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Deckard: Is this a real snake?
Zhora: Of course it's not real. You think I'd be working in a place like this if I could afford a real snake?

In many near-future dystopian science fiction settings, prices on some items, particularly natural things created by natural processes, are quite high, as opposed to mass-produced via synthetic processes. This is particularly the case if the setting is specifically shown to be one of severe environmental degradation, where agriculture is difficult, natural foodstuffs are unsafe, most natural-born animals are extinct, and resources are stretched so thin that raising something as superfluous as a live animal in your house is madness. Either way, people just take it for granted that certain things are not to be had for regular folks, or that if they are, they're grown in batches in laboratories or, in the case of animals, may be machines designed to look like the real thing.

This trope typically occurs when one character encounters an object, usually food or an animal, and questions the owner about it. They may ask "Is this real?" to which the owner of a synthetic item/cloned animal replies "Of course not." That, or, if the character is meant to be fabulously wealthy and a wee bit eccentric, they'll say "Of course."

Normally, this can be written off as Artistic License – Biology. Making more of themselves is something that living things tend to be pretty good at, so supply isn't an issue. Moreover, you'd be surprised at how little energy animals need to survive. The human body, assuming one does not engage in constant strenuous activity, burns up an average 100 watts of power. You have appliances in your home that consume several times that amount of power. And keep in mind, most animals — particularly reptiles such as in the page quote — run on even less than that. One of the reasons for this is cellular respiration being able to convert 40% of glucose's chemical energy into ATP. It doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind most top-of-the-line internal combustion engines struggle to convert just 30% of octane's chemical energy into motion. Animals are very efficient.

However, this trope can be justified if pollution or disease have directly attacked the remaining real organisms' fertility. For agricultural products, it may be further explained by an economy of scale — once most people switch to the cheaper synthetic product, the real thing becomes even more expensive because it's made in smaller quantities. Moreover, plants are one of the few instances where life is quite inefficient given that Rubisco, the enzyme in charge of photosynthesis, is extremely slow and lacks specifity. Even modern photovoltaic cells are more efficient than plants.note 

See also Extinct in the Future, Future Food Is Artificial, Common Place Rare, Black Market Produce, Mundane Luxury. A counterpart is Worthless Yellow Rocks; both can exist in the same work.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In one episode of The Big O, pet animals are in fact so rare that everyone is quite shocked when Dorothy finds a cat. The owners come and take it back despite how attached Dorothy has gotten because it's really their son. A mad scientist turns people into animals because they're so incredibly rare. Or something. Later, it gets turned into a giant monster. They're that rare, apparently.
  • In Clover, one character owns an organic cat but disguises it as a robot so people won't steal it.
  • Ghost in the Shell:
    • In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Togusa asks Batou if his basset hound is a clone, remarking that the real thing (as though a clone is any less real) is expensive. (Batou also feeds his dog real food, but this is not presented as an issue of cost, but one of taste.) Ghost in the Shell is set in a world recovering from war, not (demonstrably) one with a thoroughly devastated environment, however, so the trope borders on cliche here. Of course, in a world where cybernetics and androids are so plentiful, it could be that some people keep robotic pets that don't have the living and training needs of a real live one.
    • In the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series, the robotic Tachikomas regard all-natural motor oil as a real treat, much better than synthetic oil. Batou treating "his" Tachikoma differently from the rest, by regularly treating it to natural oil, is a catalyst for the robots developing individuality and self-awareness. That and the anomalies caused by the oil corroding part of its circuit board.
  • In Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0, this trope is played straight when the kids get shown a giant aquarium where specimens of pre-2nd impact sea life are preserved. Rei muses that they are the same as her and can't live outside this sheltered environment. Also, the fact that synthetic meat is the norm. The sheer dissonance between the kid's bewilderment at their first time seeing sea life, and Kaji and Misato's painful memories of the 2nd impact (Misato did not want to come because she would remember the event; Kaji wanted the kids to know what life was before 2nd impact), makes for a very dramatic moment as the viewer realizes this trope is in full effect. Slice of life and backstory exposition and character drama all rolled into one.
    • At one point in the series, Misato thinks that buying the EVA pilots a steak dinner would bankrupt her. Realizing this, they take her to a fast-food place instead. This becomes Fridge Logic when one realizes that she works for the most important and powerful organization in the world, has precisely two superiors... yet four steaks would wipe her out. If steak is that rare, is there anyone who can afford it?

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Rocketship Voyager
    • While at the messdeck, Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres have to eat yeast-based protein as the meat vats and hydroponics garden are still being repaired. Later Captain Janeway invites Chakotay for a formal dinner at the officer's wardroom and they have beef and vegetables from the ship's stores, though the taste is a bit off from the irradiation used to preserve it for space travel. Janeway is surprised when she attends a luxurious banquet on an alien space station and finds their alien hosts are serving up fresh meat.
    • The beef cattle used to provide Janeway's Fancy Dinner are on Mars as all the arable land on Earth outside the megacities has been converted to food crops. Coffee and tobacco are only available (albeit at expensive prices) because the people working for the agrifood corporations must have coffee and cigarettes as well.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Adventures of Pluto Nash, the events of the film take place on the Moon. Certain items are hard to come by on the Moon and aren't cheap to have delivered from Earth, the most commonly mentioned being wood (not the stuff used in cheap Real Life furniture, but actual wood). At one point, a mobster is mentioned by someone to have had a briefcase made of genuine alligator skin. Naturally, this immediately outed him as an Earther.
