Dylan Hallingstad O’Brien

That Which Can Never Be Eaten: ‘Exceptional’ Meat and the Reinforcement of Everyday Consumption

By, Dylan Hallingstad O’Brien, Undergraduate at Hamline University


Moments of exceptional consumption of nonhuman, and occasionally human, animal bodies in texts are often read as uncommon and startling. At the same time, they are present in literary canons around the world, and involve the consumption of everyone from companion animals to human animals. Previously, analysis of such moments has centered on understanding through disgust and horror, or even seeing the moments as questioning the consumption of nonhuman animals. This paper will examine narratives of exceptional consumption in a global context and suggest that narratives of exceptional meat not only reinforce everyday consumption, but are necessary to the sustenance of everyday consumption.

Increasingly, narratives of consuming nonhuman animal bodies have come to be scrutinized by those situated in critical animal studies (CAS) and animal advocacy. However, attention thus far has been on farmed nonhuman animals or nonhuman animals commonly consumed, with an attention to nonfiction narratives. Yet, there has been little concern with fictive consumption, and the representation of nonhuman animals that are rarely consumed or used by human animals. In this paper, I will argue that a CAS approach to literary analysis should understand moments of exceptional consumption not so much as aberrations in literary canons, whether of differing nationalities or age demographics, but as commonplace, and not so much concerned with addressing the moral concerns around mean consumption of nonhuman animals, but silencing it.


Dylan Hallingstad O’Brien is a student at Hamline University, and has previously presented at several conferences, including the 2013 & 2014 North American Conferences for Critical Animal Studies. His academic work focuses on the intersections of disability and nonhuman animals in literature, and he was awarded a research grant this past summer to examine Japanese erotica featuring nonhuman animals.