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Black Market Produce

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In many stories set in a Crapsack World where civilians subsist on nothing else but Poverty Food, synthetic substitutes, and adulterated foods, a character is shown buying fresh food in the Black Market for an exorbitant price. At least one of the items being bought is something very sensuous, for example, either an orange, a bag of coffee, or a steak. That character will either stand back 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 slow, sensual, Erotic Eating. To be most effective, the work should first show us the grim, tasteless gruel that the proles have to subsist on.

Sometimes, a character might be shocked to find one of these foods in a rich person's house. If only elites are able to obtain luxury foods, as in a totalitarian state, if a new character is shown carving up a sirloin, this reveals that they are either from the Inner Party or The Syndicate.

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. In science fiction settings such as space stations, access to luxury foods suggests both wealth and power.

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 and the greed and evil of the elites. It's never something that is dull but nutritious, like peanut butter or spinach. If it's an orange or strawberries, the color is used to make a stark contrast against the background.

You can find black market food in a hidden store, perhaps behind a hinged shelf at the back—but only if you tell the shopkeeper the secret password. No time to get to the secret shop? Find The Scrounger at the local pub and he can probably sell you some food that Fell Off the Back of a Truck.

See also Mundane Luxury.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Barefoot Gen, Gen's mother Kimie, who was pregnant at the beginning of the story, goes into premature labor after watching her husband and her two other children burn to death. She gives birth to a girl, whom Gen names Tomoko. Because Kimie (and everyone else in her community) was starving thanks to food prices already being high, her milk dries up, and Gen goes to get Tomoko some formula, or powdered or evaporated milk. He finds exactly what he was looking for, being offered by Americans...for far more than it's worth. He takes odd-jobs (despite being only six years old), including caring for an old man with terrible gangrene, and is finally able to afford the milk. By the time he does get to buy it and returns home with it, Tomoko has died of starvation.
  • In Beastars, eating meat is frowned upon, but because carnivores still have instinctual urges to eat meat, there is a black market that sells the meat of those who've died in hospitals or of suicide, although some sell their own body parts as food. It's said to be a natural place that most carnivores will end up going and for good reason, as without an ethical source of meat many carnivores would kill and eat the flesh of other people.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato 2199, one of the crew members of the Yamato learns that his family has been forced to rely on the black market for food. Since the surface of the Earth had been rendered uninhabitable due to the Gamilons' planetary bombing, food was becoming increasingly scarce.

