Artwork by Garth Laidlaw

Episode 7: Turning Back

Sophea is settling in at her job with the Real Meals company... even though she hasn't actually tried one yet. In the city, Sophea is the Outsider, because of her different mannerisms and the things she eats. Similar to northern Canada, it's difficult to access food in the city. The climate prevents year round produce farming, and fresh food must be shipped long distances to get there, leading to prices most can't afford. Real Meals evolved from this desperate need for nutritious, affordable, accessible food, and many in the city count on them for survival.

But just what is a "Real Meal" anyway?




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SOUND: Computer typing. Footsteps.

MARIEL: Morning, Sunshine.

SOPHEA: (Grunting) Morning...

MARIEL: Wow, sounds like you’re in a good mood.

SOPHEA: I didn’t sleep well last night and I slept in and I’ve been rushing all morning...

SOUND: Footsteps running.

PEOPLE IN THE BACKGROUND: Guys, he’s here. Dean’s here! C’mon.

MARIEL: Shoot, already? He said he’ll be here for lunch. C’mon, Sophea.

SOPHEA: But I haven’t even-

SOUND: Mariel and Sophea scrambling to get ready. People welcoming Dean. Voices below can be heard as part of the muffled voices.

PERSON 1: Dean? Dean-- if, uh, if I could just have a moment of your time? Dean? 

PERSON 2: Dean, I was wondering, my sales records have been showing an amazing progression, if it’s not too much to ask, could I get a, maybe a little raise?

PERSON 3: Dean! Dean, we're about to try the new corn on the cob! It’s really deli-- Dean? Dean?

DEAN: Everyone, please. I just got here. Can we all just calm down for a moment? Also, why is everyone here to welcome me? I only need one person...and where is she?

MARIEL: Hi Dean, Sophea's right here.

DEAN: Sophea! My goodness, so you are our new receptionist. Wow, I’ve heard many great things about you.

SOPHEA: Thanks...I only make phone calls to people though, so I’m glad I’m making good phone calls?

DEAN: (Laughs) Funny! I can see why everyone loves her. Now, everybody thanks for greeting me but time is money. And we’re not going to fix the food crisis if we’re just standing here. Let’s get back to work.

DEAN: Sophea, are you free for a bit?

SOPHEA: Yeah, sure!

DEAN: How are you liking it here so far?

SOPHEA: I really enjoy it here. My co-workers are really friendly. And I’ve connected with Mariel.

DEAN: Ah, Mariel. She’s been bugging for a promotion for a while now.

SOPHEA: Well, she’s a great worker. She deserves whatever promotion she’s searching for.

DEAN: I agree. (beat) So, have you had the chance to take the full tour of our Real Meals campus?

SOPHEA: No, I haven’t yet. I’ve been so busy getting my head wrapped around the different systems-- 

DEAN: Perfect. I couldn’t have planned this better. I have to pop into some meetings this morning. But afterwards, Sophea, why don’t we do a performance check and facilities tour? Take two things off the list at once? You’ve been here for, about 3 months now? It’s about time we discuss some matters with you.

SOPHEA: Oh, Yes. Of course. I’m not in trouble, am I?

DEAN: No, no. It’s just to make sure you’re on track with the company, our rules and regulations, and just another contract for you to sign now that you hit your 3 month probation. Let’s say, quarter after 12?

SOPHEA: Sounds good.

DEAN: Great.

SOPHEA: I’ll see you later.


SOUND: Chatter, microwave sounds.

MARIEL: So what did Dean talk to you about?

SOPHEA: Mmm, nothing really. He just asked about how I’m doing here. Seems like he likes me though. I’m officially going to be working here forever after I sign the contract with him.

MARIEL: Right, your three month probation is going to be over. That’s exciting!

SOPHEA: Yeah, it is. Hey, is he always so...up in your face?

MARIEL: What do you mean?

SOPHEA: I don’t know...I guess I don’t feel comfortable around him.

MARIEL: It’s probably because he’s the CEO.

SOPHEA: Maybe. I don’t know, I’ll be seeing him later on anyway.

MARIEL: Can I come?

SOPHEA: Why? It’s a performance check.

MARIEL: Yeah but you’re nervous. You need someone to support you...

SOPHEA: Ok. We can walk there together.

MARIEL: Hold on. Sophea, please tell me you’re eating today.

SOPHEA: Don’t worry. I have my lunch right here. (Container opening.) Just like how my mom used to make it.

MARIEL: What is that?

SOPHEA: A stir fry with green beans, mushrooms, garlic-- 

MARIEL: Wait! Can I try it?

SOPHEA: Yeah sure.

SOUND: Eating, container shuffling.

MARIEL: Holy... that’s amazing.

SOPHEA: Right?! Now give it back.

