Multipurpose Monocultured Crop
It's common for World Building
writers to Hand Wave
the agricultural practices of their fictional planet, Lost World
or fantasy culture. When mentioned at all, often this topic will be minimized
by letting virtually all
of an invented society's needs be met by just one or two domestic crops, or a single kind of livestock. If a plant's roots can be eaten half a dozen ways, its stems burned for fuel, its leaves converted into textiles and
its sap brewed into alcohol, it's this trope. Likewise, if the dominant livestock is an easily-reared Explosive Breeder
that (conveniently) supplies all the dietary needs of a population on its own.
The agricultural equivalent of Green Rocks
. If this particular crop/livestock's production is the foundation for an entire culture, it can help define a Planet of Hats
or One-Product Planet
, possibly resulting in a Terminally Dependent Society
. May be an indication of current or Lost Organic Technology
within the setting. Soylent Soy
may be an example, if derived from a single crop species rather than blending two or more.
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- Robotech has the Invid Flower of Life. Scientific discoveries derived from this plant triggered the protoculture wars, as the Robotech Masters seek to control its secrets, the Invid go on a genocidal Roaring Rampage Of Revenge in response, and Earth is caught in the middle. Among the products produced from it:
Chemicals used in genetic engineering, allowing the creation of the Robotech Masters' Henchmen Race, the Zentraedi.
A drug that gives virtual immortality to the Robotech Masters.
A catalyst critical to operation of the Robotech Masters' FTL drive.
- The B-Ms from Bio-Meat: Nectar are examples of this trope Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Genetically engineered and automatically grown Hyper Oats are the cornerstone of the Orwellian society of future Japan in Psycho-Pass, which relies on shutting the whole populace in the cities and the fact that Future Food Is Artificial.
- The shmoo, from Li'l Abner, provides meat (several flavors), milk, eggs, butter, leather, wood-substitute, buttons and toothpicks. The milk, eggs and butter come already bottled/packaged.
- The shmoo takes this trope Up to Eleven. Not only do they provide all of the above, they are also Explosive Breeders as well as requiring no food whatsoever (only fresh air). Plus, their "shmoosicals" are so darned entertaining to watch, they've pretty much made television, as an entertainment medium, obsolete.
- In the Humanx Commonwealth series, Home Trees of Midworld provide food, shelter, and an organic security-system. Pika-pina, from Tran-ky-ky, can be made into sailcloth, paper or rope, its nutrient-rich nodules are edible raw or cooked, and its leaves can be eaten plain, ground into flour, squeezed for juice or dried out as bedding.
- In The Light Fantastic, Cohen the Barbarian spends time with a clan of horse nomads, who use horses for transport, meat, horsehair robes, leather, milk, and a thin beer best not inquired about.
- The Sto Plains aren't quite like this about cabbages, but it's close. They do brew a cabbage beer (it's got a good head), and the supplementary material mentions clothing made of cabbage leaves.
- "Swist" from the children's story Weslandia:
The fruit is delicious, and the rinds can be dried into cups
Leaves make a good spice
Inner fibers can be spun into clothes
Oil from the seeds acts as suntan lotion and bug repellant
The crop attracts a whole ecosystem of pleasing animals
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, Esteban Borges's artificially designed and created "Butter Bugs" are meant to be this. They are large bugs that live in colonies with a Queen and reproduce quickly, yet their breeding is human-controlled so they can't overrun the environment. In their stomachs they secrete 'Bug Butter', which is tasteless, sort of the consistency of tofu, and can supply all your dietary needs: you can practically live of it alone. Their excrement is also excellent fertilizer, and they can be kept at low cost since they can eat just about anything that's organic, including bark, branches and grass. Their marketing didn't exactly take off at first, as people were turned off by their ugly appearance and thought it was pretty disgusting to eat something that was regurgitated by one, until Ekaterin redesigned them to be "Beautiful Butter Bugs". Now it seems they're going to be pretty profitable.
- In The Sharing Knife series by the same author, the Lakewalker culture's very staple food is "plunkins," a sort of big round crunchy fruit grown in ponds that requires a little bit of magic to germinate. It's a bit of a handwave, to give the Lakewalkers an easy source of food so they can focus more of their energies on their hereditary task of eradicating evil monsters, but it's treated realistically: there's only so many ways to cook them, and everyone is very tired of them.