  • In Mamoru Oshii's Avalon, the wealthy (compared to the abject poverty of her fellow players) Ash feeds her dog quality food, as contrasted to the gruel that her peers survive on.
  • In Blade Runner, the planet's deteriorating condition has killed off most animals, causing people to keep synthetic pets. One can tell how prized they are by the fact that the Voigt-Kampf test scenarios, created to evoke an empathetic response, are mostly centered on animal cruelty.
  • Blade Runner 2049: The protagonist acquires a carved wooden horse and is told he's rich because it's genuine wood.
  • In Demolition Man, society is entirely vegetarian. When they visit the 'scrap' society, he eagerly eats a hamburger. It's not beef... but at least it's not human. It's actually rat. He doesn't care and keeps on eating. He even says it's the best burger he's had in years. note  It bears mentioning that unlike most examples on this page, meat-eating isn't rare due to global disaster, it's a sign of how overly coddled and pacified human civilization has been rendered.
  • In the distant galaxy of Kin-Dza-Dza, one of the transplanted Earthlings discovers that the wooden matchsticks he's carrying in his pocket are actually the most valuable things in the system, as every last scrap of naturally-occurring organic or mineral material had long since been converted into one kind of fuel or another. Water is bought by the drop, and food is made of plastic.
  • The Matrix: All the food that isn't gruel is virtual. This is why, in The Matrix Reloaded, some Zionites give Neo bread as a sign of admiration. It's the equivalent of giving him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • An early example of this is in Soylent Green, where one character is excited about having "hundred and fifty bucks a jar of strawberries."
  • German sci-fi movie Sturzflieger. At the end, the protagonists grow rich when they discover a storeroom full of chicks.
  • In V for Vendetta, Evey expresses amazement that V has access to real butter. He stole it from a shipment meant for the prime minister.
  • In Waterworld, potted plants and the soil to grow them in are considered valuable trade goods, as are non-sea-derived materials such as paper.
  • Inverted in Zombieland, where the drive of one of the main characters is to find a stash of Twinkies. After all, plants still grow after a zombie apocalypse, but with the Hostess kitchen shut down, snack cakes become an endangered species.



  • This trope is present throughout much of Isaac Asimov's fiction, although it's gone into more detail than usual in The Caves of Steel. Most of the humans in Caves of Steel eat food crafted from vat-grown yeast; having a piece of bread made from actual wheat is unheard of.
  • Philip K. Dick
    • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novella upon which Blade Runner was based, goes into this trope in more detail than the film. Real animal pets are considered the ultimate status symbol, and new editions of a blue book are published listing each species's going rate. Many species are thought to be extinct. The main character owns an electric sheep but conceals the fact that is artificial. At the end of the book, he discovers a toad, thought to be extinct, and thus priceless, but it turns out to be artificial as well.
    • In his short story "Breakfast at Twilight", an American family accidentally time-travel to World War III where they're accosted by a squad of malnourished American soldiers who have a This Cannot Be! reaction to their refrigerator stocked with milk, eggs, butter, and meat. They plunder the contents and hide them in their transport before The Political Officer arrives.

Individual works:

  • An interesting non-sci-fi example appears in Erich Maria Remarque's famous novel All Quiet on the Western Front. One of the soldiers in the story is overjoyed when he discovers an actual cherry tree in bloom during a march across the countryside to a new position. Since he (and the others) have spent entire weeks on the western front of World War I, this is hardly surprising - the frontline being a lifeless war-torn muddy wasteland and all. And the less said about the rations given to soldiers in the latter parts of the war, the better...
  • The People in the Artemis Fowl series inhabit an underground civilization and seem to subsist mostly on foods preceded with sim- and things you can grow underground (like fungal goods). Sustainable and organic, but clearly not quite the same as surface food. (Not that they'd set up systems to get food from human farming, because of the pesticides.) The logical extension of this includes things like high-stakes seafood smuggling.
  • Sheri S. Tepper's Beauty both plays this straight and subverts it. Part of the book deals with a dystopian future Earth run by "Fidipur", an agency created to "Feed the Poor" by using much of the Earth's biological productivity and advanced science to create very efficient food wafers that would seem unnatural to modern or premodern people. The population keeps growing and eventually all arable land is needed to make their strange wafers, so the last farms that produce vegetables for human consumption are shut down. A surprisingly long section of the book describes a documentary called "The Last Radish" and a random citizen is selected to have the honor of eating the last natural vegetable while the world watches. The trope is played straight in that natural food is considered very special and exclusive, but subverted in that the radish-eater gives the natural vegetable very poor marks in comparison to his regular ration of nutrition wafers.
  • Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, in which one of the phyles bases its entire economy on providing luxurious hand-made goods for the Neo-Victorian elite, while everything else is produced in matter compilers. The Title Drop is that diamond is now one of the cheapest materials you can have (because, being the absolute simplest pattern of the most common solid atom - a lattice of carbon - it's the easiest thing your matter compiler can make) but glass is a luxury good. The idea here is that the goods themselves are not important, but hand-made goods are valuable because they prove that you have enough power to compel another human being to take time out of their limited existence to make things for you when you could have just gone to the nearest matter compiler and got the equivalent product with a snap of your fingers.
  • Inverted in Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling, when the protagonists have a long gripe session about all the delicious junk food they miss, now they've been reduced to growing food naturally.