MARIEL: Wait, just one more bite.

SOPHEA: Mariel... I’m not going to have a lunch if you eat all my food.

MARIEL: Ok, ok, just... can I have the rest of it when you’re finished?

SOPHEA: No...I’m going to eat it all.

MARIEL: W-Why don’t you just... um... here, you can take my wallet, and get whatever you want.

SOPHEA: I don’t need your money, I just want my lunch back. Mariel, what is going on?

MARIEL: It’s just haven’t really given Real Meals a proper chance. 

SOPHEA: I will give Real Meals a chance. I promise. But why would I buy a meal today when I brought my lunch. Just give me my food back... ok?


SOUND: Container sliding across the table.

SOPHEA: What is going on with you? You are acting so weird.

MARIEL: Well I’ve never tasted anything like that! And with Dean arriving today I’m all stressed out-- 

SOPHEA: --Oh no! What time is it?(Frustrated grunt.) Great, I have to go see Dean soon and I haven’t eaten. Not that there’s anything left. You know what, I think I’m going to walk up by myself. I’ll see you later.

DEAN: Sophea! I’m glad I found you.

SOPHEA: Dean! Am I late? I thought you had wanted to meet after lunch?

DEAN: That must mean I caught you before you’ve eaten? Perfect. I’d like to treat you to one of our Real Meals.

SOPHEA: I actually brought-- 

DEAN: It will be my treat. Should we go?

SOUND: Dean walking away.

SOPHEA: Thanks a lot Mariel. Here.

SOUND: Container sliding back across table. Footsteps. Mariel eating.


SOUND: Footsteps quietly in the background as they talk.

DEAN: Sophea, I’m so glad that I am the one who gets to show you the campus. I’m really proud of what we have developed here, especially this... Please. Come with me. (Scanning noise, sound of door sliding open.) This is our laboratory. This is where we make our meals.

SOPHEA: Wow. I’ve never seen a kitchen like this!

DEAN: Just follow me. Here, at Real Meals, we are known as a “Do-It-Yourself” company. We do not rely on any middleman, or outside investors to build our company. Recently, a lot of people have been asking to invest in our company—who wouldn’t want to? But the thing is, we are too new to let other people use our company for gain. We are just a start up and every single penny I’ve saved has brought us here.

Now you know we are in a part of the country where we can’t access food easily. But we have top-notch Scien-chefs here to ensure that food is made the same way, with the same quality, same quantity, and the same ingredients every time. We also have all of our stocks in there, in those bins. Every day trucks drop off our supplies there.

SOUND: Truck backing up beeping sound. 

DEAN: I believe that’s them right now. Watch closely, Sophea.

SOUND: Slopping noise, as truck dumps fertilizer/liquid in a container.

SOPHEA: What is in the bin? Is that a new protein compound? It is certainly pungent.

DEAN: That’s our food, Sophea. In order to serve quick, easy, and cheap food for everyone, you need to understand our food must be made with things that we can afford.

SOPHEA: So what is that? Beans? Really mashed up fermented beans?

DEAN: Not quite... it’s actually post-consumption re-constituted fat proteins. Or, as we call it, Re-con Protein.

SOPHEA: What? I don’t understand-

DEAN: Real Meals is on the cutting edge of self-sustaining and affordable meal planning.  Using Re-con Protein to supplement and fortify the vegetable proteins already used, we are providing the public with cheap and filling meal replacements.

SOPHEA: But I don’t understand. What is re– what do you mean by post-consumption? 

DEAN: After learning about the fertilizing process being implemented by the city farms, I realized that we were already using human fertilizer to supplement our food. So why not remove a step and directly harvest the proteins we aren’t using?

SOPHEA: I’m sorry... I didn’t... I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you- what are actually in these? Are you using human waste in your food?

DEAN: Well, I like to think of it as a reconstitution of proteins we failed to use the first time. But, yes.

SOPHEA: And when a meal has a vegetable puree... is there any sort of vegetable substance in it?

DEAN: Well, yeah, we have to include it on our ingredients list. We just use a smaller portion of it.

SOPHEA: Oh God. I’m going to be sick. You put these things on the package! In people’s food! But it’s- it’s... Sh-

DEAN: Re-Con Protein. And we do use veggies!

SOPHEA: Oh, ok, how much veg do you really use?

DEAN: 10% of it... It’s in the meal, ok! That’s all that matters.

SOPHEA: And the meat, where does it say that it has actual meat in it?

DEAN: Right here.... “Protein substance”

SOPHEA: That doesn’t mean that you are telling the consumers that you’re using human WASTE in your food! Where’s the integrity? The pride? Do you have any of those at all?

DEAN: Integrity? Pride? What do you know about that?

