Noodles are extremely prevalent in cyberpunk culture and throughout many works of the genre including literature, movies, video, and art. In fact, they’re so popular that they stole the spotlight in my recent post, The Comprehensive Cyberpunk Starter Pack. Noodles, either from instant containers, or from a noodle cart or stand, are quite literally a staple of cyberpunk society. They represent the idea of globalized culture, and they also make a lot of sense in terms of economics and the dynamics of social class that are almost always present in cyberpunk-based worlds. Also, noodles are awesome.
Noodles from a cyberpunk cultural standpoint
Without getting into the complex dynamics that shift from world to world in the cyberpunk multiverse, cyberpunk cultures often have some degree of Asian influence. Cyberpunk cultures all have a high degree of exposure to globalism, or the meshing of individual cultures to form a melting-pot so to speak. Whether the habit formed from the old-world ways or globalism, noodles are popular even in our present societies. If you’re in college, or living the budget bachelor life, noodles, particularly ramen, is one of your two major food groups. The other non-ramen major food group is cheap beer. The budget-friendly nature of ramen will bleed into the economics and social class discussion below, but it’s important to note that due to the cost-effective and filling nature of noodles, they’re easy to integrate into a culture and have a high stick-factor, if you’ll pardon the pun.
If the cyberpunk society in question is based in Asia, then it’s easy to see why noodle would still be popular with the citizens. Noodles have been around for thousands of years, and it would take an astronomical amount of work (or the unavailability of wheat or artificial food compounds that could simulate noodles) to pry them from their deep, cultural roots in a society. If flour unavailability is a problem, hopefully, the society is advanced enough to get creative with whatever fungus or crop alternatives they’re using to feed the majority of the lower-class population. With science, even mass-market fungus can be converted into some semi-delicious noodles. Throw in a ladle of synthesized teriyaki sauce and some sesame seeds, and you’ve got yourself a nice meal.
From a real-world perspective, noodles were representative of the globalization that I mentioned, but were also included in first-generation cyberpunk from the 1980s that was focused on a Japanese takeover of the United States. During this time period, the Japanese were flooding American markets with their tech and exports, and Japanese businesses were buying out and taking over American corporations. Without taking tense political action, there was nothing the government could do to prevent this because consumers chose which businesses to support with their dollars. Wall Street was scared and frantic that a Japanese takeover of America was imminent, and cyberpunk culture integrated noodles (as well as other asian influences and themes) to represent a future where what the Japanese was doing in the 80s would dictate the future and ultimately resulted in the societies formed in Cyberpunk fiction.
The economics of noodles
The economics of noodles is where it gets interesting. Who benefits from the sale of noodles? Well, in almost all cases, everyone. Large corporations that offer instant noodles or noodles available for bulk purchase at grocery stores produce them because they know they will sell. Noodles, from a manufacturing standpoint, are simple to make, and cheap. If the corporation knows they will sell, then they’ll produce in bulk. When a company chooses to produce something in bulk, and they’re not exceeding their production capacity, they experience what’s called econoodles (economies) of scale. (Sorry) With economies of scale, the more the company manufactures, the more they’ll save on the unit price. Their sales offset the fixed costs and overhead associated with running the business, and in many cases, their variable cost per unit produced also decreases since they’re buying more raw materials in each order (providing the same economies of scale effect for the large raw resource providers). In simple terms, the more they make, the more they’ll sell, and the lower their overall costs will be. Food corporations in cyberpunk cultures should be selling noodles. Noodles also give corporations the ability to mass-market their products and reach a larger customer-base, one that can’t afford a lot of their better product offerings.
From a citizen standpoint, particularly lower-class society, noodles offer value that’s hard to beat. Loaded with filling nutrients and a price point that’s basically unmatchable, noodles are budget-friendly, and delicious. If you’re living in lower-class society and need to pinch your pennies, then you should be eating noodles. Whether they’re made from scratch at a local cart or stall, or you buy them from the mega-store, you’re getting good value. Since they’re cheap to make, your local carts and stalls are able to make their own noodles that are way better than the store-bought kind while still keeping their prices suspiciously low. Sure you’re going to pay a bit more for a fresh bowl, but noodle carts are often a primary source of happiness in the harsh life of lower-class cyberpunk life. If you’re looking for a great bowl of noodles, try Lon’s Noodles over on 16th.
In conclusion, noodles are rooted in cyberpunk culture due to the cultural and economic class structure that exists in cyberpunk society. With all of the complex social dynamics, it’s easy to see why noodles do and will play a large part in the genre for a long time. What do you think about noodles? Let me know in the comments below!
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