I have this setting, about an advanced city state in the middle of a sparsely inhabited wasteland/grassland type area.

This state has the 90's level tech on consumer level, and a wide range from 90's to nanotech future on the industrial/governmental level.

The grasslands provide fertile soil, ideal for growing, but it's super heterogenous due to a prior apocalyptic event*: many patches are infested by hostile wildlife, filled with toxic waste, radiation patches, and dangerous ruins. Moreover, bandits and raiders are frequent and the city state lacks resources to properly protect acres of land.

As a result, the city state uses cutting-edge technology to grow food underground, below the city, on a very large scale to that it can feed millions of people.

In order to reflect this issue, yet keep a sort of "traditional cyberpunk" vibe to the setting, I decided there are specific exotic goods that are cheap in real life, but outrageously expensive here.

My current list includes:

  • beverage bases: coffee, tea, cocoa, etc
  • citrus fruits: orange, lime, etc
  • fragile fruits: strawberry, raspberry, etc
  • all sorts of spicy peppers: chili, paprika, etc
  • livestock requiring lots of care: cattle, deer, etc
  • every seafood

Then again, I want to keep a cyberpunk vibe for it, without any extreme divergence from what I'd consider a "typical diet" in the Western world, so the following are definitely at an available price:

  • wheat (all sorts, for bread, cereal and beer)
  • sugar beets (for cheap sugar)
  • grape (exclusively for wine only)
  • most of vegetables (potato, onion, sweet pepper, beans, maybe even tomato?)
  • livestock requiring little care: chicken, pig, maybe even duck?

My question: assuming, this way of resource distribution is a strictly enforced government policy, what are the additional assumptions? Specifically, what other food and ingredients may become super expensive in this world that I'm missing on the list, because of the fact these things are?

An extra assumption might be that future recycling technologies made food waste processing much more efficient.

*(An important note: said apocalyptic event occured more than a millena before, so everything in and around the city are permanent, and not mere makeshift solutions. Post-post-apocalyptic, if you will.)

  • $\begingroup$ That is a realy broad question. There is almost no limit to what can be grown in a greenhouse-like environment but the only question is: would you want to? $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Feb 18, 2020 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Borgh yes, it may not have been obvious from a question but in the setting, resources for food growing are scarce. A lot is needed, on a really large scale, which becomes a logistical and infrastructural challange if being put entirely underground. $\endgroup$
    – Z..
    Feb 18, 2020 at 13:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cannot have sugar cane and not have oranges and lemons. You may want to replace sugar cane with sugar beet. And strawberries do not grow in forests, they grow in gardens; it's a domestic hybrid. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 18, 2020 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ This problem has been solved in history before, efficiently growing as much food as possible is an issue even today in large parts of the world. They will be eating rice and beans, or beans with rice. rice-stuffed beans on Sundays. Everything else will be luxury. $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Feb 18, 2020 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ZoltánSchmidt I would adivse you to read Marvin Harris "cows, pigs, wars and witches". He touch the subject of animals from antropologhist point of view and what role animals come to fulfil in society. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2020 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


Salt is fairly useful if not crucial to life, and might be incredibly rare in your setting. Currently, two most common ways to extract salt, is firstly through the evaporation of sea water. With you stating seafood is rare, this might not be a readily available option. The other is by mining, but unless your city is conveniently sitting on a huge salt deposit, this might be problematic as well.

Herbs and spices.
Any spices ranging from cumin to tarragon, basil to chives, would be much rarer. Anything flavour enhancing with low nutritional value would be considered low priority for food production, and entirely optional. Most common flavourings could be garlic and onion (and sugar as you state).

If you state cattle is not commonly held due to its high care requirement, not only steak is of the table, cheese, yogurt, and milk is as well. This can be made of goats milk of course, but the scale would be much smaller and the applications limited.

Also consider these things for your underground production:

Energy production.
To grow any kind of crops underground, basically an almost permanent artificially lit greenhouse is needed, which takes a HUGE amount of energy/electricity. Do consider where you get this energy from, as pure solar/wind energy is unlikely to be sufficient to power both your city as well as your food production. You might need a conveniently placed coal mine, oil well, or a full on nuclear power plant.

Another thing you need to consider, if your surface water can be contaminated, you need a large source of uncontaminated water to water your crops and feed your city. Rainwater could help, but is definitely not sufficient for a full city AND large scale aggregation.

With cattle being uncommon, an alternative would be needed. This can be livestock or even human waste, in combination with compost from food production waste. But this needs to be carefully considered/regulated.

  • $\begingroup$ Those were very strong points, thanks! Fortunately, for most of these, I have very cool ideas, but would have missed implementing them easily. I have one question though: are spice plants that needy? They have little nutritional value, but also need in vastly smaller amount. $\endgroup$
    – Z..
    Feb 21, 2020 at 23:04

Frame challenge!

Limited diet of regular old stuff is not interesting enough. Your city dwellers should get all caloric needs met by food grown in the subterranean vats. They could call it "vat". Spices, though, come in any and every variety - including super esoteric things that we would not consider spices like sap, burnfur, gall, birch, and so on. Those are all the products of genetic engineering and they serve to keep the vat palatable and interesting.

The "wasteland" of course will turn out to be not exactly that. Your city girl protagonist will get to taste her first real tomato with basil courtesy of a romantically scarred young bandit.


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