SOPHEA: Well, back home we used things that we grow. We take care of our crops, our land, to make sure that we have food on our plate—actual food! We used tools to catch food like fish, we use tools to harvest our food, we share our meals with our neighbours and our friends. We put in love and care for every single thing we grow.

DEAN: But didn’t you leave your home?

SOPHEA: Yeah... well...I only left because I wanted a new experience.

DEAN: Yeah, but you left though. That means you can’t use “we” anymore. It’s “they” now.

SOPHEA: Ok, whatever. Regardless, you’re not living to your company’s standard.

DEAN: Our standard is to feed people, not to thoroughly explain to them how we make our food. Food is food, and it is still good. Our city has been dry for many years, the lower class and even the middle class can’t even afford a meal every day. They can’t afford fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. They are losing their minds knowing they can’t feed their kids.

Sophea! We are saving people at this very moment. If we use pork, chicken, beef or even tofu, we have to increase our prices for our meals and no one will afford them. Only the rich. Think about the people who can’t buy their food. You want to talk about pride and integrity, why don’t we talk about your pride...your integrity?

SOPHEA: What do you mean?

DEAN: Don’t act dumb, Sophea. We know who you are. We know where you’re from. We heard from a little birdie that a certain chef passed away in your village.

SOPHEA: What are you talking about?

DEAN: Do I need to spell it out for you? The Haven Project.


DEAN: There’s no use denying it. Your face gives you away. We thought so of course...but now I know. We tried everything to find out about you. It was our investigators inability to find anything that made us first realize that you might be from there.

SOPHEA: Investigators? But I—

DEAN: What? No—it’s not that you’re special. How do you think we can trust our employees if we don’t know about them? We do extensive background checks on all our employees. You were a strange case though. The agency had so little information. Just that you’d passed their tests and were available. It was actually Mariel who first suggested it—after our investigations team couldn’t find anything. I thought, “can’t be... that place doesn’t exist” but she insisted. She has done a lot of research on it—a bit obsessive you see.  And she knew you were hiding something.

We’ve been paying close attention to you since—your movement, your diction. And your food. You can cook unlike most in the city.

And with the recent news of Haven’s existence, it all seemed to make sense. There are openings now you know—with the chef’s passing and the scientist’s disappearance. I’ve even applied myself. You said yourself that we are lying to the public—that we should have more real food in Real Meals. Imagine if we had Haven’s technology. We could increase our supply, add premium meals, expand across the country—

SOPHEA: There’s no way you’ll be accepted.

DEAN: And why’s that?

SOPHEA: Because you’d never meet our standards, as a chef and certainly not as a person.

DEAN: Again with the “us” and “our” you keep thinking you’re still there. Sophea, you’re working for me. For my company, and under Mariel's surveillance. We actually like you here and we even think you can do more than just be a receptionist. What do you say? I’m talking about a raise, triple your salary. A promotion, instead of a receptionist, you’ll be part of the management team but will work more closely with our ag team—in a new division to help bring our crops back. You can save this part of our country if you just let them know what the secrets are. Think about a world not begging for food anymore? Think about the basic human rights people need but can’t afford. We know you’ve only worked here for almost three months now but, Sophea, with the knowledge you have, we can make this whole country a better place. How about it? Sign the contract and everything is yours.

SOPHEA: But you’re not willing to use actual food.

DEAN: Not yet, but soon! When you’re the lead of the agricultural team, in maybe 2, 3, 5, 10 years from now, we can have actual food sources to help everybody.

SOPHEA: Doesn’t that change your company then? Didn’t you say you would have to make it more expensive if you used actual food?

DEAN: Well, perhaps it would have to go up. We’d have premium meals. With the actual food. We could keep our current line too so there’s something for everyone.

SOPHEA: I don’t think everyone will be happy at the end of the day.

DEAN: Sophea, you can’t make 9 billion people happy.

SOPHEA: Then the least you can do is be honest to them. Dean, with all due respect, as much as I love working here, I can’t imagine being here any longer. I realize now that I belong at Haven. I belong to the people who worship what we crop. My values aren’t the same as yours. I wanted to move here because I wanted to take my first big step in the city. And I can’t say that everyone is as genuine as I hoped for, but I can say that people are thriving here for the better. But I’m not one of them. I’m sorry Dean, but I am resigning my position as a receptionist, immediately. Thank you for the opportunity.

SOUND: Footsteps walking away.

DEAN: How are you going to get home though? I mean, Haven home. You can’t go back there. Mariel said once you leave, you can never return again. Is that right? You think you can walk back in and they’ll accept you? You won’t have anywhere to go if you leave this company.

SOPHEA: Hmm... well I guess I’ll never know unless I try.

SOUND: Footsteps, door opening and closing.