The setting of the story is New York, in the year 2022. Unemployment is rife, and severe overpopulation has resulted in a search for alternative and affordable food sources. The strain on the environment’s resources and the greenhouse effect mean that the only viable method is for the Soylent Company to produce food substitutes, of which Soylent Green is one. Though more nutritious that the previous concentrates (Soylent Yellow and Red), the Green high-energy concentrate is said to be derived from plankton, is extremely popular but also scarce causing frequent riots.
Loosely based on Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison, the book and film envision a future where we have depleted natural resources, polluted the land, air and water and endemic poverty and unemployment are the norm. Grossly overpopulated, Solyent Corporation, with the implicit approval of New York’s administration, embarks on an interest solution to say the least. Because the elderly and sick are a drain on resources, the town “sends them home”, a euphemism for killing them via euthanasia. These people are then processed and made into wafers sold to the unsuspecting public.
Eliminating those who are perceived to be unproductive is an issue that has been debated before. Some argue that extending life beyond a certain point is no longer kind, but cruel to those suffering from the frailties of old age/mental illness/physical injury (Bowles, 2009), while others contend that it could be used as a way of doing away with societal “undesirables” much like the Nazi’s did (Klee,1999). Soylent Green takes this debate further, and having already introduced systematic euthanasia, 2022 New York goes ahead and uses the deceased to sustain the living, raising another, deeper issue: If we do indeed get to the point where resources are at such a level as to be a threat to existence of human race, would using the weak to ensure the progress of the strong count as an ethical stand? Maybe, even, a progression of Herbert Spencer’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest?”