Joseph D’Lacey begins his novel, Meat, with an implicitly vegan quote from The Bible’s Book of Genesis: “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. Genesis 1:29” (p. i). In doing so, D’Lacey not only outlines the vegan ideal of Eden,[i] but he also lulls the reader into a warped sense of security; after reading this passage, you might not expect to find detailed descriptions of flesh consumption engulfing the pages of D’Lacey’s novel. However, we are served the haunting spectre of cannibalism, which threatens to pick off each inhabitant of Abyrne, one by one, until only the bones of the town remain.
There is one group of Abyrne’s residents that are selected for consumption, even before they let out their first scream in the world: The Chosen. The Chosen are humans, and D’Lacey scatters explicit evidence of this human identity throughout the novel; yet, “they were so much like animals the townsfolk had forgotten what the Chosen were. Forgotten, or put it out of their minds” (pp. 44-45). Unlike the Townsfolk, then, the Chosen are farmed for their human flesh and kept in conditions similar to those of factory-farmed nonhuman animals. In order for Abyrne’s leaders, Rory Magnus and The Welfare, to maintain the distinctions between the Chosen and the Townsfolk, which keep the Chosen eaten and the majority of the Townsfolk fed, they adapt an ideology of distinction. The ideology of distinction insists on the biological and cultural separation of humans and nonhuman animals. Magnus and the Welfare manufacture distinctions between the Townsfolk and the Chosen, by human-made mutilations. This residual but adapted ideology of distinction filters down, through newly created religious materials and capitalist advertisement, like the Gut Psalter and the Book of Giving. While the Book of Giving tells of how “the Father sent his own children down to Earth so that we, his townsfolk might eat” (p. 76), the Gut Psalter explains in fine detail the mutilations that the Chosen must undergo, at birth, in order to become edible flesh. From the removal of hair, to the slashing of vocal chords, the Chosen are stripped of any visible and audible similarities that might connect them with the Townsfolk; these mutilations are similar to those that nonhuman animals undergo, in the factory farming process. Despite the obvious human species identity of the Chosen, then, Meat acts as an ideological allegory, placing mutilated humans in the conditions and positions typically reserved for farmed nonhuman animals. The Chosen, like the nonhuman animals they allegorise, exist in Abyrne as what Rebekah Sinclair calls “speciesed others” who are “always already edible, killable even before they are killed.”[ii]
In a rather disturbing interaction, involving Hema and Harsha, two twin girls, D’Lacey illustrates both the biblical notion of humanity’s devouring of nature and how an ideology of distinction works; the ideology is filtered down, through textual propaganda, into the minds of every townsfolk in Abyrne, and repeatedly enacted, through normalised actions. Hema and Harsha decide to hold a party for their toy guests, selecting carefully their meal for the evening. At first, their party appears to be like any other, with their mother, Maya, hoping to glimpse their imagined world “in which she could return to their simple innocence and in doing so briefly turn away from the realities of the town” (p. 95). However, in their town of horrors, the toys gathered around the table are not awaiting tea; instead, they await flesh:
On each plate was a hollow portion of doll – an upper arm, a thigh, a calf, a foot, a hand. The torso had been cut into four slices like a small loaf. Hema and Harsha were ‘sharing’ them. It was the attention to detail that stunned Maya. The girls had prepared the doll before butchering her for their distinguished guests. They’d cut as much of her hair off as they could. Maya could see how they’d removed two thirds of each finger on her tiny hands and clipped her thumbs off altogether. On the platters where feet were served, she saw that the big toe had been severed. The shaven head lay to one side but in the top ‘slice’ of the torso, she saw the neck and the puncture wound in the centre of it where they’d silenced the doll before slaughter. ‘Hello, Mama,’ said Harsha. ‘Would you like to come to the party? We’ve made meat for everyone!’ p. 95
In precise detail, Hema and Harsha carry out the mutilations to their toy doll, removing her hair and the required portions of finger, before slicing her body into strips of flesh. The childhood innocence, that Maya hopes to witness, vanishes under the ideological teachings of the Gut Psalter and the Book of Giving. Rather than existing outside of an ideology of distinction, where the production and consumption of the Chosen’s flesh does not figure in their understanding of Abyrne, Hema and Harsha are at the centre of ideological conditioning; an ideology of distinction is infiltrating even the youngest of minds. In an interview, D’Lacey confirms this rationale, commenting: “I wanted to imply that the children were beginning to pick up and accept Abyrne’s societal edicts as ‘normal’. A scene in which they played out a meal for their toys seemed a good way of doing that.”[iii] Hema and Harsha’s party, then, appears to be a form of repeated enactment – albeit an infantile one – whereby an ideology of distinction is reaffirmed and maintained.