  • A variant happens in Dune when a Fremen representative spits on the table during their first meeting with House Atreides. One of the protagonists gets angry and tries to draw a weapon to repay the "slight", but Duke Leto stops him - the act was a gesture of respect, as water is incredibly scarce on Arrakis.
    • Leto's horrified to learn of the many demeaning customs his rivals the Harkonnens instituted during their rule of Arrakis based on wasting water; upon entering the palace, guests ceremonially splash water on the floor for servants to mop up with towels, who then sell the squeezings to the poor. They planted date palms everywhere, then put up Deflector Shields to keep peasants from eating the dates.
      Yueh: One date palm requires forty liters of water a day. A man requires but eight liters. A palm, then, equals five men.
      • Some of Leto's first rulings upon taking residence are to have the palms removed and for free water rations to be available to anyone who calls on the holding during mealtimes. It's a pragmatic move on his part as well as humanitarian, as it ensures that the people of Arrakis support his rule.
      How typical of a Harkonnen fief, the Duke thought. Every degradation of the spirit that can be conceived.
  • In Honorverse this is played on a more meta scale — food is, for the most part, neither scarce nor artificial, but the peculiarities of the hundreds of different biospheres, their interplay with the human-brought species, not to mentions various genetic tweaks made to them so they may prosper in their new homes, make sure that some commodities will pretty much always remain rare and coveted. For example, the genuine Terran whiskey is considered a rare and expensive treat even on Manticore (which is one jump and three days away from the Earth), and while celery is widespread and largely consistent over the many inhabited worlds, only a Sphinxian one contains the "telepathy vitamin" coveted by the native sentient species. The 'cats actually have the other, native source of that, but the celery is just much tastier.
  • Although the future depicted in the In Death series is not especially dystopian, soy and vegetable imitation foods are very common, and it is a mark of Roarke's Impossibly Cool Wealth that he always drinks real coffee, smokes real tobacco, and eats real beef. The coffee in particular is insanely expensive and is made much of by Eve and her fellow cops.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium, spinach now has to be grown in absolutely sterile environments and is only available to the rich. This happened after human counter-intelligence agencies successfully "convinced" the Meklar that spinach was absolutely essential to human metabolism. The Meklar devoted large amounts of resources to develop a species-crossing retrovirus lethal to spinach and to deploy bomber fleets all across human space. Devastating losses in those fleets and the utter failure of the plan shocked the Meklar into a peace treaty, though.
  • In Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (which Soylent Green is based on) even soy-based faux steak is expensive and worth practically rioting over.
  • In The Merchants Of Venus, rich people are wearing wood jewelry.
  • In The Naked God, one character proudly shows off his 20th-century lava lamp, now a priceless and beautiful antique instead of a tacky room decoration.
  • Neuromancer has a scene where Molly chastises Case for not eating his steak;
    Jesus, gimme that. You know what this costs? They gotta raise a whole animal for years and then they kill it. This isn't vat stuff.
  • In Quozl by Alan Dean Foster, the titular aliens live aboard a Generation Ship, and as such value wood considerably. It's not rare on the planets they have colonized, but space travel takes decades and growing trees in such an environment is impractical. They have elaborate public wooden sculptures, but the most wood an individual Quozl is likely to own is a small ring.
  • In The Roar, due to the Animal Plague and the poor being forced into the northern parts of the world while the richest people in the world live in mansions in forests natural-grown food such as strawberries and even artificially produced meat were considered food only for the rich in the North.
    • Not to mention the animal plague never happened. It was made by the government and the rich to scare everybody behind The Wall so they could have the forests and wildlife all to themselves.
  • In The Saga of Recluce books Mag'i of Cyador/Scion of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., an indication that the Empire is in decline is the increasing rarity of coffee.
  • In Larry Niven's Saturn's Race, the protagonist eats real meat in the insanely rich refuge of Xanadu and comments on how well-crafted this soymeat is. When she is informed that it is the real thing, she briefly considers whether she should be disgusted by the idea, but then decides to just treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • In The Ship Who... synthesizer technology is advanced enough to create most things people need or want. Meat and plants grown outside of hydroponics are common enough on planets that produce them but a sign of great luxury in space. An expensive restaurant in The City Who Fought, a station far away from any habitable worlds, boasts not just real meat but wooden furniture.
    • One of the missions that Nancia considers taking is transporting a bull bison to a zoo on another world that has cow bison. The hassle of moving the big animal without harming him is considerable, but these are very rare animals.
  • Schismatrix is set in a future founded by refugees of an ecological meltdown on Earth. Outside of cockroaches, most animals are extremely rare, and in certain places, the same goes for food that isn't artificial.
  • Played with in several Star Wars Expanded Universe novels:
    • In the X-Wing novels, the heroes visit the home of Biggs' father on Tatooine. He's a very wealthy moisture farmer and shows this by having a study with imported hardwood and sculptures with running water.
    • Kirtan Loor wonders why Ysanne Isard's office is so spartan. Sure, it's a nice size, but any Imperial higher-up worth their salt would have filled it with ostentatious displays of wealth and power... Then he remembers that they are on Coruscant and that having empty unused space in the galaxy's most desirable area is pretty much as ostentatious as displays of wealth and power get.
  • A minor example in The Stormlight Archive. One of the reasons why the gemstones used as currency in the setting are so valuable is that they are the only thing that cannot be created by Soulcasters.
  • Joe Kimball's novel Timecaster does this without the environmental-degradation angle. It is set in a future "green utopia" in which every available surface is covered with growing plants — virtually all of which are ultimately rendered into either food or much-needed biofuel. Making durable goods or luxury consumables out of natural materials is seen as wasteful; therefore, wooden furniture is a sign of decadent wealth while paper and drinkable alcohol are against the law.
