A review of The Ethical Treatment of Meat by Claude Lalumiere (in Objects of Worship, Chizine, Toronto, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille
For those that have read my work before, you will know that I have a love of the monstrous and, particularly, the ability of the monstrous to question ideas of normalcy. Lalumiere’s short story The Ethical Treatment of Meat leaves the reader with a sense that everything from notions of the family, to food, to fads are up for examination.
This story calls to mind ideas of factory farming, the ethical treatment of animals, ecological ideologies, and generally leaves the reader with a sense of indigestion that makes him or her think about his or her next meal and question the ethics of eating.
Lalumiere’s protagonists are two queer-oriented zombies, Raymond and George, living in a world where homosexuality is widely accepted and normalised as long as it is between two consenting, undead adults. Unlike a lot of stories with gay protagonists, this story does not overly focus on their homosexuality or make it foundational to their personalities or the plot. Instead, their sexual identity is treated like a minor part of the overall nature of the characters and the story. As in reality, sexual identity is not the only formative or the most prevalent characteristic in the development of an individual. It is refreshing to see characters whose queerness is not seen as weird or marking of their individuality. Much more significant is their undeadness, which, in this world makes them real people. Humanity (the living kind) are situated as animalistic creatures to be farmed.
Raymond and George begin to question the ethics of factory farming human beings and, since zombies are incapable of birth but still have paternal/maternal instincts, they, like many other zombies have decided to adopt human beings as children/pets. They play with their child, inspiring absolute terror and reading this as abject pleasure. But, like many people, their feeling that they are taking care of an animal is more situated on their own desire to ward off apathy and depression than for the wellbeing of the animal.
Underlying their notion of the human animal as a child/pet is the idea that its existence is limited, and, at adulthood it will likely be eaten. George and Raymond begin to question the ethics of factory farming human beings and considers that, in light of the joy they experience with their fleshy child, perhaps it would be worthwhile to explore ethical farming practices and free-range humans. As the two zombies question the ethical framework of their society, Lalumiere invites the reader to think critically about farming and the treatment of animals.
In The Ethical Treatment of Meat, Lalumiere creates a world of moral questions, an inquisition into the nature of morality as a whole and the humanist (read- overly human focused) underpinnings of morality.