruits and produce, slowly vanished.
             Great-Grandma Jules explained that she used to make pies for the holidays filled with apples. Her own grandmother taught her the recipe and she was very proud of this.
             “Apples were sweet and crispy, often very juicy,” Great-Grandma Jules dreamed with a smile.“Sometimes red or green or yellow. Red ones were always my favorite.”
              She giggled like a little girl about old cartoons that would show worms in them sometimes, but she had never found a worm in one. “That would be awful!,” Great-Grandma Jules exclaimed, her eyes big and wide. “And apples are anything but awful.”
             At this point, my family had continued their own conversations around the table. But Great-Grandma Jules was reminiscing, and I was along for the ride. I honestly didn’t mind at all—I had never seen her so enthusiastic. Her eyes lit up whenever she recalled another memory from her childhood.
             She described buying chocolate bars from the gas station down the block, plucking tomatoes right off the hairy, green vines behind a family shed, rolling down hills covered in tall grass on a hot summer day and being stung by a hidden bee.
             Great-Grandma Jules paused and looked down at her last bite of pie. She stared for a moment, until shakily stabbing the crust with her fork. “I would take fifty stings to have an apple once again,” she mumbled, clearing her plate. Could one fruit be worth going through something that sounds so painful?


Just a little before bed, we were gathered in the living room. The younger cousins were putting on a play they had made up just fifteen minutes ago, barely able to contain their laughter. Great-Grandma Jules had dozed off in a green armchair, right next to Mom.
             Aunt Risa pulled me aside, bringing me into the kitchen. It was a little dark, but with the small light above the sink I could see her handing me an old book.
             She told me it was a cookbook that had been passed down in our family. Old recipes filled the pages, some we had just eaten that day. Aunt Risa said that Alice, my own Great-Great-Grandmother, bound the recipes and photos collected by our family. She said that the recipes had been adjusted over time to account for many ingredients disappearing and becoming difficult to find when the bees and other insects died.
             “But, we have a little secret weapon of our own,” she said with a wink.
             Aunt Risa showed me the seeds that had been saved over time. “We might not be able to have these recipes like they were made years ago. But maybe one day, one of us can make them as intended again.”
             I was a little confused as to why Aunt Risa decided to give me the cookbook. I have no idea how to cook anything. I mashed some potatoes once for Dad and they were probably the worst ones we had ever had. (And likely why he never asked me to help with them again).
             She must have noticed these thoughts from the look on my face. “I saw how you listened to Great-Grandma Jules. It just takes practice and a little curiosity to make something delicious. You clearly have the curiosity, based on the way you paid such close attention to her stories.”
             Aunt Risa flipped to the front page and tapped her finger on a list of previous owners of the book. “It’s yours now,” she smiled, handing me a marker. "Go on and add your name.”
             Great-Grandma Jules’s flowery handwriting was above a few other names, becoming worn with age. I scrawled my name on the front: L-Y-L-A.
             Looking further inside, I saw the apple pie recipe Great-Grandma Jules spoke of longingly. Another page held a bag with little, dark brown seeds. I rustled them in my fingers—they felt like little pebbles. A few tiny stones worth fifty stings.
             I don’t know if practice and curiosity will be enough. But growing these seeds and making a real apple pie—it all seems worth it to see Great-Grandma Jules’s eyes light up like stars again.
+ Projections from researchers at the University of Sydney show all insects—including pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, and flies—could possibly vanish within 100 years (Sánchez-Bayo).

+ Many foods would struggle to survive without pollinators, like apples, strawberries, lemons, onions, kidney beans, and cucumbers (National Pollinator Week).
+ Habitat loss from intensive agriculture is the main driver of the pollinator decline, along with climate change, pesticides, and invasive species (Sánchez-Bayo + Wyckhuys).

+ Central United States is seeing some of the most drastic declines in wild bees along with Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia. However, more areas could be affected—these countries are taking initiatives to study the endangerment of bees (University of Vermont; Woodward).