Processing the idea of cannibalism is a hard act to swallow for the average mind. But what if you had no choice? Mandy Wan discusses…


Imagine a world where a cut of steak originates not from a cow but the flesh of your next-door neighbour.

Would you still eat it? Instinctively for many (hopefully), the answer is no. However, this leads us to wonder why such a response is almost intuitive. Notwithstanding societal norms, is there truly a difference between consuming a human compared to a chicken? Are there any instances where it would be acceptable to eat another person? These are some of the questions that Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender Is the Flesh (2017) presents us with. 

Bazterrica’s tale depicts a world where a devastating virus has rendered all animal life dangerous to humanity and so, the livestock we depend on had to be eliminated. To soothe the increasingly loud and carnivorous demands of the public, governments turn to the mass genocide of their own kind. According to our protagonist Marco, the first to be slaughtered were immigrants, the vulnerable, and the poor. Not only are the marginalised culled for consumption but the meat industry also begins to breed human beings in farms. A high-end market for “purebred” product emerges where people are raised without genetic modification – this, of course, comes with an increased price-point. Butchers and slaughterhouses operate as normal – the only difference is that they deal with a different type of produce. 

In an Orwellian twist of events, language is cunningly used by the government to influence the thoughts of the people. Those killed are never referred to as men or women, only “product, or meat, or food”. Human meat is termed as “special meat” meaning you could find products such as “special cutlets” and “special tenderloins” on sale at the butchers. Marco, who works in one of the aforementioned slaughterhouses, explains this decision as acknowledging them as humans “would mean giving them an identity”. Arguably, the most haunting detail of the entire ordeal is that “special meat” is bred without vocal cords because “meat doesn’t talk”.

All the above cumulate to produce a world where cannibalism is justified by the will to survive (as expressed by the people’s mass demand for meat) and dehumanisation of fellow citizens. Bazterrica’s premise may have seemed otherworldly at first but with further thought, you will find that there have been numerous instances in recent history where similarly horrific actions towards human beings have been rationalised by the same factors. 

For example, the Holocaust was only possible due to the gradual ostracization and demonisation of the Jewish population in Nazi Germany.

What began as blaming them for the country’s losses after the first World War, escalated to increasingly restrictive laws regarding the Jewish community such as prohibiting them from marrying Germans and forbidding them from practising as doctors or lawyers.

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By Mandy Wan: Literature Columnist.

In an Orwellian twist of events, language is cunningly used by the government to influence the thoughts of the people.

This all stemmed from the Nazi view that the Jewish were one of the inferior races that threatened the genetic purity of the superior “Master Race”, the German people. In turn, they believed these “subhumans” had to be eliminated.

This brings us to another question about society, one which many would prefer to overlook (as after all, ignorance is bliss): will there ever be a world where cannibalism is accepted? This is indeed a daunting and undeniably bleak view of the extents of mankind’s morality – many may feel queasy at the very thought of it. Thus, let us approach it from the perspective of survival: in a life-or-death situation, would you rather eat another person or perish? The survivors of the Andes flight disaster chose to survive. 

Air Disaster

In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes Mountains in Argentina. It was carrying the Old Christians Club rugby team along with their families, fans, and friends. Those who had survived the initial impact were left to fend for themselves in the harsh elements as rescue teams struggled to locate the white aircraft in the snow. After a week, they ran out of food. Likewise, the lack of natural vegetation and wild animals in proximity pushed their morality to its limits. 

In the end, they resorted to eating the corpses of their deceased friends and family members. This was only after the survivors agreed that if one of them were to die, the others could consume them to survive. Some of the survivors were said to have justified their actions by seeing them as equivalent to the Eucharist. In other words, they interpreted the rite as literal when Christ asked his followers to honour him by consuming bread and wine as his body and blood respectively. Yet, one must ask: is it even possible to rationalise such a decision?

In conclusion, Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh is not just your average run-of-the-mill dystopian tale but rather a chilling exploration of how far humanity will go to ensure its survival. After all, it is said that fiction only unsettles us when there is the possibility of it coming true.

MACKAYAN: eat thy neighbour

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