  • Elizabeth Moon's space opera series Vatta's War. With humanity scattered across space, the puppy Jim the stowaway finds is a mysterious novelty to most of the crew, though Jim, coming from a backwater world that relies on animal labor, knows what it is. Real food can be had but won't keep for long trips in space so it is a special treat supplemented by nutrition bars and MREs. When the main character's ship takes on refugees from other ships after a war breaks out, a snotty-ass captain makes a big deal about his personal stock of expensive raspberries being divvied out as rations.
    • Oh, and the aforementioned dog (a Jack Russell?) ends up filling Jim's college fund when they arrive on a world where the local fauna has a tendency to kill dogs, making them rare and expensive. So they sell its sperm (in the same vein as selling racehorse sperm).
  • In the Vorkosigan universe, this applies to some planets but not others. The heroine of the first two novels is from Beta Colony, a high tech but barely habitable desert planet, who winds up on Barrayar, which has a breathable atmosphere, lots of running water, and trees all over the place, but is also socially and politically and to some extent technologically backwards on account of having been cut off from contact with the rest of the galaxy for a few centuries (only ending a couple of generations before the action of the books). She has to remind herself that on this planet things like wooden buildings and furniture mean poverty, not wealth.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. When the government wants to hire the luxury airship Hieronymus Bosch, they have to use chocolate (among other things like coffee, oil, or gold) in payment as money is becoming increasingly valueless.
  • The MacGuffin in The Windup Girl is a seedbank of natural plants; one MegaCorp or another has driven all other plants in the outside world into extinction in favor of genetically engineered counterparts.
  • In Lloyd Biggle, Jr.'s short story, "Wings of Song", an eccentric collector in the far future stumbles across a priceless antique violin, made of actual wood. He's never even seen any before, as apparently Earth is a completely barren wasteland due to war.
  • World War Z featured this when Arthur Sinclair was trying to negotiate with cattle ranchers to use their land to grow much-needed crops - they agreed only if their breeding stock remained untouched.
    Arthur Sinclair: "Tender, juicy steaks - can you imagine a better symbol for our artificial pre-war standard of living?"
    • It's a point only because the Solanum virus is fatal to all life, but only cause humans to turn into zombies. For anything else, it's just fatal and results in their flesh becoming unsafe for human consumption.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The environment is fine in Babylon 5, but space travel is still expensive and the eponymous space station is too far from Earth to ship much food out. They've got a positively huge hydroponic farm, but it only grows "essential foods" and is geared towards providing a nutritionally complete diet, rather than a tasty and varied one... though said diet seems to include oranges and nectarines, and Takashima managed to sneak in a few coffee plants under the radar (later taken over by Ivanova).
    • Even for the command staff, a shipment of real eggs is seen as an amazing luxury. Steak is similarly rare, though at one point the doctor fudges some paperwork to have a couple brought in after losing a bet with Garibaldi. An alien meat-based product called "spoo" is available, though it is extremely expensive and, to a human palate, not particularly good.
    • In space, showers are sonic; Captain Sheridan raves about the fact that his quarters have a water-based shower, which was not the case on the warship he commanded previously.
    • The price and difficulty of importing foods is highlighted in one second-season episode when Garibaldi tries to obtain certain Italian ingredients (olive oil, garlic, butter, and anchovies) for a birthday treat.
  • A deleted scene in Battlestar Galactica (2003) mentions that the meat locker is the most heavily guarded area on a spaceship because the last remaining steaks, burger, fritters, etc, in the universe are there. Later in the series, we see the fleet is reduced to eating algae-derived food, and fruit and cigars are valuable black market commodities.
  • In the second episode of Black Mirror, all physical items are a sign of opulence. The everyday man can only purchase digital goods for his virtual avatar and the food is all grown in a lab. When the main character manages to become a famous TV star he splashes out and buys a real wooden penguin.
  • Blake's 7. In "Bounty", Blake encounters Sarkoff, a Fan of the Past who has decorated his home with rare Earth artifacts including a tray of butterflies, now implied to be extinct (Blake later forces Sarkoff to come with him by threatening to smash the tray).
    Sarkoff: Beautiful, aren't they. Earth insects of the order Lepidoptera.
    Blake: Butterflies.
    Sarkoff: Ah, so you're a historian, are you?
    Blake: No, but I did study some natural history.
    Sarkoff: It's interesting, isn't it, that when that term "natural history" was originated, it referred to the study of living things. It was much later that it came to mean the study of things long since past and dead. History in its more conventional sense.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021):
    • A downplayed version in "Callisto Soul". As Jet Black isn't interested in the algae-soy hybrid meal, he tries to order a couple of rib-eye steaks using a 2-for-1 coupon, only to be told the coupon doesn't apply to "real meat". In "Blue Crow Waltz", even a Syndicate capo complains about not being able to get real beef.
    • Because only the rich could afford to take their pets with them during the Homeworld Evacuation, dogs are worth between 20 to 30 million woolongs. When Jet tries to give Ein to his daughter as a pet, his ex-wife puts her foot down as they can't afford to pay the tax. In fact their rarity actually makes it difficult to sell them on the black market.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In an inorganic variant, a bandit chieftain in the story "The Creature from the Pit" was once seen to wax rhapsodic about the amazing treasures his group has stolen: precious items of iron, zinc, and even nickel! Needless to say, this scene takes place on a Metal-Poor Planet, where only members of the elite who got them by robbing and betraying an inoffensive alien ambassador can boast such prizes.