- In The Lorax, the Once-ler uses the tufts from the Lorax's truffula trees to make all-purpose consumer products known as thneeds. Subverted in that the truffula trees aren't being cultivated, just harvested from the wild until there's none left.
It's a shirt, it's a sock, it's a glove, it's a hat
And it has other uses, far beyond that
- The original book also makes an off-hand mention that Thneeds can be used for soup, complete with an absurd illustration of a Thneed in a bowl with a spoon sticking out of it.
- Anne McCaffrey's Killashandra has a tree that grows in the wild perform this function on a chain of islands on a planet the protagonist vacations on. It's called "the polly tree", get it? It provides a surprisingly easy living for Killashandra when she is stranded on a small island for weeks.
- Blood Lotus from The Lotus War. Medicine from its sap, tea and smokes from its leaves, rope and canvas from its stems, and the local answer to "gasoline" from its seeds. Subverted in that it's what turned the setting into a Crapsack World (its roots produce a poisonous liquid that ruins soil quality unless it's fed blood and the fuel processed from its seeds doesn't burn very cleanly), that and the Mega Corp. that worships it. It's implied that its pollen contributes to the Greenhouse Effect.
- Tuf Voyaging: After the planet of Suthlam overpopulates past the ability of his other food crops to feed them, Tuf finally provides 'manna', a plant which grows anywhere, provides all the nutrition a human needs, and tastes different and wonderful every time. It also irreverisbly sterilizes 95% of the people who eat it, thus solving the overpopulation issue once and for all.
- Radishes in Fraggle Rock. For Fraggles it's their main food source. Doozers use it as building material (which is why Fraggles find it delicious, although they don't know about it). Gorgs, who grow it in the first place, use it for anti-vanishing cream, which keeps them from fading away to nothing.
- "The Wompom", a song by Flanders and Swann, about the world's most miraculous, all-purpose plant.
- The 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide recommended that DMs incorporate some made-up variety of vegetation or prey into their campaign worlds, that can generate lots of easy food and thus make the abundance of big predatory monsters a bit less implausible.
- Many inhabitants of the Imperium of Man subsist on grox, an aggressive breed of reptile which has replaced cattle, along with whatever it is soylens viridiens is made of. (Grox in the good years, algae in the not-so-good years, in the bad years... don't ask.)
- In the Talislanta game, parts of the viridia plant can be used for everything from flour to fabric to lumber to oil to naturally-grown canoes. Justified by A Wizard Did It.
- Dwarf Fortress frequently has multipurpose crops that can be brewed into liquor, cooked, eaten raw, milled into flour or sugar or dye or oil-rich paste, and/or processed into thread. Among animals, sheep and goats are prized since they can produce meat, milk, bones, leather, and wool without requiring much grazing area, and poultry are prized for meat, bones, eggs, leather, and truly explosive breeding... and at present they don't require food or feeding.
- The crops usually only have a few uses each. Dimple cups can only be turned into dye; all other underground crops can be brewed, and most can be processed. The closest thing to this trope is probably plump helmets, which in-game are simply fast-growing plants that can be brewed into alcohol, cooked, or (uniquely among underground crops) eaten raw, although fanon often attributes it with additional uses.
- Ben 10: Omniverse: Revonnah's Amber Ogia is this taken Up to Eleven and beyond. The Revonnaganders use this fruit for food, drink, cloth, construction and more. Its usefulness has been targeted by villains who want to use it for their own gains. It was the main ingredient in Dr. Psychobos' mind control serum. It can be made into a fuel that could power the villains' entire invasion. Oh, and when we say "food," we mean all food on Revonnah is Amber Ogia processed, prepared, and seasoned in different ways. Pretty much every aspect of life is fueled by the stuff in some manner.
- Soybeans are a Real Life example, being the source of numerous processed foods and food additives, as well as oils useful in biodiesel, soap, cosmetics, inks, solvents, crayons, and clothing.
- Maize (corn). You can:
- Eat it: And in so many ways!
- As sweet corn: On the cob, in niblets, grilled, boiled, steamed, creamed...
