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Some have asked questions regarding the ecosystem of Dune; I'm looking for a more human insight.

One of the central in-fiction themes of Dune is the scarcity of water, and the natives of Arrakis have built their culture around conserving water. It is therefore surprising to observe that comparatively little attention is paid to food in the novel. While there are apparently some native plants (there are very few descriptions of these), there is no mention of agriculture of any kind, certainly not on the scale required to sustain the population described in the book. And the nutrients in food are a great deal more difficult to recover than water!

In the dinner party scene, it is made apparent that the luxurious food they eat is imported from Caladan (surely as much of an outrageous display of wealth as the custom of giving trodden-on wet towels to the poor which Duke Atreides abolishes). When local food comes up in conversation here, it is only mentioned that it contains large amounts of "spice", so we might suppose that a large proportion of what they eat is derived from the substance, but it is also emphasised that spice has neurological effects, which leads one to suspect it would be problematic as a sole source of nutrients.

The only quote I could find about food in the Fremen community did little to satiate my curiosity:

"Here's food." She pressed two leaf-wrapped morsels into his hand. They reeked of spice.

What are the leaves? Desert-adapted plants don't have any, at least on Earth! So how do the Fremen stay fed, and more importantly, how did this aspect get overlooked given the near constant obsession with water?

Bonus Round

There's a major problem with pack animals, namely that they can't easily travel: imagine trying to teach a donkey, cow or even camel to walk as the Fremen do. How do they manage that? As for wild animals, I can understand birds surviving, but how does a population of desert hare evade the worms when they presumably live in the sand? And how do the Fremen cook without producing smoke that would reveal their location?

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  • 41
    Presumably everyone ate sand-wiches
    – Valorum
    Sep 6 at 17:44
  • 29
    And afterwards, they all had the desert course
    – Valorum
    Sep 6 at 17:48
  • 22
    They all go to the Duncan Donuts.
    – Valorum
    Sep 6 at 20:39
  • 3
    @Valorum Sandwiches and sweets, seems like the Fremen almost never have a worm meal Sep 7 at 11:29
  • 2
    @Valorum It's all Kynes of problematic, isn't it? Especially if the only alternative to water is Liet beer.
    – Graham
    Sep 7 at 13:42
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Assuming you're talking about Dune prior to its 'greening', there are essentially three different populations on Dune, each with their own primary sources of food.


The gentry

The well-to-do nobles and minor nobility living in Arrakeen primarily seem to import their food from offworld, courtesy of the Guild, along with what appear to be spice-soaked local delicacies.

The nobility on Arrakis lived, of course, on fare more delicate, suiting their station in life. They imported many more foods and drank the exotic and expensive wines of Caladan. Typical dishes served at a feast might include the foods listed on a menu {below) found by chance inside a volume in the rare book room at Caladan Castle.

MENU:

  • Chukka under Glass
  • Roast Desert Hare in Sauce Ceteda
  • Aplomage Sirian
  • Langue de Lapins de Garenne with Mushroom Yeast Sauce
  • Red Caladanian Wine
  • Paradan Sherbet
  • Coffee

Dune Encyclopedia


The populace

Assuming the Duke is referring to the production of food in order of amount, it would appear that a sizeable proportion of food for the population of Arrakeen was grown in situ. It doesn't sound especially appealing, so again I would assume that it would be supplemented with offworld treats, spices and staples as well as some locally caught meat.

Again, the Duke faced his son. “Arrakis has another advantage I almost forgot to mention. Spice is in everything here. You breathe it and eat it in almost everything. And I find that this imparts a certain natural immunity to some of the most common poisons of the Assassins’ Handbook. And the need to watch every drop of water puts all food production– yeast culture, hydroponics, chemavit, everything –under the strictest surveillance. We cannot kill off large segments of our population with poison–and we cannot be attacked this way, either. Arrakis makes us moral and ethical.”

Dune


The Fremen

Obviously, the Fremen have their own food supplies since they can't rely on those from offworld sources (or access to the city's food supplies). This seems to include crops grown in secret, animals hunted for food and their own pack animals which serve multiple food functions.

The ordinary Fremen family of the sietches lived on simple, healthy fare. (The donkeys that carried the family's belongings also provided milk, which was made into butter, cheese, and kvetch, a clabbered milk drink.) Fruits were mostly dates, figs, and apricots grown in the palmaries, and the occasional portygul or melon imported from Caladan, especially die pink-fleshed, sweet, and fragrant paradan melon. Fruits were eaten fresh, made into conserves, pickled, or dried.

Leafy vegetables were very scarce on Arrakis. Instead, a large number of root crops, like tabaroot, available most of the year, were grown in the gardens tended by the children of the tribes.

Meat was often roasted—desert hare and chukka (a fowl) were the most common—or a savory stew might be made of meat and roots. The stew was served with the hearty Fremen flat bread that served as plate as well as food: when torn open, its surface was the plate for the stew. After the stew was eaten, the gravy-soaked plate was itself eaten.

Fremen usually ate two meals a day, a lighter one eaten on rising at sunset—usually consisting of bread, cheese, kvetch, and some fruit or juice. No more food was eaten during the night, except for a drink of juice or coffee after arising from a nap. A heavier supper was served at dawn. There was roast meat or stew, vegetables, fruit, bread, and dessert and coffee. Dessert was usually a sweet, a cake or pastry. One favorite was a sweet honey cake, tabara. This cake, of a heavy, puddinglike consistency, was a mixture of cooked and mashed tabaroot, honey, and spices pressed into a dish, sprinkled with sugar, dried seeds, and crystallized fruit. After cooling, the cake was cut into tiny triangles and served with fruits, and hot spiced coffee.

Dune Encyclopedia


Oh, and to answer your specific question, the wide flat leaves in question were presumably palm leaves since you can't have a palmary without palm trees.

Chani, his soul, Chani his Sihaya, sweet as the desert spring, Chani up from the palmaries of the deep south.

Dune

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  • 4
    I do hesitate when referencing the Encyclopaedia as a source (because some of it is new info) but in this case it appears to be largely collecting bits and pieces from the original Dune novel and extrapolating sideways.
    – Valorum
    Sep 6 at 17:55
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    I reckon chemavit = "CHEMicAl VITminin" or something similar
    – fez
    Sep 6 at 18:25
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    The food chain still seems incomplete. What do the desert animals eat? Bread requires grains, where do those come from? At the end of the day, something has to photosynthesize, otherwise there's no energy coming into the system. And that something has to be large enough to support both the Fremen and the desert animals.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7 at 7:48
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    @Vilx: And there’s honey, which implies bees, which strongly suggests flowering plants (and in reasonably substantial quantity).
    – PLL
    Sep 7 at 11:42
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    It might be worth noting that everyone lives on basically a rock continent in a sea of sand, thousands of miles of worm-safe area for a natural ecology. Because of the importance of the spice a lot of the book's focus of time in the wilderness is out in the sand, but there's still plenty of non-sand wilderness around. Sep 8 at 2:11

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