    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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Deadly Harvest, Mort Logan and his gang roam the countryside stealing what remaining agricultural products they can get their hands on and then sell them on the black market.
  • 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.
  • Michael Palin's film A Private Function deals with the shenanigans involved in keeping an undeclared pig out of view of inspectors from the Ministry of Food in wartime, so that its meat can be otherwise used without anyone official finding out and confiscating it for the common good.
  • In Soylent Green, Thorn steals real food from the home of a wealthy murder victim. He and his roommate Sol Roth later eat everything from lettuce to apples.
  • In Tekken (2010), 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 tea available lately, and deduces that Oceania (the superstate in which she lives) must have conquered India. 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 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, the author was a poor, aspiring writer living in New York City during the late 1940s. When she discovered a London used book shop that sold books by mail order, she began ordering vintage, yet inexpensive, works of English literature from them, as she loved old English things, especially books of non-fiction, such as Samuel Pepys diary. She found out about the food shortages the English people had to put up with, so she began sending holiday packages of food items that were difficult or impossible to obtain in England at the time to the store to be shared by the employees. She eventually developed a friendship with the store that spanned over 20 years, and the book documents the letters that were sent back and forth between them.
  • 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 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 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 on a public scale.Clarification  In addition, most food that isn't made from grain rations is expensive and rather rare in the Districts. The decadent Capitol, on the other hand, has tons of food of all kinds, to the point some residents may vomit up the food they had previously eaten to eat more.
  • 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.
  • Characters in The Leonard Regime must resort to this in order to feed and arm themselves.
  • 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.
  • In the backstory of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton, the communist government ruling an alternate history Britain was undermined by having computers and other electronic goods flown in by stealth aircraft and distributed by an army of spivs. The local versions made in state-controlled companies simply couldn't compete and were only used by government offices.
  • 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.
  • In Super Minion meat is very expensive, especially during Odd Summer. This is because, just like humans, animals can mutate or gain superpowers when in danger or under stress, so keeping them locked up during Odd Summer and especially trying to slaughter them is very dangerous.
  • 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").
  • The Wind Up Girl: The novel is set after the complete exhaustion of the world's petroleum reserves, without which shipping highly perishable goods around the world isn't expensive - it's impossible. Moreover, crops are constantly falling prey to various engineered plagues. When the American Anderson Lake visits Thailand and has his first taste of a local fruit (heavily implied to be a rambutan or lychee), miraculously free from disease, he's blown away by the flavour.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 short story anthology Fear The Alien, the protagonist of one story moonlights as a teacher for a rich man's daughter, and is paid in fresh food.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Downplayed in Babylon 5. Babylon 5 has a large hydroponics section, which grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. However, these are designed to provide a nutritionally complete diet, not provide a wide selection of food. Anything NOT grown in Hydroponics will need to be shipped from Earth, three weeks away, and while interstellar travel may be common, it's still a bit risky. This means that any perishables will likely be spoiled when they arrive, and the shipping costs stellar.
    • Garibaldi manages to get ingredients for a birthday treat (canned anchovies, olive oil and butter, sealed in airtight packaging) and at one point wins fudged paperwork which will allow him to have a steak transported from Earth in a stasis pod in a bet with the Doctor. This is shown only to be possible since Garibaldi is Chief of Security and has contacts everywhere.
    • Ivanova has managed to sneak a few coffee plants into hydroponics to not have to drink instant, and is at one point gifted a meal of eggs and bacon. This impresses Garibaldi to no end, since he has spent months trying to get eggs on board before they go off.
    • Sheridan mentions that the two real privileges he has are a proper water shower in his quarters and that he can occasionally get his hands on enough oranges to make worthwhile amounts of orange juice.
    • Subverted when G'Kar has a friend from Narn over for dinner. His friend is amazed that G'Kar could get breen, a native delicacy, from the Narn homeworld, but G'Kar reveals that the "breen" is in fact an identical Terran recipe, Swedish Meatballs.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has the black market ship Prometheus which, in addition to smokes, drugs, prostitutes and jewellery, 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.
  • Dad's Army: Local spiv Private Walker sometimes dealt in produce as part of his black market activities. It plays a major role in "We Know Our Onions" where he has been using Jones' van to fulfill a black market order for Warden Hodges, the greengrocer, and has half a ton of onions hidden in the back when the platoon is ordered to take part in a Home Guard efficiency test and travel there in the van, towing a Smith gun with 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..."
  • The Expanse: Cheese is the hot commodity in the Belt. Fruit and vegetables can be hydroponically grown, legally or illegally, with minimal fuss, the vat-grown Artificial Meat is not as good as the real deal but still a passable substitute and, while more diffcult, it isn't impossible to keep chickens or other small livestock for eggs and meat in Belt habitats. Cheese, on the other hand, requires either a large, female animal be kept alive and in good enough health to give milk, which is extremely difficult both to do and get away with, or wheels of cheese to be smuggled at great expense and risk from the Inner Worlds.
  • 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.
  • 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. It also comes up in other episodes with farmers and grocers who reserve a private stock to sell at higher prices to rich customers.
  • Fringe has a background element that something happened to Hawaii in the other universe, making coffee something of a black market staple. As such, tea has pretty much taken its place.
  • 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. In another incident, a wounded quartermaster that Hawkeye had operated on thanked him by diverting a side of beef meant for the table of the general who had gotten him wounded in the first place to the 4077th - the unit ends up rushing to thaw and cook the beef before the MPs sent by the general to recover his dinner arrive. (They arrive just as Potter is about to start carving the roast, and he tells them to sit down and have a slice.)
  • The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed is set in Moscow right after World War II, in the autumn of 1945. There's no famine, but food is being rationed, and anything above the set limits costs a lot. The Black Cat gang rob stores (murdering people for food and money) and then sell food through an accomplice in a cafeteria. The scene in their hideout is a feast honest people cannot afford, with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.
  • 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 a 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!
  • On My Name Is Earl, Catalina comes from a poor village in a Banana Republic note  , that has been overrun by drug cartels. When Dodge asks if she's ever played the game "Hot Potato," she assumes he's asking if she's ever had an actual hot potato. She tells him that hot potatoes were rare in her village, and were reserved for birthdays only. Even before that, a little girl on the bus to that village is so happy to have a churro, because she only gets one per year. She shows it to Earl, who assumes she's offering him a bite.
  • In the setting of SeaQuest DSV produce is plentiful and readily available year-round as everything is grown hydroponically and genetically engineered to provide maximum nutrition and flavor. Meat, on the other hand, is hard to find as beef and pork are declared illegal due to the negative impact livestock has on the environment. Artificial Meat is available but the older generations find it to be a poor substitute.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: in one episode, Quark is stated to had run a black market selling food to Bajorans during the Cardassian occupation.
  • In Terra Nova, the father brings an orange to the family in the opening scenes.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible, Revelation has this to say about the manifestation of Famine; in context, these are astronomical prices expected for staple foodstuffs equivalent to a week's wages for the basics of life and imply both shortages and a lot of black-marketeering going on.
    And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. (Rev.6:6)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia: Food is easy to come by in Alpha Complex. Real food is a rare luxury, only enjoyed by the higher security clearances. As such, the Infrared Market makes a tidy profit selling real food to citizens eager to try such luxuries. One of the reasons the Player Characters jump at the opportunity to become Troubleshooters is that this comes with a promotion to Red clearance, which guarantees them a piece of fresh fruit once every month.
  • 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." Depending on the location, the trope can become a little more literal. The staple of the Fifth World is nutrisoy, supplemented with enough vitamins and minerals that it'll keep a metahuman alive. To call the taste 'lacking', though, is inaccurate, because that implies that there is a taste. In Denver, there's also a ban on any Aztechnology products — and Aztechnology is one of the biggest biological providers in the world. As such, there's a thriving black market and smuggling circus around drugs, weapons, biomods, oranges, cashews and steak. It's a not entirely inaccurate joke that a 'runner is more likely to be fervently attacked over a pallet of beef than a case of tempo.
  • 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 Civilized (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.

