Review: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
This concept...WHAT A CONCEPT! As soon as I heard about a dystopian that was being dubbed as vegan propaganda, I knew this book was for me.
First, animals became infected with the virus and their meat became poisonous. Then, governments initiated the Transition. Now, ‘special meat’ – human meat – is legal.
Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans only no one calls them that. He works with numbers, consignments, processing. One day, he’s given a gift to seal a deal: a specimen of the finest quality. He leaves her in his barn, tied up, a problem to be disposed of later. But the specimen haunts Marcos. Her trembling body, her eyes that watch him, that seem to understand.
Legitimised cannibalism is definitely a concept that appeals to me. Dystopia that is based in a realistic setting always results in a more disturbing reading experience (which I am all for). I'm not saying that this is necessarily in our near future, but as someone that has watched many a vegan documentary discussing the meat industry's impact on the environment, the future of food is a scary topic to cover. This book should absolutely also be marketed as a horror book as many of the descriptions of the processes that the 'meat' is subjected to, makes for a truly uncomfortable read. Many of the practices mentioned are common place in abattoirs, which clearly demonstrates how awful the cruelty of animals is to harvest their meat. Reading these passages and having to picture a human woman in this situation as opposed to a farm animal will force you to face your own speciesism, and how visualising one is considerably more comfortable than the other. When the book is talking about taste, growth hormones and antibiotics in the same ways that it is used in our current meat industries forces the reader to learn about our current practices. For example, females become increasingly stressed from continuous pregnancies, causing the meat taken from them being bad quality. This results in their meat being sold to fast food chains and is heavily processed. Or limbs being removed from the 'meat' to debilitate them from damaging their pregnant bellies.
There were further bizarre and thought provoking moments in the book. Racism within this dystopia was prevalent even within the meat industry, with varying colours of leather being made from different skin tones, and white skin on meat being more valuable. There was even comparative language in this book to the veal industry, and the disturbing ways in which their meat is farmed by saying that the meat of children is more tender. I expect I now will have turned your stomach – I apologise.
Beyond the crazy concept and interesting conversations between various characters that truly shine a light on the modern day meat industry, there is also a plot as opposed to just world building. As to be expected, Marco, being someone that works at an abattoir is not exactly a pleasant character. He dives into his own sick and twisted fantasies when it comes to the women that is involved in this trade, which makes for some truly disturbing and toe curling reading. The world building of this dystopia is truly it's shining light. You will be completely engrossed in this terrifying and sickening 'reality' that feels far too close to home. My only issue with the book – and what I feel it could have benefitted from – was an explanation as to why there were certain people that were being eaten and others that weren't. How did these humans get selected? I was looking forward to discovering the answer to this and felt disappointed when this question was never answered. If you enjoy a terrifying dystopia, have strong feelings about the modern day meat industry, or love reading a horror gore fest, I cannot recommend this highly enough! Just be aware that you will be itching for more answers that you may not get.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 29 November 2017 (my edition: 6 February 2020)
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Genres: Horror, Sci Fi, Dystopian
# of Pages: 224