    • In "The Sun Makers", Gatherer Hade is shown to be one of the richest members of the evil company that controls a dystopian society on Pluto by his having a desk made of real mahogany. The member of the oppressed underclass who admires it has only seen a picture of a tree, and even the Gatherer himself mispronounces it "ma-ho-ga-ny". Later, he offers the Doctor a raspberry leaf as a rare treat.
  • Kaylee eating a strawberry in the Firefly pilot. It was orgasmic.
    • Later Jayne buys a bushel of apples and everybody reacts to this as an amazing treat and question his motives. Simon mentions that the food on a spaceship is considerably worse than planetside, but he is a Core-worlder, and isn't used to how Rim worlds don't have quality food. The apples remind Mal and Zoe of a rather nasty war story; during the Unification War, a favored tactic of Alliance soldiers was to leave fresh fruit lying around — with pressure-triggered grenades hidden inside.
      Zoe: Cap'n said wait, but they were so hungry... Don't make much noise, just little pops and there's three guys that kinda just... end at the rib cage.
    • Inverted by the goods in the pilot episode; at first, they appear to be gold bars. However, they're eventually revealed to be concentrated protein bars wrapped in gold foil; each capable of feeding a family of four for a month, they're a lot more useful than mere gold. Also a nod to historical piracy and smuggling. During the age of sail, the most common booty cargo was molasses; non-perishable, high-calorie, packed with calcium and potassium... and that's before you turn it into rum.
    • Another easy-to-miss example is the apple-peeling machine on Badger's desk in the pilot. At first glance, it's just a weird instrument, but in the light of this trope and Badger's character, it becomes apparent that it's one of his ways to demonstrate his higher status.
  • Eobard Thawne mentions in the season 1 finale of The Flash (2014) that in the 22nd century, cows have become extinct, which explain his love of burgers in the 21st century.
  • Stargate SG-1 has an odd example. A Big Eater Goa'uld is unfamiliar with and can easily be bribed by foods he's never heard of... like chicken and turkey. We don't know much about the ecology of most planets in the galaxy, but apparently the Transplanted Humans that make up 90 percent of all aliens didn't take any fowl with them.
    Nerus: And this seedless watermelon — how do you get the seeds out?
    Landry: Sorry, state secret.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cyberpunk 2020 plays this straight. Fresh food is an expensive commodity, only within the reach of rich people, and most of the population lives eating Kibble (a mass-produced food identical in all respects to the pet food that gives it its name) and what is basically artificial food not much better than Kibble. (Live) pets, short of wild animals, are expensive too, and one of the Chromebooks even features one corporation whose business follow the lines of pay-us-and-we-bring-you-the-animal-you-wants, even if it has to be stealing it from someone or worse.
  • In past editions of Dungeons & Dragons which include the Elemental Plane of Air in their cosmology, dirt is considered a valuable commodity on that plane, as it's made up of gas-filled space. Anyone who wants to build a floating castle must either import some dirt to build it on or (more cheaply) use magic to solidify a cloud for a foundation.
  • Eclipse Phase takes place after a hurried evacuation of Earth and colonization of the rest of the solar system. Naturally grown food, especially meat, is expensive due to the shortage of inhabitable space, but culture vats and nanofabricators can produce substitutes that snobs insist they can detect - but it's compared to modern-day wines. Now organic bodies, those are expensive because they take three years to grow and there's a lot of demand from the billions of Virtual Ghosts in storage, while most Synthmorphs can be printed out in a matter of hours.
  • In the Mystara D&D supplement "The Shadow Elves", the subterranean elf city's grandest and most-admired public avenue is lined by a dozen or so small trees, grown from precious cuttings brought down from the legendary surface and provided for with fertilizer and artificial lights. Elven tourists come hundreds of miles through twisted tunnels and caverns just to see them.
  • Paranoia:
    • With most of society living in a massive underground supercity, real food grown in hydroponic gardens are considered a rare luxury, and are distributed according to security clearance. Infrareds get nothing, Reds get real food as a reward, and so on up; it isn't until Blue that a clone gets nothing but real food.
    • Petbots are often mentioned in the game, as Alpha Complex is not designed to allow for real pets. Some books mention high programmers own real animals in private zoos.
  • In Shadowrun, the in-character "shadowtalk" interspersed through the sourcebooks occasionally contains remarks like "I've never once had a real steak". Everyone but the ultra-rich evidently lives on cultured fungal protein and krill. Synthetic leather and tobacco products are also standard, as is "soycaf" instead of coffee.
    • Inadvertently gets a laugh in the Tir Tairngire sourcebook when it's mentioned that the elves have somehow re-created extinct species for their wilderness areas. It's funny in that both of the named species, grizzly bears and gray wolves, are not only still alive and well today without any magical or cloning assistance, but they would have had to go extinct, all over the world and also in captivity, in less than a decade after the supplement was published, in order to meet the timeline suggested for their "extinction". Also, depending on wording, it's unlikely that the species Canis lupus ever went extinct in captivity, unless the setting is also completely devoid of dogs, since technically domestic dogs are a subspecies of gray wolves.note 
    • Taken to the point that a Running Gag was to mention things like Imitation Cheese Substitute.
