TW: violence, slaughter, rape
In my attempt to find more fiction books that approach the topic of veganism, I came across Agustina Bazterrica’s debut novel, Tender is the Flesh, which ended up being a sort of disappointment, but has some ideas that are worth discussing – and I am going to do that because I finally found some time to actually write more than 3-line reviews on Goodreads.
Tender is the Flesh is a dystopic novel set in a future where a virus has infected non-human animals, making their meat and mere presence poisonous to humans. Therefore, all non-human animals were removed, with some still existing in the wilderness. Humans created a genetically modified type of humans that are killed in meat-processing plants and whose (special) meat is now consumed by fellow humans. These humans are modified in order not to be able to make any sounds, they are treated in all the traditional ways of factory farming and any sort of interaction, especially of sexual nature is strictly prohibited. We follow Marcos, who works in one of the processing plants, and his conflicting thoughts while he has to go about his day.
Bazterrica makes a really smart move here: there are lots of documentaries, papers, and books on the atrocities animals go through, but humans don’t seem to flinch – it’s more extreme to want the abolition of animal suffering than to partake in it. In order to make humans a bit more open to thinking about this, she replaces the victims with humans. The same mechanisms we use today to make consuming meat justified or simply not wrong are present in this world:
- the humans that are being consumed need to seem as distant to the humans consuming them as possible: they are not humans, but heads i.e. objects, subhumans, and their meat is called special meat (the same way we call it pork or beef, instead of pig and cow);
- they are intentionally disabled in order to be easier to handle or give better meat (the same way that chickens have been modified to have breasts so big they cannot stand or hens have been selectively bred to give eggs almost daily when naturally they would do it once a month – they need a lot of nutrients to produce these eggs, making the hens very vulnerable).
While these observations can be easily done from the setting of the book, they and their implications are not explored in any depth, so it was a bit of a let-down in the end. Bazterrica decides instead to go in-depth with a different challenging topic. Having been left by his wife after years of struggling to have a child, Marcos receives as a gift a female head, who is affectionate, even without words, and becomes part of his life, creating a bond of love. I’m trying not to spoil the rest of the book, so I will not tell you how their relationship evolves and what the ending brings. However, this bond is a good starting point for wondering about the relationship we have with the non-human animals in our lives. How do we communicate? How do we show our feelings, positive or negative? And why is this type of communication seen as below that between humans?
I know my observations and questions came up mostly because I already have these things on my mind and am aware of them, but I hope other people reading this will get to wonder, think and maybe get to similar questions.