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  • Fast Zombie/Slow Zombie:Food Writing, Horror Movies, and Agribusiness Apocalypse
  • Michael Newbury (bio)

In Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), the protagonist, Jim (Cillian Murphy), awakens from a four-week coma, disoriented in an abandoned London hospital. The camera initially shoots Jim naked from above, then shifts to other angles. Sometimes the shot is obstructed by plastic film, other times by louvered blinds. Overturned gurneys, surgical scrubs, and medical paraphernalia lie scattered around the hospital room and hallways. After toppling his IV when rising from his bed, Jim disconnects the tubes, scrounges for clothes, and begins to search for food and people, his calls echoing through the building. As Jim passes by a Costa Coffee franchise (a British peer of Starbucks), the camera takes conspicuous note of the shop and its logo, featuring them in five different, nearly consecutive shots. In the main lobby, Jim finds a ripped-open Pepsi machine, its contents spilled by the dozens: 7-up, Pepsi, Tango, and other brands form a pool of cans on the tiled floor. Jim pops the top of a Pepsi, and, in a kind of nightmarish play on contemporary advertising, tips his head back and desperately guzzles the soda. Much of it sloshes down his cheek in the process. Two more vending machines, one bearing a huge version of the Mars logo, the other the logo for Tango soft drinks, stand in the background. There may be no people around, and the world appears to be in disarray, but Jim still stands in front of a formidable bank of snack food and drinking options. He sifts through the soda cans strewn about him, selects several for future sustenance, and places them in a white plastic grocery bag before leaving the building (see Figure 1). [End Page 87]

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Fig. 1.

Jim at the hospital's vending machines, 28 Days Later.

Outside, other conspicuous logos, emblems of a once-vibrant consumer culture, stand out on the abandoned and littered streets. A large Nescafé sign looms up behind Jim at one point, as do the smiling, multiracial, beautifully harmonized faces of a Benetton ad. The litter in the streets is largely newspaper, but at one point, as Jim pauses with Big Ben rising in the background, a conspicuous pile of fast-food packaging—wrappers, cups, and containers—lies gathered by his feet. When he stops at an abandoned newsstand to read the banner headline on the Evening Standard, Jim begins to form an inchoate sense of what has happened to London. The headline reads: "Mass Exodus of British People Causes Global Crisis." The camera scans the headline from Jim's point of view, in a very tight shot, moving slightly from left to right. A collage-like pile of soda cans forms the only visible background for the newspaper. The shot eliminates almost all depth of field, such that the vibrant logos come forward to create a single plane with the dire announcement in black and white of the apocalypse at hand. A few colorful grab bags of chips appear strewn atop the soda cans.

Jim searches for food, information, and fellow survivors, a lonely gatherer in a postapocalyptic landscape of concrete, billboards, and abandoned cars that offers nothing like nuts and berries, but an abundance of other food. Or maybe it would be better to say that Jim is surrounded not by food at all, but by what the bestselling food writer Michael Pollan calls "foodlike substances," a cornucopia of corn syrup and snack foods with many polysyllabic additives and preservatives that anyone outside of food science would have trouble pronouncing (In Defense of Food 1). Food itself, in any relatively nonprocessed, unbranded, or locally produced form, simply isn't available in this dystopic vision. Indeed, one problem with everything edible that Jim comes across [End Page 88] is that it holds almost no nutritional value and may actually be sickening him. When he later meets up with Selena (Naomie Harris), another survivor, he begins to experience violent headaches while climbing a stairway. The headaches come, Selena tells him, because "All you've had to eat is sugar, so you're crashing." The...


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