    • Fourth Edition cuts back considerably on this. Sure, your average shadowrunner is still subsisting mostly on soy, but you can still find most of what you'd see in RL 2011 in the shops of Shadowrun 2070 for not much more than the equivalent price. It's just that most shadowrunners are in a state of Perpetual Poverty.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Depends on the planet. Most forge worlds have ruined their environments to the point that life barely exists outside controlled habitats and food needs importing, while hive worlds might have decent environments but the average citizen will never see the outside and live entirely on artificial foods. Agricultural worlds, on the other hand, can invert this trope, with many having abundant plant and animal life but very little in the way of technological goods (although those that are close to other planets or particularly rich might avoid this).
    • The Dark Eldar apply this to birthrates: Their population is billions-strong, but most of it consists of vat-grown individuals called Halfborn who supply most of the soldiery (slave labor is provided by slaves, which is why they're always out raiding other species). Trueborn are the upper class, being born the biological way (due to the danger of Slaanesh claiming their souls during sex, the luxury of safety needed to carry a child to term, and because the Dark Eldar wouldn't be the Dark Eldar if they didn't have an entire strata of society to look down on / plot to overthrow).
  • All material goods are scarce in Wraith: The Oblivion since the Underworld is a quasi-real interstitial state of being that was never meant to host a civilization or a significant population. Most of what there is are either fading memories of real items and buildings or goods fabricated by soulforging Wraiths into Human Resources. A very small number of living things and "natural" resources exist that cannot be explained by one of these two phenomena, all of which are staggeringly rare and valuable. For instance, the Deathlords of Stygia have a small number of apparently-living horses in their personal guard - no one knows where they came from, but Stygian policy is that their survival is more valuable than that of their riders.

    Video Games 
  • BioShock. The city of Rapture, being entirely underwater, does not contain enough farmland for growing nonessential crops or raising cattle, so real beef and tobacco aren't available except through Fontaine's smuggling operation. Somehow, Rapture's scientists have managed to synthesize both from what they do have on hand, which seems to be mainly sea life, and it's implied that customers generally don't mind.
    • One of the splicers complains about the quality of a steak she's found, though given the setting it's probably rotten by that point.
  • In the Video Game tie-in to the Blade Runner movie, the player character Ray has an artificial dog named Maggie you can play with, and the crime Ray was initially investigating involves the slaughter of several real animals including a rare tiger. Then it gets complicated: the shop owner was selling fakes but fudging records and tests so they were considered 'true' (and more expensive) animals
    • It's noted in the game and novel that animal life is held in higher regard than humans — considering Crystal's reaction is nearly identical to walking in on a murder of a child.
    • There is also a point in the game where McCoy mentions that cheese is a black market item, whose illegal distribution evidently comes with jail time.
  • Since the sun will turn anyone without proper protection into stone in Digital Devil Saga 2, this makes any plants you find quite valuable.
  • Nexus Clash plays Inexplicably Preserved Dungeon Meat absolutely straight, but this trope comes up a lot in more serious role-playing. Fruits and vegetables can be grown in the abandoned city that became the battlefield of Valhalla, but there are few if any animals to eat, and meat, eggs, and dairy can only be preserved for so long.
  • Growing regular crops in Project Aura is difficult — the game happens After the End, thousands of years after climate change has rendered the Earth uninhabitable and Humanity had to turtle within energy shields in order to not die from exposure to the harsh elements, and producing their food reflects that. To grow natural crops you first need to research the ability to scavenge seeds from the seabed, send your seabed trawling airships for some seeds, restore them to good condition in a lab using a Core Research Document that costs five Research Documents (and getting them is not easy — they are crafted out of Innovation Points that are generated from activities such as seaweed production, water desalinization or recycled garbage production, and one cycle of these activities yields barely one tenth of an Innovation Point), and then plant the seeds in a Botanic Garden, which also consumes one Research Document. As a result, if you want to feed your citizens something tastier than processed seaweed, you need to keep the green documents flowing, and in order to do that, you need an obscenely developed material recycling industry.
  • In Rise of the Dragon, set in the distant future, Blade Hunter must calm down his angry girlfriend by giving her flowers. To do this, he spends $200 plus tax to buy "Organically Grown Roses."
  • Shadowrun Returns: In Dragonfall Altug sells real Turkish coffee for 50 nuyen a pop at his café, as opposed to soykaf at 5 nuyen. He explains that it is a special blend which even in a time when "real" coffee was everywhere would be considered a rare delicacy.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV, genuine meat and vegetables in Tokyo are extremely expensive due to their rarity and are eaten mainly by high-ranking organized crime bosses. This is because the people of Tokyo averted a complete annihilation of humanity because a Japanese god shielded Tokyo from the destruction but left Tokyo completely covered in a stone dome. With no light, vegetables must be grown using artificial light in special greenhouses, and there are no farm animals left so whatever meat remains has been kept frozen the entire time Tokyo has been under the dome. Meanwhile, demons are running loose in Tokyo's streets—their meat is what the normal citizens of Tokyo have been eating.
  • In Xenosaga, we view one of Ziggy's memories in which he gives his son a robotic dog as a pet, as he was regretfully unable to obtain a real one.

  • Freefall takes place on a planet being Terraformed, so organics are worth considerably more than gold or diamonds.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: In one theoretical future, advertisements generate revenue by annoying their customers into paying a fee to skip the ad. Marketing loses sight of the greater goal and creates increasingly annoying troll-adverts that pervade into regular advertising, dooming any product that needs adverts of any kind. As a result, mass-produced basic needs are extremely cheap, but any luxury (including ketchup) is near-impossible to find and costs trillions of dollars. Humanity backslides into a dystopian mass-produced subsistence life as all media and art is repurposed to torment its viewers. Of course, the punchline is that humans still pretend bad media is entertaining and funny.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Inverted. A spare part for a mechanical vehicle can cost as much as a healthy workhorse, resulting in mechanical vehicles being used only by the military while civilians go around in horse-drawn carriages. Supplementary material has also mentioned sugar to have become quite expensive.
