Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Consuming Flesh: The Biopolitics of Beef Consumption
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This dissertation explores contemporary cultural politics via the optic of beef consumption. Drawing from the work of Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Bruno Latour and Jacques Derrida, I examine the discursive conditions that both normalize and pathologize the consumption of animal flesh in terms of what resonates as natural, good or ethical consumption, what is considered marginal or fringe, and what is regarded as unethical, unnatural or unhealthy. My interest is how discourses surrounding the health and ethics of flesh consumption articulate with broader regulatory regimes. I focus on beef because of its centrality in North American diets. Beef has recently become the target of health and environmental concerns, in part due to the emergence of vegetarianism as well as animal rights organizations that are calling contemporary agricultural and gastronomic practices into question. Beef is also a salient trade and political issue with recent outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), a fatal disease that can cross the species divide from cattle to humans via flesh consumption. I propose that underlying the contemporary politics of beef consumption are deeper struggles over the nature of the divide separating humans from animals as well as culture from nature. These boundaries are continuously constructed, maintained and challenged by our beliefs about and accepted practices of flesh consumption (who or what we deem acceptable to eat). They are bound up in the ways in which we categorize eating practices (herbivores, carnivores, vegetarians) and how we respond when these categories are transgressed. To conclude, I explore alternative ways of conceiving an ethics of flesh consumption, one that takes into account our often troubled relations with animal bodies. Following the work of Jacques Derrida, I propose that such an ethics be framed in terms hospitality and conviviality: we never eat entirely on our own because we are inherently in relation with other beings and situated within particular environments, both material and symbolic. This acknowledges and respects the boundaries imposed by the particularities, contingencies and contradictions so intimately bound up with our need to consume other bodies as well as other bodies that need to consume.