Well before the early 1500s, when Sir Thomas Moore first coined the term “Utopia,” people have been thinking about how to design their ideal community. Maybe it’s one that doesn’t use money, or one that drops traditional family structures and raises children collectively.

For a community of people on the outskirts of the small Arizona town of Snowflake, “utopia” is just a place where they won’t be physically sick. That’s because everyone in this community is suffering from a controversial medical condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS.

Most scientific studies have not shown a connection between chemical exposures and symptoms, and the American Medical Association does not recognize the illness as an organic, chemical-caused disease.  There is a subset of doctors who believe in MCS and treat it, but most mainstream physicians avoid the diagnosis and may recommend therapy to treat the symptoms, which they believe to be largely psychological. A lot of people with the illness take matters into their own hands, designing their diets, habits, and environments to make themselves feel better.

This MCS utopia in Snowflake is a complicated place. Some doctors would argue it isolates people, pushing them deeper into their illness. But Susan Molloy, the unofficial Mayor of the community, claims that Snowflake is a necessary refuge, and she guards the place fiercely. “All it takes is one family building a gas station out there on the road, and a lot of us would have to move.”

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