Black Market Produce

In many stories set in a Crapsack World, a character is shown buying food in the Black Market, sometimes for an exorbitant price. At least one of the items being bought is something very sensuous, for example, either an orange or a sack of coffee. That character will either stand around and marvel at how wonderful the orange looks against the gray/sepia world, or press the coffee against his nose to absorb the aroma, or take a precious bite of chocolate and perform a milder version of Erotic Eating. Sometimes, a character might be shocked to find one of these foods in a rich person's house.

In-universe, this could be explained by Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap, or the authors are trying to evoke parallels to Real Life (see examples below). Also, because Dystopia tends to be set in northern climates, it makes sense for people in northern climates to find foods from tropical areas as rare and sensuous because of the implied expense. However, an astute viewer might note that the foods selected by the authors are generally those that can be dramatically used by the actor/director to reinforce the crapsackiness of the Crapsack World. It's never something that is dull but nutritious, like peanut butter or spinach. If it's an orange, the color is used to make a stark contrast against the background; coffee/chocolate can be dramatically used by the actors.


Comic Books
  • In the Batman series No Man's Land, Gotham has been devastated by an earthquake, and abandoned by the government. With the bridges bombed and the waterways mined, the population is cut off and food supplies are limited. A journalist hires a pilot to fly him over so he can drop food and get footage of people fighting over it. One of the items, an apple, is considered so precious that it eventually makes its way to The Penguin, who auctions it off to a crowd in return for a 20 carat diamond - after he takes a bite out of it!
    • Later in the storyline, Batman finds a rare breed of pear in Penguin's possession, and determines that the only specimen in the area of that tree is in Robinson Park, which has been taken over by Poison Ivy. Turns out she and a group of orphans have been enslaved by Clayface and forced to grow and harvest produce to sell to Gotham's starving populace. Batman frees her, and allows her to keep looking after the children if she continues to provide food.

  • In Demolition Man you can find in the Underground City of the Scraps stuff you can't find on the surface city of San Angeles. Including (otherwise banned) real burgers... just as long as you don't mind not asking what's in them. Still doesn't stop John Spartan reckoning it's the best he's had in years.
  • In Tekken, the main character buys an orange for his mother.
  • In V for Vendetta, on Evey's first morning in the Shadow Gallery, she is given toast with her breakfast and is astonished to find real butter. V explains that he stole it from the Chancellor's supplies.

  • In Nineteen Eighty Four, the heroine brings real tea and coffee to her hideout. She comments that there has been a surprising amount of coffee available lately, and deduces that Oceania (the superstate in which she lives) must have conquered Indonesia. Also, Winston meets a prole couple on a train who confide in him that they are hoping to get hold of some black-market butter while visiting relatives.
  • In the In Death series by J.D. Robb, set in the 2050-2060s, real meat and coffee are expensive luxuries that only the mega-rich can afford. In the first novel of the series reformed (mostly) bad boy billionaire Roarke woos Lt. Eve Dallas by giving her a present of genuine coffee beans from the Brazilian plantation he maintains at great expense for his own personal supply. It's so immeasurably superior to the vile sludge that usually passes for coffee that Dallas's coffee becomes the envy of the entire Homicide division.
  • In The Hunger Games, the heroine makes her living poaching game and selling it on the black market, as District 12, the coal mining district, has no agriculture and isn't permitted any. In addition, most food that isn't made from grain rations is expensive and rather rare in the Districts. The decadent Capital, on the other hand, has tons of food of all kinds.
  • In The City Of Ember, the people of the city live mainly on canned food stored for decades in huge cellars. By the time the story takes place, the supply is getting low and only the most basic kinds of foods are left. Canned fruit is thought of as an exotic luxury enjoyed by previous generations. The few items (such as pineapple and applesauce) that do show up aren't being sold on the black market, but they are being stolen, hoarded, and jealously guarded. Lina has several "beautiful things" stuck up on her bedroom wall. One of them is the label from a can of peaches.
  • In Gabrielle Zevin's Birthright trilogy, chocolate and caffeine products are illegal. Mafias, like the one the heroine Anya controls, run all trade and sales of them. In-universe, however, both chocolate and caffeine are considered to be as luxurious and psychedelic as cocaine, differing slightly from this trope.
  • In the Thursday Next books, characters from the BookWorld want things from the Outland (the real world), and those things include foodstuffs. In response to requests and along with other non-food items, Thursday brings back a jar of Marmite, Moggilicious cat food (for The Cat Formerly Known as Cheshire), and Mintolas (for Marianne Dashwood, who describes them as, "A bit like like Munchies but minty").
  • Nicky's house in Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners is being used a billet by a group of naval ratings; there's fresh bread and huge tins of real butter lying around open in the kitchen. Turns out these and a steady supply of booze are being smuggled off navy destroyers by several of the sailors.
  • Characters in The Leonard Regime must resort to this in order to feed and arm themselves.
  • The Nero Wolfe short story "Before I die", by Rex Stout, is set in 1946, at the height of WWII rationing and meat shortages. Wolfe is so desperate for meat that he agrees to take a case offered to him by one of the most notorious gangsters of the area. What he demands as his fee is an in with the black market of meat. Archie lampshades it:
    Archie: I gazed at my boss in bitter disgust. He had lost all sense of proportion. For the sake of making a wild grab for a rib roast, he had left his chair, walked clear to the front room, opened a window, and invited the most deadly specimen between the Battery and Yonkers into his house.

