Stories from the Field: Dissociative Morbidity

“You know how spring usually smells like dog poo?” Yvonne called across the cubicle to her co-worker. “This year I think it smells more like chicken crap.”

“You know chickens?”

“Well, no. I know pigs. But I have driven through Abbotsford.”

Yvonne’s co-worker then proceeded to tell her about how she sanitized her brothers pig barn in 1996 and how the smell of pigs stayed in skin for days, despite wearing a Tyvek suit. She hadn’t visited her brother’s pig barn since.Yvonne upped the antie by relaying the story of how she’d visited the grocery store after visiting the dead pigs of her graduate research project. She was in the frozen food section when she was overtaken by a strange pungent odor. Confused, because it was the frozen foods section, Yvonne then realised, “Oh wait, it’s me!” and went straight home to shower and change.And just to make sure Yvonne won the game, she then told another story: she had done an internship at the Medical Examiner’s Office during her graduate work. The smell of dead people lingered in her nose for days after each visit, even after intensive, successive bathing.

Her co-worker, a confirmed farm-girl, couldn’t top that. Yvonne nodded, smiling. Dead people usually had that effect.Yvonne later pondered on the ‘dead things’ topic of conversation. There weren’t too many people which whom she could discuss such things. In fact, there is a distinct dissociation with dead things that living people tend to maintain at great cost.

For instance, meat on the hoof is called something different than meat on the plate. Cow, pig, sheep are called beef, pork, and mutton, respectively. Why do we not ask for, “a slice off the butt of a dead cow” in a restaurant but instead ask for, “sirloin beef”? Part is the butchering, part is likely a dissociation with the dead. This makes Yvonne wonder what human cannibals called dead people on their plate: succulent sapiens, mouthwatering ancestrus, or just mine enemy? However, considering that cannibals are known to ingest other people to incorporate their power, strength, or wisdom, there likely isn’t a dissociation, but rather an enforced association with their meal of dead people. Mmm, thoughts to ponder…. Yvonne intends to pocket this question (along with her plethora of ‘Dead Baby’ jokes) for the next time she runs into a tribe of cannibals. Hopefully she’ll have a translator present (and alive) to assist in her anthropological query.

So there is an apparent dissociation between humans and their food. But what about humans and their own dead? (Note: this is entirely from a Westernized, