Hannibal: A Vegan Perspective (Dudes, you’re eating people)


Before I go on let me dispel this wildly inaccurate opinion that people have about vegans. That old saying of ‘How do you know if somebody’s vegan? It’s okay, they’ll tell you’ is fair enough up to a point. Fact is, most vegans that I know – including myself – aren’t there to spoil your meat and dairy product party. We aren’t the preachy assholes that popular culture has made us out to be. I won’t sit there and tell you horrifying backstories about your dinner whilst I sit on my throne of self-righteousness nibbling on a lettuce leaf of right fucking on.

The truth is most of us only have to talk about our veganism because meat eaters will not stop talking about our veganism. Seriously. Every meal I have, or lunchtime trip into an office kitchen, has usually also ended up with a meat eater asking me about it and then telling me all about how I should be eating and wearing animal produce instead.

I’m not here to change the World – it would be nice, if I could, but I’m not fucking Wonder Woman – I know I won’t change anyone’s mind about the whole affair and I’m cool with that. I just want no part of the industry in my mouth, on my plate or on my body.

And so we have Hannibal. This show is incredible, first and foremost, using Thomas Harris’ characters and existing narratives with great craft and care. It’s tense, smart, artful and ultimately, satisfyingly horrific with some of the goriest and most inventive murders I’ve ever seen on TV. But what I’m really interested here is the meat. Let’s talk about flesh, baby.


Because the show revolves around our dearest Hannibal the Cannibal – the most precise gourmet chef to ever come out of the psychology department – we’re treated to an assortment of stunning culinary fare, all of which (regardless of my diet) I love watching. The recipe, the preparation, the sizzling, the sauces, the look on Hannibal’s face as he dishes up his latest creation to one of his colleagues investigating the people they’re probably eating – all of it is incredible. The dramatic irony is obviously delectable, but the menus in this show are astounding.

It’s spectacular to see the shit he comes up with. Cannibal or not, lets give credit where credits due and applaud this man’s culinary skills. Every episode serves up something new, and part of the thrill of each episode is also in seeing a fraction of a cookery show – Cooking with Hannibal. I’m fascinated by his patience and obvious love of edible creativity.

But meat is meat. And here’s where the vegan asshole in me comes out, because I can’t tell a lie, every time he serves up human to somebody who thinks they’re simply getting animal, I cackle, I applaud, I revel. Hannibal’s monstrous appetites are just as monstrous to me as the appetites of everyone who eats animal. I can’t separate one flesh from another. I’d be just as disgusted to know that the food in front of me came from a person as I would if I knew it came from a pig.

There’s been repeated discussions in the show about how Hannibal ‘fits the profile…’ of the Chesapeake Ripper. From the fact that psychiatry is often a profession adopted by those who get a thrill from superiority over others, to the fact that cannibals also enjoy their people diet, not for the nutrition or taste, but for the dominance. Hannibal is clearly a man who adores being an upper class, top of the food chain, intellectually superior being.

The way in which meat is used to signify this – human meat no less – is interesting. Not least when thinking about meat in terms of class. The upper classes enjoy a better standard of meat to the lower, often enjoying meat that lower classes revile like caviar (I’m gonna go right ahead and class that as a meat, because it’s gross pre-formed-fish, and near enough), veal or exotic animals. They eat that shit because they can afford to. It’s a signifier of how much money they have. Lower classes, on the other hand, will wind up buying and eating the cheapest they can find – the kind of stuff that you can’t trace back to a specific farm, or standard of welfare or feeding techniques.

Hannibal is simply taking this to the next level. By eating human flesh rather than animal flesh he’s making himself top of that class pyramid. He’s Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly watching everyone roll a dice to play on a board which he ultimately owns.

Meat is power. To slaughter a living creature for meat is to exert your power over that creature.

What Hannibal highlights is our hypocrisy as a culture when we think about meat and where meat comes from. The mistake that many of Hannibal’s dinner guests make – as we all do in our everyday lives when eating the mass produced muck that we pick up on our way home from work – is not questioning where that food comes from. How was it produced? Where was it produced? What the fuck is actually in it? Is it ethical? Does it matter? We eat because we’re hungry. We often don’t question any of it because we enjoy it. Often, the truth is too grim to bear. I’m probably just as guilty of it as most meat eaters are – no pedestal here, folks – albeit with different concerns about the grub I’m shovelling into my gob.

Question (Destiny’s Child style, if you will): Does Hannibal care about gender when he’s cooking? Does a female thigh taste different to a male? Is he a breast man? Would he delight in the delicacies of a boiled uterus or a stir fried scrotum? Does he have a preference? Hannibal’s sexuality is as subtle as the flavour infusions he packs his gourmet cuisine with. Sex, to Hannibal, seems like nothing more than a power exchange. A performance, even. A piece of the theatrical puzzle that he’s playing out via his grandiose murders and manipulation of the surrounding players.

It’s almost as though he’s replaced the dominant thrill of a fantastic fuck with the dominance over a flesh which can be completely devoured. Cannibalism is his sex – his conquering over another. So it would make sense that he would consume that meat with the same fetishisation that we all enjoy over whatever parts of a person’s body it is that gets us all wet and, well, salivating.

His careful dressing of the meats is to the point of perversity – such care, such craft, like a dude who buys his lady friends lingerie guaranteed to get him off. We’re a culture obsessed by but completely detached from flesh. We consume it, we ogle it, we enjoy it, but never like to think too much about the source of that flesh. We consume animals without thinking – people love their dogs and as such could never eat one, because they’ve formed a relationship with one – but the meat on people’s plates is anonymous, vague, a dinner and not a corpse. Through objectification we also allow for women to be reduced to torso, tits, pussy and ass, with little thought for who they might be in real life.We’re entranced by the body but detached from the individual. .

But Hannibal is a show which makes no qualms about the horror of eating flesh, in all forms. And whilst it portrays the monstrosities of flesh, death and murder in truly horrific manners, it also completely revels in it making centrepieces out of squid tentacles, pig heads, and entire roasted birds (claws and all! Euw!) just as the human corpses are presented theatrically and artfully.

Hannibal is indulgent in it’s love of meat, and no beast or part is spared, which is exactly the sort of meat eater that I can respect (if I had to, like). You’re either willing to partake of every single animal going, and every single part of the animal that can be turned into meat (Head! Heart! Liver! Kidney! Bollocks!) or else you have some serious questions that you need to ask yourself about your relationship with meat, and your relationship with animals.

The styling of the meat in Hannibal is just as artful as the murders of the humans are – I mean, they have to be, they’re by the same guy – but doesn’t that just make the whole thing that extra step creepier? These morbidly styled slaughtered animals dressed up to look like the cooked flesh of the morbidly styled slaughtered humans posed into masterful artefacts of the dead.

There’s such intricate parallels between the presentation of the murders of the week and the meal of the week that I honestly don’t know how meat eaters can stomach it. I’d be seriously paranoid that at some point in my life somebody was bound to do a Sweeney Todd on me and serve me human in place of pig. I don’t know how people separate death and corpses and murder from the meaty meals on their plates. When I eat meat all I can taste is death, skin, blood and expiry. It’s like tasting my own mortality and I can’t find anything delicious about suffering.

hannibal-cumberlandThe fact is, flesh disgusts me, murder horrifies me, abuse sickens me and I’m sometimes made to feel completely socially suffocated and reviled every day because I strongly maintain those feelings towards animals as well as humans. What I love about Hannibal is that it highlights the possibility that there’s a possibly indistinguishable fine line between the two. That maybe Ghandi was right when he said ‘You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats it’s animals’. Because society is eating itself, my friends. And Hannibal is merely serving the waste right back to us.


14 thoughts on “Hannibal: A Vegan Perspective (Dudes, you’re eating people)

  1. so your opening is basically saying ‘us vegans aren’t all preachy and only talk about how bad eating meat is’ Then you continue to be preachy and talk about how bad eating meat is.
    Thanks for continuing to perpetuate the stereotype about us.

    • No problem! Next time Ill remember to tone down my personal icky feelings towards meat and throw in some positives about animal flesh and cannibalism. Thanks again Vegan_Frustrated!

  2. Hey, I really enjoyed your article even though I haven’t watched a single episode of the show yet.
    I like how you point out that cannibalism (or the portrayal thereof on the show) is the ultimate objectification of meat that we usually come across in other forms, say, women reduced to tits and ass.
    “Meat is power. To slaughter a living creature for meat is to exert your power over that creature.” That quote highlights the kind of discourse that is of interest to me when analyzing TV shows: What kind of power play do we have? Who exerts power over whom and why?
    I’m a vegan too, btw, and you didn’t come across as preachy to me. This article is a subjective piece after all, and taking yourself out of it wouldn’t really serve the point you were/are trying to make.

  3. id been having similar thoughts while watching season 2 and figured someone must have written a vegan perspective on the show! the parallels between the meals and murders is unmistakable. great article 🙂

  4. Interestingly I would be more than happy to eat human flesh as well as that of animals.
    I do agree that we should be very respectful of how we treat our meat, and display it. We should be thankful that we are top of the food chain, and enjoy every bite.

  5. Pingback: 19 Ways All-Boys Catholic School Failed To Prepare You For The Real World | Sharing Interesting Stuff, Updates News & Free Tips

  6. I’ve never seen the show, but after watching Cloud Atlas (which has a cannibalistic theme in one of the interwoven stories), I don’t understand how people can watch that film or this show without seeing the metaphor. This was a badass read! Also, thank you for this quote: “When I eat meat all I can taste is death, skin, blood and expiry. It’s like tasting my own mortality and I can’t find anything delicious about suffering.” As a vegan, I like to have a basketful of things to tell others when they question my dietary choices. When people ask me if I miss the taste, I’m gonna whip out this reality-smashing gem. (Preachy level 3.)

