Thursday, March 12, 2009
Eating people is wrong…
…except if you are in the Andes and have survived a plane crash and there is nothing to chew on except your newly dead fellow passengers. Whatever it is that makes us develop taboos, it cannot be the Divine. If that were so then there would be some semblance of conformity among the world’s religions and faiths, always assuming that behind them all is One True God. However, not even cannibalism is a universal crime. The early colonists thought, in their passionate desire to impose religion and pillage the riches from tribal lands everywhere, that native peoples were godless and soul-less. Particularly those who ate their enemies after battle. They were little better than animals. Having such low esteem for their fellow men made it much easier to use and abuse them as slaves.
Somewhere in all this murk is a hierarchy. Taboos always have hidden levels of acceptability. More often than not these depend on the notion of context. So for UK thinking, if a man and his sister are the last surviving couple on a desert island, who would deny them the solace of each other’s bodies? For sex or for food? Or their desire to produce surviving offspring, despite the risks. Elsewhere, however, the same act may be acceptable within local law. But that is a familial taboo and we are talking here of eating issues! I saw a film in 1962 called Mondo Cane. It was a documentary horror film containing the bizarre stuff people stick down their throats around the world, a precursor to today’s TV jungle celebrity eating challenges. I vividly remember bluebottles on toast. On the news there has been widespread condemnation of cat farms in China, which provide delicious feline flesh for the meat market. The film showed a multitude of cats of all types and markings, inside a large wire cage. Yes, pretty pussies. Meanwhile, most of the ‘developed’ world other than Norway and Japan, is distressed by the thought of eating whale.
One argument in this conflicting set of attitudes to what should be prohibited from a menu, is that the hierarchy of acceptability is based on the degree to which animals are like humans, in their intelligence and their looks. The brighter they are and the more anthropomorphic, the greater the revulsion we have. But this ignores pig in some cultures and it ignores horse in others. It ignores monkey where that is eaten. In fact, when it comes down to a stricter examination, there is nothing that is not poisonous that is not eaten somewhere, no matter how bright. Octopus is more intelligent than a dog. Pigs are even brighter and have a sort of army colonel character to their faces. Even the ugly looking blowfish, that most venomous of finned creatures, is prized in Japanese restaurants. Young chefs have to eat their own cooked blowfish before being allowed to practise on their customers. Custom develops over centuries and, if I am to be believed, human beings then embroider these into their religions or socail mores and have their gods or their cultures decree that such and such is lipsmacking and that other stuff is not.
I have probably eaten dog under the loose disclaimer of ‘meat stew’ in an Uzbek corrugated-roofed café by the road, on the way from Tashkent to Samarkand. Muslims and Jews have eaten pork in error, often enough. They live to tell the tale with no apparent harm to their ethical cores. Whether entry is prohibited to heaven or some other paradise owing to such contamination remains to be seen..
It is hard for us to comprehend that what we refuse to eat is the result of mere sentimentality or expediency and that there are no universal laws out there. Here’s a quick TT (Taboo Test). Order the following food, according to your degree of revulsion, should circumstances require you to survive. Put the most mouth watering first and the least appetising, last:
Dolphin, Flies, Snake, Snail, Worm, Rat, Penguin, Bat, Crow, Tarantula