Imagine a world ravaged by diseased animals, where humanity collectively agrees to cull all animals and, in their place, breed humans for consumption.
That is the terrifying premise at the centre of Tender is the Flesh, a dystopian novel by Argentine author Agustina Bazterrica (translated to English by Sarah Moses).
This book disturbed me to my very core and motivated me to cancel my recent butcher-box delivery subscription. The novel describes, in great detail, the process of slaughtering humans for meat. Though never explicitly said, it was horrifying to imagine any animal going through the process. Humans bred for eating are referred to as ‘head’. They are raised in captivity, their vocal cords removed, and pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic ‘head’ are also bred, calling for a much higher price but not living a richer life. The story centers around Marcos, the second-in-charge at a meat processing plant.
One passage in the novel gives a better introduction to Marcos than I ever could:
This is Marcos Tego, a man whose son died and who moves through life with a hole in his chest. A man who’s married to a broken woman. This man slaughters humans because he needs to support his father, who’s lost his mind, is locked up in a nursing home and doesn’t recognise him.
As if the basic premise is not horrific enough, I’ll add a flashing neon trigger warning here for ‘SIDS’ (or ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’) and puppy murdering.
Early on in the novel, Marcos is gifted a ‘head’ of his own, a female. I probably don’t need to tell you where things go, but suffice to say: NOT WELL. NOT WELL AT ALL.
I don’t want to spoil any aspect of this book. It was such a horrifying experience to read it, and yet I couldn’t look away. I ripped through the whole thing in a couple of days, repulsed and glued to my kindle. Various aspects of the impact of this drastic change in human consumption habits are covered, including butcher shops, game reserves, and those desperate few who are starved of ‘special meat’ and will go to any lengths to obtain it.
This a provocative, deeply unsettling, and horrible story. Yet I’m going to rate it 5 fresh fingers out of 5, because it’s so unlike anything I’ve ever read and will stay with me forever. If you’re teetering on the edge of vegetarianism, this novel will likely push you over the edge.