  • In Starslip, Sam Edgewise tries to turn down a transfer from captaincy to a desk job, only to be told how prestigious the desk job is:
    • "Edgewise, that desk is the greatest desk in the Academy. It's made of real wood."

    Real Life 
  • Real Life plays this completely straight with synthetic gemstones, which are completely identical to the natural stone chemically and have the same optics. One can buy several pounds of artificially created sapphires, emeralds, or rubies for the price of a single carat of the natural stuff, even though the natural one will actually be cloudier and less brilliant than the synthetics. And yes, this includes diamonds, which is why those used for industrial applications are almost exclusively synthetic while those used for jewelry are mostly natural and expensive due to shrewd marketing by De Beers, who control some 90% of the market.
  • Free-range or organic foods tend to be more expensive and luxurious than the industrial kind. Much like the gemstones above, this is almost entirely marketing.
  • Wild-caught fish and shellfish and tend to be far more expensive than farmed. Same applies to hunted game, which is more expensive than farmed.
  • Seafood in general used to be considered poor-people food because of the lack of refrigeration and fast goods delivery (so fish could only be sold locally, and thus did not command high prices) and because seafood was simply more abundant in the past (before overfishing).
    • The original reason the Catholic Church specifically does not consider seafood to be "meat" was so that poor people would have something to eat on "meatless" Fridays and during Lent.
    • They say that Louis XIV used to have a cavalry regiment meant exclusively for bringing him fresh fish.
    • In the 19th century there was even a rule in most prisons not to feed lobster to the prisoners more than a few times a week since it was considered cruel towards them. Although this was in large part because European and American people at the time did not realize that lobster was best if cooked immediately after being killed so it was typically grabbed, killed, and then cooked some hours later like fish was. Lobster didn't become popular until the railroads, looking for a cheap meat that they could try to pass off as "luxurious", discovered canned lobster. A better understanding of how to prepare lobster properly meant that live lobsters were sent straight to the cannery so they could be cooked and canned immediately after being killed, resulting in a much better flavor and causing demand for lobster to skyrocket.
    • Russian sturgeon caviar. Some centuries ago, it was just a byproduct of fishing. Now it is VERY expensive to the point of being illegal and restricted because sturgeon is close to extinction.note  Similarly, there is an old Polish recipe for sauerkraut and caviar. That's right, people used caviar to season sauerkraut!
    • Salmon. In Jack London's stories set in the Yukon, salmon is mentioned repeatedly as mainly fit to be sled dog food, while actual settlers and Gold Rush pioneers pay exorbitant prices in hard-dug gold for any non-locally manufactured food such as eggs. And the demand that the employer not feed them salmon more than two times a week was fairly standard for hired hands seeking employment in 18th century Russia.
    • Cod stocks around the world are actually on the verge of collapse due to heavy overfishing, so most mass-market cod-based dishes have long been adapted to other, cheaper and more abundant whitefish species, such as pollock, and if you want to have the real stuff you're usually in for the heavy markup. For example, in Brazil cod is considered a delicacy and highly sought after for traditional Portuguese dishes. Decades ago, it was the cheapest meat available.
    • Sushi and sashimi used to be the Japanese equivalent of fast food (fish was originally transported in vinegared rice as a preservative, and poor people buying the goods would end up eating the rice as well as the fish). Nowadays, sushi is considered fancy food, and auctions are held for who gets to eat bluefin tuna sashimi first, even reaching $1.7 million! While higher-quality sushi is still available at sushi restaurants, sushi is also available in supermarkets.
    • Similarly, oysters were once the food of the poor in Britain (though still considered a treat). Noah Claypole the "charity-boy" in Oliver Twist eats a large quantity.
  • In the first year or two after a new species or strain of livestock comes into demand, they can be temporarily hard to come by, as their owners prefer breeding their stock for future profits over selling them now. For example, when llamas first began to see use as sheep-guards and environmentally-friendly pack animals in the United States, only gelded males were available for these purposes: breeding animals cost far too much. Ditto for exotic pets.
  • Thomas Edison once declared that: "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles", and he saw that future coming thanks in part to his arch-rival. Whilst the latter half of this boast hasn't entirely come true (generic candles are fairly cheap), it is indeed much cheaper to run a light-bulb that produces the same amount of light as an equivalent candle for the same amount of time as that candle can burn for, even if you factor in the cost of the globe itself (as it can probably continue alongside hundreds of successive candles before burning out).
    • There are candles and candles. Generic ones made with paraffin wax are cheap and readily available, but those made with beeswax are considered fancy decorations and considerably more expensive. You'd have to be really poor not to be able to get into a store and buy one if the desire to have it suddenly gripped you, but you won't find them used for emergency illumination in the average low-wage worker's home.
  • As the standard of living in the developed world has risen since the middle of the 20th century the cost of labor-intensive products have risen dramatically to support this standard, while technology improvement has made the cost of products that can be mass-produced fall dramatically. The result is that products once made by skilled craftsmen are now virtually unobtainable, while anything produced by machines are often so cheap to be completely disposable. One of the handful of exceptions to this is clothing. Cloth is an unpredictable material compared to metal and plastic, so sewing machines still require human operators. However, those operators don't have to be highly trained or educated to produce cheap, low-quality products quickly. This is why very little garment manufacture happens in the developed world.