- As ground corn: In grits and its friends (polenta, pap, nshima, congee...), in cornbread, in fritters, in awful junk foods, as tortillas, as tortilla chips, in your breakfast cereal (cornflakes!), in the delicious batter on your awful corndog...
- As oil (to fry half of the things mentioned above),
- Or as starch to thicken your gravy, soup, or whatever.
- Or combine oil + kernels and Pass the Popcorn.
- Drink it: As high-fructose corn syrup (meh), or in beer (blech), or in corn liquor (bourbon!).
- Feed it to your animals: They eat it right up and get nice and fat for the slaughter.
- Burn it: Either by burning ethanol distilled from the kernels or by burning the "waste products" (e.g. cobs and husks). The former sees use in cars and other applications; the latter was traditional in the Americas for a very long time (cobs and husks make great kindling).
- Extract starch from it: Other than the culinary uses, the starch can be used for more than just stiffening shirts.
- Smoke out of it: Corncob pipes!
- Have fun in it: If you plant your field right, you have a maize maze.
- Treat yourself with it: Corn silk is a common herbal supplement.
- Decorate your house with it: In the autumn.
- Film it: because fields of it are great settings for suspenseful movie scenes.
- Piddle on it: if you're a pet whose litter box is filled with shredded corn-cob litter.
- Even play music with it!
- And back in the 19th century, you'd find corncobs used as toilet paper and corn husks used as packing material. No wonder maize is the world's biggest crop.
- In Colonial America, farmers claimed they used "every part of the pig but the squeal".
- To this day, scrapple, popular in Eastern Pennsylvania (plus Greater Philadelphia, which includes South Jersey and the parts of Delaware that people forget about the least) is made from "every part of the pig but the oink".
- In another part of the world, that is what the Chinese are doing right now: For every single part of a pig there is at least one Chinese dish out there using it.
- The miracle tree (Moringa oleifera) is an awesome example of this. Originally from Southeast Asia, they are now used in many subtropical parts of the world to help combat malnutrition. Immature green pods of the tree are said to have a kind of green bean with a hint of asparagus taste, its seeds are roasted like peas or nuts, the flowers taste like mushrooms, and the roots can be shaved into a horseradish-like condiment.
- According to this article: Moringas are among the world’s most nutritious plants. Their leaves can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into baby formula. They contain four times the calcium of milk, three times the potassium of bananas, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, and about half again the protein of soybeans. The seeds can be pressed for an unsaturated fat like olive oil or crushed into a powder that purifies water(!): its electrolytes attract impurities and precipitate them out of the fluid. Best of all, Moringas are fast-growing and extremely drought-tolerant.
- Hemp can be used for food (the seeds), medicine (against aczema and inflammation), as rope, for fabric for clothing, sacks and sails, as building material, as jewelry, it can be made into paper and plastic, and it can be used for fuel, weed control and water purification. And yes, it has that other use too.
- Something of an Invoked Trope example, as some of those alternate uses were specifically devised by folks who'd like to see the aforesaid "other use" decriminalized, so promote its virtues as a Multipurpose Monocultured Crop in hope of improving its image.
- Of course, there's a big difference between industrial hemp and the regular kind, with the industrial variety being cultivated for rope, fuel, etc. and having 90% less THC than the drug type. Again, this is specifically invoked.
- Then again, it's rare to encounter a culture that actually uses it for all these uses and has no other crops. In that light only corn can really count.
- Coconut trees to Polynesian cultures. the coconut flesh, the coconut water, the coconut cream made from cooked coconut, the fibres from the husk used for toilet paper or kindling or to make rope or clothing, the leaves to roof shelters, the leaves used as plates, the leaves used as hats, the shells used a bowls, cups, canteens, fishing floats, raft floats, to make small knives, the wood...
- Another non-crop example, at least to the Plains Indians, was the American Bison. The big, bulky ungulates were their source of meat, shelter, utensils, clothes, rope, containers, needles, ornaments, healing ointments, glue, and much, much more. Everything was used, right down to their scrotums and dung (the former for rattles and the latter for fuel and preventing diaper rash when powdered). Tragically, this dependence led to massive starvation for the Plains Indians when the bison were hunted to near extinction due to commercial hunting by colonists.