Creating Carnivores and Cannibals: Regulating the Traffic in Meat

 

 

My paper has been accepted for ACLA’s 2014 annual meeting for a seminar with Kari Weil! I had the great fortune to meet her during the ASI-WAS Human-Animal Studies Fellowship and really look forward to regrouping with fellow HAS folks. It has been too long!

My contribution to the seminar is on meat-based diets. We seem to always be talking about how much meat we should eat or not eat. I want to look beyond the human diet. 

In the streets of nineteenth-century London and the U.S., the “dog’s-meat man” would hawk horseflesh for the dogs that were being refashioned into beloved companions. For dogs, this was a step up the food ladder: accorded the privilege of eating the meat of other animals, dogs were nudged closer to humanity. In turn, this was a step down for horses, who without human intervention were not likely to fall prey to dogs.While humans eschewed eating the carcasses of “knackered” cab horses—and the “dog’s-meat man” was the butt of derisive jokes—they approved the carnivorous extension of the diets of their new animal friends.

Humans have classified other animals according to the uses they serve—as Hal Herzog puts it, “some we love, some we hate, some we eat.” But how else have we classified animalkind?

My paper explores the ways in which we have not only regulated what we can love/hate/eat, we have also regulated what, when, and how much other animals can love/hate/eat. In the nineteenth century, we granted more access to meat to those animals that we loved. We force-fed animals before slaughter. We developed almanacs and handbooks decreeing “optimal” animal diets in detail. We marked the failure to eat certain animals (e.g., cows) or the choice to eat others (e.g., dogs) as contraventions of nature. 

I propose looking at these practices to map the nineteenth-century’s complex traffic in meat, uncovering the species, gender, class, and race politics of human and non-human meat-eating. By exploring the nineteenth-century construction of this food chain in literature, animal care manuals, farming journals, and popular periodicals, I also hope to shed light on how over the last 200 years we have become a society that feeds cows to cows, dogs to dogs.