  • For babies in America, breast milk. It means the mother is either rich enough not to work outside the home or has a good job that gives her maternity leave.
  • And on the other side of the trope: Vitamin enriched puffed soy cakes? USD4.50 for a 6"x14" cylinder. Available flavors include cheese, bacon, chocolate, and probably half a dozen others (including something that probably shouldn't have used green food colouring [?])
  • An inversion is the price of meat. Until relatively recently, meat, especially red meat, was something most people would only have rarely if their farm animals died (it was more worthwhile to keep the animals alive for milk, eggs, wool to be produced consistently). Only the wealthy could afford to eat meat regularly until mass farming and refrigeration became common, lowering the price of meat, although the price may go up again as demand increases.
    • In Anne of Green Gables, chicken was served as a special meal for important guests, and "eating chicken with salad every day" was a part of imagined upper-class life listed among diamond jewellery and silk dresses.
    • Herbert Hoover used "A chicken in every pot" ("and a car in every garage") as an advertising slogan in the 1928 U.S. Presidential campaign. Rather ironic, considering how the Hoover administration turned out. The original sentiment goes all the way back to Henry IV of France, who wrote "I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot on Sunday"
  • Order a soda at almost any restaurant in the U.S., and you can have it refilled as much as you like at no extra charge. The stuff is so cheap and profit margins so high that they can afford to practically give it away. On the other hand, ask for something that's reasonably healthy and natural, like fruit juice, and you'll pay for every glass. This is because the sodas come from soda fountains, which simply carbonate tap water and then mix in some small amount of concentrated syrup, while the juices (even if they're made with concentrated juice) are delivered in separate containers. The price for delivery and storage is therefore much higher (per serving) for anything but sodas. Also, this is mainly found in the US (which generally has very low food prices anyway), as restaurants in other countries usually don't miss the chance to charge a steep markup for what is basically sugared water. Outside of the States, you can mainly encounter this in US-originated restaurants that simply carried this tradition with them, or in places trying to invoke an American feel, where the owners believe that the atmosphere is more important.
  • And the reason why soda is so cheap in the US, along with candies and other sweets, is because of the invention of high-fructose corn syrup as a substitute for cane sugar that can be produced economically using the vast (and heavily subsidized) corn crop of the American breadbasket. In the US, cane sugar is a rarity found only in organic and other specialty foods and drinks, thanks to competition from high-fructose corn syrup, a relative lack of places in the US where sugarcane can be grownnote , and import tariffs designed to protect American sugar and corn syrup producers.
  • Thanks to the invention of butter-flavored oil as an alternative to the real thing, the most expensive component of a bucket of movie-theater popcorn is, in fact, the paper bucket. Using actual butter would jack up the cost considerably.
  • "Food deserts" in the developed world; neighborhoods without access to fresh food, usually in very poor, densely-populated urban areas. Grocery stores in wealthier neighborhoods or suburbs can stock fresh produce, meat, and unprocessed staples. The convenience stores that may be the only "grocery" in walking distance (those living in that area are often too poor to own a car) will favor processed, shelf-stable "food" that offers calories and little else. What little fresh food they have will be under a steep markup. Again, this heavily varies with the level of urban segregation in the larger world, with many countries either not having it to the same degree, with the rich and the poor rubbing shoulders every day or having functional public transport systems that allow the poor to affordably access the wider markets.
  • The coffee plantations in South America and Africa are known for producing some of the best coffee beans in the world, but often the farmers can only afford to drink cheap instant coffee. This also applies in the developed world. Most coffee drinkers find that pre-ground, mass-produced coffee is cheaper than fresh coffee beans from local roasters roasted in small batches. The latter is mostly the province of connoisseurs, with a few diehards experimenting with home roasting, something that also used to be routine prior to the development of mass-produced coffee in the 19th century.
  • Fast food menu items are based around meats like beef or chicken that used to be expensive before intensive agriculture, but fast food restaurants use meat that is of comparatively low quality.
  • Because maple syrup is so laborious to produce, can only be produced during a relatively small window of late winter/early spring note , and it takes many gallons of sap to produce even a small amount of syrup, the real thing is expensive. Pancake syrup, however, is little more than corn syrup with artificial, vaguely kinda-sorta-not-really-maple-y flavoring and caramel coloring. It can be had for as little as $1.
  • Vanilla is expensive because each vanilla orchid takes a long time to reach maturity. When it does, it produces flowers that are only open for one day, and it doesn't have a lot of natural pollinators. (And if it's being grown outside of Central or South America, it has no natural pollinators.) So the flowers need to be pollinated by hand. Then, if they're successful, the beans take many months to grow to their full size, and then they need to be cured (otherwise, they're just bland like green beans.) This is why imitation vanilla flavoring (made from wood pulp) exists.
  • Cotton is the only natural fiber that HASN'T gone through the "formerly cheap to expensive" cycle, and even it has a distinction between "regular cotton clothes" and "high-end cotton." Wool and linen are much rarer than they used to be after synthetics came around, and they take a lot of maintenance that synthetic fibers don't. In the case of wool specifically, people commonly think wool is itchy/scratchy when that's actually a sign that it's inferior wool, that it got washed incorrectly, or (ironically) that a "wool blend" yarn or fabric barely has any actual wool in it.