I recall an Asimov character whose religious dietary restrictions forbade all foods produced from living things; they could eat only synthetic foods. At some point in the story, that character faced the dilemma of violating the dietary law or starving.

I recall the character in association with the Alphans, which a web search reminds me are the people of a world in the Foundation series, but that could be a false lead that made my web searching futile.

Who was that character? Someone from a robot story, the Foundation series, or some other science fiction? How did the character resolve the religious dilemma? Am I so far mixed up that it wasn't even an Asimov character?

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    Elijah Bailey (Caves of Steel) ate non-synthetic foods. "He chewed it gingerly. City dwellers ate natural food, of course, whenever rations allowed it. He himself had eaten natural meat and bread often. But such food had always been processed in some way. It had been cooked or ground, blended or compounded. Fruit, now, properly speaking, should come in the form of sauce or preserve."
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 19:36
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    Associating "Alphans" with eating synthetic foods reminds me not of Asimov, but of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Cholayna (sp?) in City of Sorcery was from Alpha, and did not eat animal product, but primarily synthetic foods. During the mountain trek the women made, she had to eat meat products as other options were not available. Sounds very much like your description, but the wrong author...
    – Basya
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 22:30
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    I've not made this an answer because it's not a close match, but in case the OP's memory is playing tricks. In Terry Pratchetts Strata there is a character called Silver, a Shand that only eats food from its replicator and goes crazy when it breaks and tries to eat the other crew.
    – mwarren
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 13:50
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    @Valorum IIRC, they ate many yeast-based foods, which I would not consider synthetic. Especially since yeast are alive, which breaks "religious dietary restrictions forbade all foods produced from living things".
    – RonJohn
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 14:20
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    I wonder if this was in one of the books in the robot series, particularly The Naked Sun or Robots and Empire. Both featured planets with residents with cultural values and practices that seem very odd, even distasteful (from our point of view).
    – Mars
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 4:41

6 Answers 6


It could be you are remembering something by a different author.

Associating "Alphans" with eating synthetic foods reminds me not of Asimov, but of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Cholayna in City of Sorcery was from Alpha, and did not eat animal products (at least, not meat products), but primarily synthetic foods. During the mountain trek the women made, she had to eat meat products as other options were not available. Sounds very much like your description, but the wrong author. (Note that she did not eat only synthetics; the issue was animal foods.)

Perhaps this will ring a bell: she forced herself to eat travel rations which were a kind of dried meat bar. When they were somewhere with proper cooked food, she tried, but could not bring herself to eat it. As I remember it, she shuddered, and said that it was one thing in a bar, but when it still looks like a leg or a wing....

Here are some quotes from the book, relating to Cholayna and meat. Perhaps the quotes or scenes, and/or character and location names, will ring a bell:

Camilla, on the way to their last meal in Thendara before hitting the trail:

It doesn’t meet your criteria for edibility, Cholayna, I know you try not to eat anything that ever moved of its own accord, but you’ll have to get used to that on the road, anyhow.

At Barrensclae, when Jaelle hunted, skinned, and cooked a chervine calf and Cholayna shudders, eyes averted, Magda thinks:

This assault on her ethical principles—Magda knew Cholayna had never eaten meat, or anything which had once lived, before this—must be the final trial. But she had kept silent about it, which could not have been easy.

The scene I mentioned above -- in the robber village, having the drugged meal:

Cholayna said faintly, “It looks—still looks too much like the—the living animal. I’m sorry, I—I tried. When it’s just a—a bar, or a slice, I can manage it, but—but this is a wing!

In camp, on the way from the Kadarin to Nevarsin:

Listen to me, both of you,” Cholayna interrupted. “Settle your places in the pecking order somewhere else, and don’t use me as your excuse! I am trying to eat as much as I can of your damned filthy food, but it’s not easy for me, and I don’t need reminding all the time! I will do the best I can; leave it at that, will you?"

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    This matches the "Alpha" part best. Seems I was mixing up at least three sources.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 22:14

Could you be misremembering the Chief Judge from Asimov's "Good Taste"?

From the TV Tropes entry for Future Food is Artificial:

The protagonist enters (and wins) the annual cooking contest, and the chief judge raves about his entry until he admits that the key ingredient was a ground bulb of naturally-grown garlic. The judge immediately vomits at the idea of having eaten "A growth from the dirt" and the protagonist is banished. His mother's parting words are; "Can’t you see, Minor-mine, that what you did was not in..."

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    Ah, yes, "Mountain-Tang" -- "It's a variant of Garden-Tang."
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 19:27
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    Definitely the one I immediately thought of as well.
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 19:36
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    ... and that world was called Gammer, so maybe the OP confused that with the Alphans.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 19:09
  • Much as this answer fits the Asimov part of the question correctly, matches the "artificial food" part exactly, and is fun, it's not what I had in mine. Still, great answer. (And now I have to read this story!)
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 22:10

Could it be Sunmaster Fourteen?

He's a temple Elder in the Mycogen district of (pre-Fall) Trantor. The Mycogenians live exclusively on micro-food, produced in yeast farms. They are very religious. I don't recall the dietary requirement being a law, though, more a consequence of living on a world with such a colossal population.

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    Yeast is a living organism.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 14:20
  • 5
    True, but the OP seems a little fuzzy on the details so I wondered if this would count. Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 14:22
  • It's possible that this is one of three or so sources I mixed up into a single combined memory.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 22:15

I think this is unlikely to be the correct answer, but there is an old story in which some people eat only synthetic food: "The Senator's Daughter" by Edward Page Mitchell.

I found the story online here: http://www.forgottenfutures.com/game/ff9/tachypmp.htm#daughter

According to Wikipedia, this story was published in 1879. In the story, there are small pills that were invented by German chemists; one pill feeds an adult human for "eighteen to twenty-five days".

I read this story when I was about 12 years old, and the concept of people refusing to eat even plants struck me so hard that I remembered that one detail and was able to track down the story.

At no point does either protagonist eat non-synthetic food. It's actually a story about racism and the food subplot isn't very important.


I have juste read the Foundation series and I don't recall any character that only eats synthetic food.

One character that might fit your description from the Foundation series is anyone from Gaia like Blissenobiarella/Bliss. She did not only eat synthetic food, but rather only food from Gaia and at some point in the story, she has to take her first non-Gaian meal and it does in fact create a dilemma for her.


I also remember a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, who is often considered the closest rival of Isaac Asimov, set in a future where all food is synthetic. This might possibly be the story asked about.

There is a hearing in the US Senate where a food manufacturer is testifying why he thinks that a competitor's new food product, which is becoming very popular, should be banned. Some of the senators are really grossed out by the revelations about how food used to be produced back in the barbaric 20th century. At the end, the person testifying starts to explain why the new food should be banned, beginning to spell out out a word the senators are unfamiliar with, and says he will explain what it means.

The story was The Food of the Gods.

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    Is that the one than ends with "C-A-N-N-I-B-A-..."?
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 18:09
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    What's wrong with a bit of Soylent Green? Even if it does smell strangely like GrandMa?
    – PcMan
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 9:52

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