The doll at the centre of their meal begins the party like any other of the toy guests, with a full head of hair and all her fingers intact; she is even accompanied by “the blind, balding bear, the toy soldiers, several dolls and even a rubber clown that smelled of chemicals – a toy they rarely played with” (p.95). Gathered around the makeshift table, then, are a number of toys which Hema and Harsha could have “chosen;” there are even other dolls. There appears to be no rationale behind “picking out a plastic female doll with long blond hair” (pp. 94-95); but she becomes their meal. This strange moment, then, where the parameters between the edible and the inedible fluctuate, signals a displacement of the ideology of distinction. Despite the repeated enactment of imagined consumption seemingly functioning as a maintenance of an ideology of distinction, then, Hema and Harsha’s party has another function: the party provides a space for challenging the very ideology that they are enacting.
When their mother sees what they are doing, the girls proudly announce, “we’ve made meat for everyone” (p. 95). The girls understand – in part – that they must make meat; there is a becoming, before the consuming. In order for the doll to form a suitable meal for their distinguished guests, she must undergo a process of edible fleshy becoming. However, it is not just the mutilations and butchering of the doll’s plastic flesh that constitutes this edible fleshy becoming; instead, after these physical enactments, there is an ideological becoming, whereby the doll stops being an inedible consumer and becomes an edible commodity. The doll makes the swift transition, from inedible toy – like the soldiers, clown, and other dolls – into delectable, plastic portions of edible foot, arm, and torso. By acknowledging this becoming, the girls’ party exposes the workings of an ideology of distinction, demonstrating that the ideology can only survive, through repeated enactments; the distinctions of edibility are illusions created by an ideology of distinction.
Xavier Aldana Reyes suggests that “Meat’s horrific premise is based on the
possibility of humans being reduced to their flesh and on the subsequent loss
of their rights as individuals.”[iv]
While this is, in part, true, what Reyes
does not acknowledge, here, is the role of nonhuman animals in the figuring of Meat’s horror. The horror of Meat is not simply a speculative imaging
of human reduction; instead, the real horror of Meat is the exposition of an ideology of distinction, which
perpetuates the very real, anthropocentric consumption of nonhuman animals.
From unassuming children’s parties to explicitly gruesome scenes of mutilation, Meat shows us, in horrific detail, that
the flesh of nonhuman animals is being butchered and consumed every day, on the
basis of illusory ideological distinctions.
[i] Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, ‘Enhancing the Divine Image’, in The Animal Ethics Reader, ed. by Susan J. Armstrong and Richard G. Botzler, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 283–85 (p. 284)
[ii] Rebekah Sinclair, ‘The Sexual Politics of Meatless Meat: (in)Edible Others and the Myth of Flesh without Sacrifice’, in The Future of Meat without Animals, ed. by Brianne Donaldson and Christopher Carter (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd., 2016), pp. 229-248 (p. 231)
[iii] This is Horror, ‘Interview: Joseph D’Lacey on the rerelease of MEAT, Part II’, This is Horror, 2013 <https://www.thisishorror.co.uk/interview-joseph-dlacey-rerelease-meat-part-ii/>
[iv] Xavier Aldana Reyes, Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014) p. 116