Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of
Human-Animal Relationships
(Columbia University
Press)
By Richard W. Bulliet
Anyone who wonders why society is so fascinated with explicit porn
and gory movies should listen to a novel explanation from Richard
W. Bulliet: We’ve gotten off the farm and away from animals.

So begins Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, with
enticing sex and gore, as it charts the history and future of
human-animal relationships. Bulliet, a history professor at
Columbia University, says we are in an era of ‘postdomesticity,’ in
which we rely on products of animals but have little contact with
them. We no longer see animals having sex or being slaughtered, he
explains, so we replace those sensations with film fantasies.
Likewise, we harbor ideas about vegetarianism and animal rights
that animal-raising cultures wouldn’t understand, and we embrace
postdomestic ideals of environmentalism, even as our society drives
‘less useful’ animals to extinction.

Bulliet’s writing is irreverent, seasoned with humor, and
sprinkled with pop references that draw in nonscholarly readers.
For instance, he refers to Jodie Foster’s horrific memory of the
slaughter of the lambs in The Silence of the Lambs.
Postdomestic audiences squirmed at the scene, he writes, but the
screenwriters forgot that children from cultures that frequently
work with animals would see slaughter as commonplace.

‘A remnant of what this bygone life was like survives in the
annual Miss Navajo Nation competition,’ he writes, ‘where every
lovely and well-educated contestant must demonstrate an ability to
slaughter and skin a sheep.’

Bulliet illuminates a facet of our modern disconnection most
would miss. In prehistoric times, he writes, animals were objects
of worship. But our spiritual connections eroded until animals
became mere machines for products like leather and meat.

Some people are rediscovering an environmentally mindful,
spiritual connection with animals. Someday, he says, we may
overthrow Paris Hilton and Freddy Krueger for a long-lost era ‘when
animals communed with gods, half-animal beings commanded respect,
and killing inspired awe and incurred guilt.’

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