  7. As a meat eater… spot on. Were it not for the unfortunate issues of prions that can come from cannibalism, I’d be just as down eating sustainably-raised, organic human, because at least I’d know that society would raise the meat with care. In fact this is my main problem with diehard vegans/vegs. By refusing to even think about how the messy act that pretty much every lifeform does in one way or another, it means they’re distanced from it. When you’re distanced from it, it’s real easy to say things like “just eat soy and lots of (expensive) supplements”, or not factor in local resources and cultural diets. It also means that in rejecting the industry wholesale they’re not actively trying to reform it, which means consumption is high as ever, and the lives being lost are short and full of pain… instead of a decent length with an unfortunate bit of discomfort at the end.

    If anything I support the idea that every person have to go hunt their own food at least once. I guarantee that faced with the task people will try to opt for the most humane way possible, and they’ll be sure to use as much of the animal as they can, and most likely avoid eating too much of it in the future. The answer to the discomforting question of how to reduce suffering is not distance, but even more uncomfortable closeness. It’s part of what I like in the series. Meat’s meat.

    You asked about how it’d all taste though, and let me tell you, when I put meat in my mouth I do taste more than murder (murder not having a taste naturally, but various fluids in the tissue can impact the taste negatively if the animal is frightened before death. Part of that is why stun bolts and “traitor livestock” started to come into use). When I have a Spanish ham, I taste how that boar wandered around on a hillside eating acorns and other nuts, fat and happy as can be. When I had an organic chicken I needed to do little at all in the way of spices or sauce- living well means there’s not much stress at all on the body that you have to “cover up” with anything else. Rabbit? The quality of the food it ate and how hard/or easy its’ life was. The quality of the water they lived in or drank, the environment they lived in, it all adds up in a thousand ways. It’s the only other issue I’d have with cannibalism- we put a lot of awful things into us, we’d probably need all the spicing and sauces we could get, just for us to be palatable.

  8. Pingback: Optimistic Darkness and Counter-Cultural Real Talk in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt | A Feminist Trash TV & Pop Culture Blog

  9. I am a meat-eater, who loves animals, and who has tried Vegetarianism.
    Basically now I am trying to have a mostly vegetarian diet, with meat maybe 3 times per week.
    – “To slaughter a living creature for meat is to exert your power over that creature.”
    But I dont think its why most people eat meat. I dont. The reason I reverted to eating meat and not full vegetarianism, are simply the PSYCHOACTIVE effects of meat consumption (including offal which I love to eat. I am European and offal is common here. Liver, heart, stomach, tongue, brains, you name it).
    I just dont feel the same as a vegetarian. I feel weak (and I am an athlete). I think Vegetarianism can be excellent for fully sedentary people, like cows grazzing all day. But for a physically active man, its very difficult to stay fit without eating animal products.

    But in general I do agree with your thoughts on the hypocrisy of consumers. And I think it applies to all products. Do you think that 99% of supermarket goods are better than meat? For example cereals, chocolate bars, or other such things, made in factories which pollute the environment, destroy it, you name it, people dont care and eat.

    I for once, always go to a proper butcher for my meat, when I eat it. (In Europe we still have these tradesmen). I know where the meat comes from, what it ate, and I have some kind of assurance that he lived decently until his death. In fact…I would be a hunter and kill the animal myself, if only it wasnt so expensive in Europe to do.

    My view is that animals are equal to men. But somehow, I still need to eat some of them. Its not right, but biologically I need it, just like my cat who tortures and kills a mouse or bird.
    But I will definitely do more in the future, to introduce more animals on this earth, and to better their environment. Animals IMO are better than humans in many ways, and we need to help them.

    The whole point i want to make…Is that morality is one thing, biology is another.
    If humans were like Giraffes or Cows, herbivores, then I would love if everyone just ate vegetables & cereals (and we would not even think about it if we were, we couldnt eat meat without getting sick), but we just arent herbivores. We are omnivores who require some meat for optimal living (and I do agree that humans just eat too much).

  10. I love your article. The objectification, spot on, the matter of “society is eating itself”, spot on. This seems to bring up the matter of consent : one of the most horrifying things about the murders is the fact that the victims most often know what is happening and are terribly unwilling.

    Disrespect of consent is something performed in our society towards animals, women, children, lgbt, people of different cultures, countries, origins, you name it. People in general. Consent is neglected over value, monetary mainly, in some cases taste, the achievement of desire (sexual or other) really reflecting a need for dominance or confirmation of existence, as in Hannibal…

    Also, not eating meat and not wearing animal products means not financing the animal-products industry. Production meets demand, not demanding means reducing or changing the industry, or at least the production. It does have an impact, and a notable one. I don’t think it is hypocrisy.
    Onwards, humans are omnivorous, so are pigs. Do we feed them meat? No. We need protein among other things found in meat, which can be obtained from diverse different and sustainable sources. (beans, soy, peas, etc etc) I really don’t think meat is a necessity. I think eating meat is okay, especially when it is produced in a respectful manner, but I don’t think it is necessary.

  11. Pingback: 19 Ways All-Boys Catholic School Failed To Prepare You For The Real World | view3d.tv

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s