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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: January 2018

2 - Meat without Animals: Outcast Objects and the Improvement of London


‘Finally, he was quartered’, recounts the Gazette d'Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch's thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints …

The age-old meat market on the north-western fringes of the City is a site of butchery in more ways than one. Revolting peasant Wat Tyler was famously put to the sword by the Lord Mayor hereabouts, although that was more of a politically motivated murder than a planned execution. The area came to be known as something of a health hazard for anyone who disagreed with the monarch. William Wallace met his end here in 1305, via the now-familiar hanged-drawn-quartered technique. A memorial to the shouty Scot is still visited by flower-laying patriots to this day. A couple of centuries later, Smithfield was also the scene of religious executions, when Bloody Mary I condemned at least 50 Protestants to death by burning (also commemorated with a plaque). Swindlers and confidence tricksters were occasionally boiled to death in oil. Nice place, Smithfield.

Harriet Ritvo summarises Darwin's intellectual outline as an ‘elaborate schema in which people occupied no especially prominent position’. There are myriad humiliations of the human one could consider in relation to this decentring and flattening of living communities. I will here forego some of the recent theoretical inquiries into the concept of ‘life’ or the insufficiency of terms like community and relations to express the various modes of coexistence fully inflecting the objects called ‘alive’ and ‘dead’, or even ‘objects’. But it will be worth considering what, exactly, we mean when we say ‘animal’ and what, then, we could possibly mean by ‘meat animal’. This is addressed in the period, as animals become manufactured articles for consumption, abetted by new technologies of husbandry, management, slaughter and distribution including forms that are not even meat, but things like extracts and powders.