  • 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.
  • In Civilization V, luxury items can become subject to a global prohibition by a United Nations resolution. Such items include oranges, salt and spices.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, Tokyo has been underground for the past twenty-five years, and demon meat is what's usually on the menu. Canned fruit and vegetables are some of the more expensive Shop Fodder, and the flavor text notes that they're usually saved for special occasions.
  • In Sunless Sea, the denizens of The Neath subsist on impossible varieties of mushrooms and fish, and it's strongly implied that there's much less food to go around than on The Surface. Consequently, Naples' supply prices are the lowest in the entire game, and every purchase gives an extensive description of what you're buying.
  • Backstory for Starsiege has both fresh fruit and vacuum-packed 'Old Food' as highly valuable commodities that are so expensive that two baskets of fruit or a single case of packed food can be traded for slaves. Earth was quite the Crapsack World after the Robot War.

    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. Bananas, for instance, did not properly return to Britain until the early 1950s (Redwall author Brian Jacques credits the Food Porn in his novels to growing up with limited food, claiming the first time he'd had a banana was disappointing compared to dreaming about it).
  • Common throughout much of the world during World War II, 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.
  • Transatlantic travel was dangerous in wartime. But sailors visiting North America and returning to Britain soon learnt what rare commodities could be cheaply obtained in the USA and Canada which would command extortionate prices at home. RAF pilots training in the USA or ferry pilots bringing American aircraft direct to Britain also exploited their privileged status. A significant proportion of the black market also involved US personnel with access to supply lines out of the USA.
  • Russian Underground Cheese Market. Now that's A Rare Sentence.
  • During the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, food supply chains were disrupted in much of the world and many restaurants were closed for in-person service. This led both to people informally trading staples like eggs that were difficult to find in grocery stores and to a proliferation of 'dark kitchens' providing home delivery of prepared foods.



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