Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
By Judi Barrett
Module by Kennyi Aouad and Noah Someck
Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs begins with a family eating breakfast at the table one morning. After a long day, the grandfather of the family tells his grandchildren the tale of the town Chewandswallow. Citizens are supplied with food from the sky three times a day. Hamburgers, hotdogs, soup, pie—the sky abounds with more than enough food to satisfy the townspeople’s needs. However, when the weather becomes too excessive, the town of Chewandswallow is faced with a difficult decision: Should they stay in their food-ravaged town, where it is unsafe to step outside, or abandon their homeland and set off for another town? Deciding to do the latter, the citizens ultimately find another home and become accustomed to buying food from supermarkets, storing their comestibles in refrigerators, and having rain and snow fall from the sky. The story ends with the grandchildren going to bed after the story and waking up the next day to play outside in the snow as they notice the smell of mashed potatoes and what appears to be a giant pat of butter on the horizon.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
In the story, the townspeople of Chewandswallow must endure multiple struggles regarding the burdens of their homeland and having to travel across the sea to a new land. At first sight, the story may seem to only be about a mysterious and magical town with odd weather patterns where food falls from the sky. However, when inspected more closely, it is philosophically rich and entertains multiple questions about freedom, safety, migration, and adaptation.
The abundance of food appears at first to be a blessing, as people don’t need to grow their own food, nobody starves (neither people nor animals), and there are almost always leftovers. In our current world, this would be an incredible solution to one of our biggest problems: world hunger. But it appears that nothing comes without consequence: having food fall from the sky three times a day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner limits the people in the town of Chewandswallow in various ways. Therefore, most of this part of the discussion involves coming up with the pros and cons of having food fall from the sky and asking the children what parts about having food fall from the sky they would like and dislike. The pros seem to be more apparent from the book than the cons, so more time should be allotted to challenging the children to find some possible cons of the situation.
Having food always fall from the sky could have many great things come from it. The townspeople seem to never go hungry. In fact, they can eat to their heart’s content. Additionally, the townspeople don’t need farmers to grow food which makes life a lot easier. People can walk outside with their plates and silverware and just wait to get food, rather than spend a large portion of their time preparing meals. This also means that people don’t have to pay for food either. Maybe people can use this extra time and money to have more fun with friends and buy more things that they want. But not everything that results from the town’s weather is good.
Perhaps not being able to choose what they want to eat for their meals may be frustrating for the townspeople. What if people have allergies to certain foods so that they have to miss out on certain meals? It would be good to focus on how the townspeople may be limited in what they can eat, or in other words, how they have limited control over what they eat. People might get multiple meals in a row where they don’t like what is “served” or they aren’t able to eat it for health reasons. On top of that, there could be periods of time where people aren’t getting all the proper or suggested nutrients that they should from the meals that they are eating. There is a popular saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, what if apples, or even fruit, only fall about once every month? Or, maybe extremely sugary and “junky” foods may fall often for certain periods of time. Although it might greatly please one’s taste buds, it may not be the healthiest thing to have happen. When it rains in the town of Chewandswallow, it doesn’t just rain rain. It rains things such as soup and juice. But this means that water never rains from the sky, so the townspeople don’t have access to plain water. Could this be bad for one’s health? Additionally, not everyone wakes up at the same time, so if people wake up too late, they might miss meals. Could this become troublesome? Finally, people could become hungry between meals. They either have to wait it out until the next meal, or they’d have to have leftovers. How many people enjoy eating leftovers?
Ultimately, this discussion of weighing the pros and cons can be related to a bigger theme of safety versus freedom. This is a difficult topic to introduce to kids, so a simpler way to talk about safety would be to define it as “always having what someone needs, but not necessarily being able to choose when, where, what, and how they get it.” One could then define freedom as “being able to choose what one wants and how, when, and where they get what they want, but also having the risk of not always being able to get enough of it.” Asking a few questions regarding this broader theme would be a good way to connect the story to bigger philosophical ideas and finally end this part of the discussion.
When the weather takes a turn for the worse, the people of Chewandswallow find the food as more of a curse than a blessing and are tasked with a difficult decision of leaving their homeland. This crisis brings up some good questions about migration: Is it voluntary or involuntary and what are the causes that influence a group of people to resituate themselves? The citizens leave their town in order to survive, a scenario that parallels many migrant groups’ circumstances. In order to promote discussion on moving, ask the children if they have ever moved or know someone who has.
After the migrants sail on their peanut butter sandwiches to a new land, they are welcomed by the current inhabitants as they become accustomed to their new environment, where they must buy food from the grocery stores instead of expecting meatballs to hail from the sky. Furthermore, the new inhabitants must learn how to prepare their own meals, a task that they were fortunate enough not to have to perform due to their privilege. Here, one must pay attention to the refugees being openly welcomed by the locals. What are the responsibilities of the natives to welcome the newcomers and what responsibility do the newcomers have to conform to the ways of life of their new town? What if the people of Chewandswallow do not adapt? Would the native inhabitants be justified in expelling the refugees or refusing to accept any more?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Safety vs. Freedom