March 11, 2009
Would you eat the meat from a fully intact, rotisseried human baby?
I would not. And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that there isn’t a single known society of people that eats its young. In fact, it’s probably humanity’s collective, innate revulsion toward child cannibalism that accounts for the continued popularity of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. The 1729 article is considered one of the most scathing, clever pieces of satire ever written, precisely because it pretends to take baby eating – universally recognized as one of the most depraved, abhorrent acts conceivable – so lightly. Swift’s exhortation to poor Irish parents that they sell their children to rich baby eaters is so shocking, so morally depraved, so disgusting, it could only be a joke. Seriously suggesting that kind of thing would be unthinkable.
So it’s no surprise that Chinese conceptual artist Zhu Yu’s Eating People sparked high levels of both outrage and confusion. The piece comprises still shots of Yu (above) washing, cooking and eating what he claims – and what appears to be – an aborted fetus. Eating People premiered at the Shanghai Arts Festival in 2000, but didn’t begin to cause a stir until some of the photographs, out of context, began to circulate online almost a year later. In short time, it was common knowledge among anyone who had ever used the Internet that in Taiwan, for a very reasonable price, you could actually purchase dead babies for consumption from local hospitals. Thus, from millions of erroneous emails was birthed (ha, ha!) the rumor that the Chinese, as a people, love to eat them some babies. The story later grew to even include an investigation into the Taiwanese practice of child cannibalism by both the FBI and Scotland Yard – a fact that, in keeping with the rest of the story, was completely untrue.
The quick fire spread of this particular urban legend can be chalked up to blood libel: fantastic, disturbing accusations of human sacrifice on the part of a particular group that serves to dehumanize and demonize the accused culture. So, when Westerners see a picture of an anonymous Asian man eating a baby, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume all Chinese – because they’re so unlike us, you know – eat babies. Ditto that Jews enjoy eating Christian babies (especially at Passover – but any time will do, really) and that Communists boil babies to make fertilizer. I’m not making these up; they’re all historically common blood libels, and they’re all total bullshit.
The first thing that pops into my head when I see crazy slurs about baby-eating is, “Where are all these babies supposed to come from?” Like, can you imagine how many fetuses it would take to mulch a reasonably sized yard? Or satisfy a hungry extended family at a Seder? It’s not only disgusting, it’s downright impractical.
It would be a cold day in Hell before I tried barbecued baby. I prefer to keep my distance from them when they’re alive, so I have absolutely no desire to see one turn up on my plate, thank you very much.