Food, you may have noticed, is important.
While I look forward to the day when I shall no longer have any need of food, and shall be able to sustain my bodily functions by means of philosophy alone, I am for now bound, like most people, by the need to consume carbohydrates, proteins and fats on a regular basis in order to keep myself from, y’know, dying of starvation. Food isn’t just important to each of us on a personal level, though, it’s important to society as a whole because, as a rule, when a population has more food than it needs, it gets larger, and continues to get larger until the food supply becomes an issue again. Entire schools of political and economic thought are based around this simple problem, and it’s likely that civilisation as we know it came into being because we figured out how to produce a food surplus by growing crops in a regular and systematic fashion.
I mention all of this so that you will understand why I find it a little disconcerting that one of the greatest unanswered questions about civilisation in the Pokémon universe is what they hell they’re supposed to be eating.
Jamie over at Cats, Books and the Holy Lance asked me the following question the other day:
“Considering the pokemon world does not have traditional ‘foods’ as we do, so things such as chicken, beef, pork etc, and we breed many of these animals simply FOR food, what would you consider to be ‘foodstuff’ pokemon, if the pokemon world were as real as ours?”
Whether or not people eat Pokémon is a question that gets nervously tossed around quite a bit. It seems natural to assume that they must; the Pokémon universe certainly does seem to have meat – the kids don’t seem to eat it all that often, but meat is invariably present in scenes of banquets or restaurants – and, as Jamie notes, lacks mundane pigs, cows and chickens to provide it. Certain Pokémon, such as Farfetch’d, are quite unequivocally described as food sources. However, many fans are rather uncomfortable with the idea. This could be seen as mirroring the horror often expressed by Westerners at the idea of eating dogs, as is common in South Asian and Pacific cuisine. One must wonder whether Pokémon trainers, many of whom view Pokémon as companions much like domestic dogs in our own society, would not experience the same unease. The question is further complicated by the fact that most species of Pokémon seem to possess a degree of intelligence, even sentience, which is highly unusual among real-world animals. Sure, one could postulate that the people of the Pokémon world subsist on an entirely vegetarian diet – but this forgets that many plants in the Pokémon world are sentient too! Not only are we forced to question further the ethics of killing Pokémon for food, it brings up another problem: what would the Pokémon themselves think of all this, since they are demonstrably intelligent enough to have an opinion on the subject? Remember, in thinking about this question, that Pokémon eat Pokémon from other species too. Killing members of other species to gain food for sustenance is probably something they can acknowledge, understand and accept. One thinks of Mufasa’s famous ‘circle of life’ speech to Simba in the Disney Lion King movie: Mufasa explains to Simba that, even though they hunt, kill and eat antelope, the lions are still a part of the same balance of forces, and that when they die, their bodies will eventually become grass and feed the antelope just as the antelope feed them. Thus, Mufasa’s respect for the antelope is not mutually exclusive with viewing them as prey. A similar form of respect may exist between ‘predator’ and ‘prey’ Pokémon, who are aware that they must sometimes fight each other for their own survival, but don’t otherwise hold a grudge. This may even extend to a sort of code along the lines of ‘don’t eat anyone you know personally.’
Can humans be included in this morality? A myth recorded in the Canalave Library is relevant here, and reads as follows: “Pick clean the bones of Pokémon caught in the sea or stream. Thank them for the meals they provide, and pick their bones clean. When the bones are as clean as can be, set them free in the water from which they came. The Pokémon will return, fully fleshed, and it begins anew.” Whether or not you think we’re intended to believe this myth literally (it seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened in Pokémon, and indeed continue to happen on a regular basis), it certainly expresses a very spiritual view of hunting and fishing in the Pokémon world, and an acknowledgement that the human’s continued survival comes as a result of the Pokémon’s sacrifice, which must be duly honoured. This gives us a remarkably problem-free interpretation for most subsistence-level food production in the Pokémon universe. This sort of highly personal honour- and respect-based philosophy tends to break down, however, when we have to deal with post-industrial food production: in a modern society like our own, and like the Pokémon world seems to be, as much as 90% of the population no longer produces its own food because mechanised agriculture dramatically reduces the need for labour and dramatically increases the surplus food provided by a given area of land. In a pre-industrial society, that number is more like 10% and mostly includes the obscenely wealthy. One way or another, humans will stop buying into Pokémon morality once most of them never actually have to kill their own food. People aren’t going to know or care whether the Miltank who went into their burgers was ritually buried with a prayer to Father Groudon or whatever once her bones had been picked clean. Of course, by this point, perhaps they don’t need to have that justification anymore. They know that eating Pokémon has always been acceptable, even though they’ve forgotten how and why it was made acceptable – and, of course, they would still never consider eating a companion or partner Pokémon, even if they would gladly chow down on other members of its species (although many trainers might have a blanket ban on any Pokémon of species they’ve worked closely with).