Live-Action TV
  • In Terra Nova, the father brings an orange to the family in the opening scenes.
  • In the television production of Ngaio Marsh's Final Curtain, Alleyn appears on Troy's doorstep after escorting a fugitive from South Africa bearing a pineapple, and Troy makes a quip about painting a still life of it. The scene cuts to the same fruit on her dining table, prepared and being eaten by the pair of them.
  • In the Doctor Who story "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", an old woman reports the main characters to the Daleks and is rewarded with food, including an orange. "I haven't tasted an orange in years..."
  • On M*A*S*H, the occasional real food was quite a treat. One time a farmer gave the unit a bunch of real eggs, not the reconstituted stuff they usually get. Another time Radar went through a Chain of Deals in order to supply Col. Potter with fresh tomato juice after some accidentally got shipped to them and Potter liked it - but then after all that trouble, it turns out Potter is mildly allergic. He'd been without it for so long he forgot.
  • Firefly:
    • In the pilot episode, we get Kaylee enjoying a strawberry and the crew getting excited about fresh vegetables and herbs. Explained in the RPG. Fresh produce doesn't keep as long aboard ship as packaged protein, and some voyages last weeks.
    • At one point, the crew is hired to smuggle cattle.
  • In the Foyle's War episode "Bleak Midwinter", set in rationing-bound World War II England, Foyle busts an operation that's been smuggling restricted food, leading to a subplot for the rest of the episode about who's going to end up with the food once it's done being held as evidence.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has the black market ship Prometheus which, in addition to smokes, drugs, prostitutes and jewelery, supplies the non-military members of the Fleet with the last remaining fresh fruit. It both serves to underscore that many civilians lack what the protagonists have been taking for granted and acts as a plot point to hint Ellen Tigh's connections when she shows up with a bowl full of grapes.
  • The TV series Bootleg was centred around a pair of kids setting up a black market chocolate operation after chocolate is banned by the government.
  • The Mitchell And Webb Situation has a sketch with a farmer acting like everything he did was some sort of black market get-rich-quick scheme.
    Farmer: Hey... you want to make bit of money? [beat] You should do what I did: get into farming. [pulls out a wad of bills] See this? I got this sellin' corn!"
  • Downplayed in Babylon 5. Fresh fruit and perishables, while not IMPOSSIBLE to get, are potentially very expensive. While Babylon 5 has its own hydroponics section, anything NOT in the Hydroponics has the potential to be weeks away, which means they're EXPENSIVE to ship. As such, Garibaldi getting the ingredients for an Italian dish, and Ivanova being gifted fresh eggs, are both being treated as luxuries. It especially shifts into this when Garibaldi tries to get some sent off the books!
    • And, yes. Oranges are mentioned as one of these luxuries.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000 - the nobles eat the best food, imported from agri worlds. The masses... not so much (yes, Soylent Green included). Same applies to the Imperial Guard where Officers from nobility get actual food and the ordinary grunt's rations are indestructible bricks or goos of superdense nutrition.
    • Though this varies wildly world to world. Your typical Civilised (Gamma-class) world citizen would eat much like a modern 1st world individual. Hive, Fortress and Forge worlds without a fraction of the agricultural capacity needed to support their population get the densest, cheapest sources for the masses (if they're lucky). Shipping halfway decent food through the warp is unreliable at best and incomprehensibly dangerous at worst, so the price goes up a bit.
  • Shadowrun in terms of warzones is pretty much a prime place for black market produce. As described by Hard Exit...
    You want food, you can get food, if you want corned beef in a can, you might be shit out of luck.

  • Cabaret has a musical number that is based on a gift of a pineapple. See Real Life below.

Video Games
  • A Jamaican restaurant owner you interview in the Blade Runner PC game adds black market cheese to her soup. Your character lets her off with a warning since it's not his jurisdiction.

Web Comics:
  • In Drowtales, the trope is lampshaded here. Chocolate is considered a recreational drug. Drowolath cooking relies heavily on Soylent Green and mushroom beer. Elves who rely on such staples can be identified by their tongues, which have become permanently purple.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, fruit must be grown in heated greenhouses, and is rare enough to make juice a "special occasions only"-treat for most of the population.
    Torbjörn: Although in the spirit of saving money, maybe we should stop celebrating with fruit juice.
    Siv: You SNOBS bought juice when all I got was water?! ...might as well be drinking liquid gold.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • In the United Kingdom, oranges were a particular Yuletide treat, associated with Saint Nicholas. They recur (along with chocolate, butter, and meat) in works set in the austerity of post-WWII Britain, when wartime food rationing continued.
  • Common throughout much of the world during World War 2, given shortages in fresh produce and meats in cities. In some cases, farmers delivered meats, cheese, and produce to their clients in briefcases for exorbitant prices.
  • Russian Underground Cheese Market. Now that's A Rare Sentence.