That still leaves us to wonder what the Pokémon think, though – and this is particularly thorny when you consider that many Pokémon live for a very long time (heck, some of them may even be biologically immortal). There are, almost without a doubt, Blastoise and Ninetales around who remember quite clearly the days when humans were ‘better mannered,’ so to speak. Would they have taken this transformation of attitudes lying down? Well… perhaps there’s evidence to suggest that they didn’t. Virizion, Terrakion and Cobalion are said to have rebelled against humanity to protect other Pokémon from human expansion, which does sound awfully like a reference to the rapid acquisition of new land to accommodate humanity’s explosive population growth during and after the industrial revolution – but what if that isn’t the only thing they were fighting against? Maybe there was something else they found even more objectionable, the erosion of the old ways and the exclusion of humanity from the strictures of mutual respect associated with the circle of life – an uncomfortable memory that humans have now swept under the carpet. It would seem that most Pokémon eventually went along with it; perhaps some species just decided that they didn’t care, since – assuming agriculture is anything like what we have in the real world – relatively few species are actually farmed for food; most others that are still hunted would be eaten far less regularly and would retain a semblance of the traditional relationship. It’s possible that ‘colonies’ of domesticated agricultural Pokémon, separated from both the wild Pokémon and the fighting Pokémon of their own species, came to develop a very different mindset, becoming gentler and less forceful, in much the same way as domestication has profoundly changed the species it has affected in the real world. Wild Pokémon of the same species might see them as ‘brainwashed,’ or view them with pity, although this probably depends to some extent on how well they’re treated.
I suppose now that I’ve spent in excess of a thousand words outlining a general theory, I should address the actual question, which was in regards to the specific kinds of Pokémon used for food…
There are a few Pokémon that we know are eaten, from various snippets of lore. Farfetch’d, for instance, is thought to be as rare as he is because, in an irony almost as delicious as Farfetch’d himself, he carries his own garnish around with him. Lapras, similarly, is said to have been hunted almost to extinction, and while I suppose it’s possible that they could have been hunted for their shells or horns, I suspect that their meat was the main target. Many other Pokémon, presumably, are hunted from time to time. The various bird Pokémon like Ducklett, Doduo and Swablu seem obvious candidates, although Psyduck, I would suggest, are so slow and so daft that their species would never survive intensive hunting – perhaps their meat is known to cause chronic headaches. Those who fancy a little venison could go after Sawsbuck, while the more adventurous might ask for exotic fare like Girafarig or Kangaskhan. They’re Japanese, so naturally seafood can be expected to be important; Goldeen, Barboach and Basculin are doubtless staples in the regions in which they occur (though Magikarp are unfortunately very bony, as we know from the anime), and Shellder and Krabby are likely common menu items (Corphish perhaps less so, as they are often associated with dirty or polluted areas and may accumulate toxins in their bodies that they can handle but humans can’t). Seadra and Octillery may be the source of more expensive gourmet dishes, while the signature of the most skilled seafood chefs would be none other than Qwilfish. Wailmer and Wailord, of course, are probably major food sources as well. The fun doesn’t end with fish and game, though – remember; some Pokémon can probably be eaten as fruit or vegetables, such as Cherubi and perhaps Exeggcute. Tropius, of course, simply sprouts fruit regularly from his neck, which is nice because you don’t have to kill him for it; the same may be true of Paras, Exeggutor, and possibly Maractus. It seems likely, though, that these are luxuries, since the vast array of edible berries would provide much cheaper food sources. Ferroseed gets an honourable mention for being based on the durian, the world’s most passive-aggressive fruit, which supposedly tastes delicious but smells revolting and is very difficult to get into. Ferroseed, no doubt, is similarly delectable, but has skin of iron and can fire thorns at attackers – a fantastic treat, certainly, but not worth the effort.
All of these are incidental, of course – the meat of the question, if I may be excused the pun, is in the Pokémon that are raised specifically for food. Miltank, we know, are farmed for their milk, and I’m inclined to suggest that they aren’t regularly slaughtered for beef, simply because Miltank milk is commonly regarded as some kind of steroid-laced miracle elixir, but those who get past their prime would be fair game, and we know that Tauros are farmed as well (what could a Tauros ranch possibly aim to produce besides meat?). The interesting point that Tauros brings up is that most Pokémon are far more accustomed to fighting than real domestic animals, Tauros being a particularly extreme example. One imagines that beef, and perhaps meat in general, is a lot more expensive in the Pokémon universe because of the overhead associated with keeping the livestock under control, which potentially suggests that people simply have less meat in their diet than most Westerners today (who eat amounts of the stuff that are, frankly, astonishing compared to just about any other culture in recorded history). We see Mareep and Flaafy farmed for their wool – we can probably imagine the Pokémon world has mutton too; it helps that, unlike Tauros, these are very gentle Pokémon. We hit problems, though, with pork and poultry. Tepig and Torchic are Fire Pokémon. Their flesh is flame-retardant. It is, most likely, impossible to cook them with anything short of an industrial plasma torch. This leads me to believe that the main forms of domesticated poultry in the Pokémon world are actually Pidgey and Pidove, bred for food in much the same way as pigeons are in some parts of the world. Unfezant would be much more expensive, but perhaps a few rich gourmets enjoy them. There is, however, no real substitute for Tepig. Spoink have barely a shred of meat on them at all, and Grumpig, as evolved Pokémon, would be very expensive to raise for food; couple this with their incredible intelligence and hypnotic powers, and creating a strain suitable for food production becomes totally unfeasible. Swinub live and grow best in climates that are very inhospitable for humans, making systematic farming difficult, and their Ice-type vulnerability to fire may cause problems for the cooking process as well. This leads me to a terrible conclusion, one which we must all carefully consider, for it will change our view of Pokémon forever. If ever the walls of reality begin to collapse, and some sorcery offers you the chance to live in another universe in place of our own, remember this, and be certain to weigh your options carefully.
The Pokémon world is a world without bacon.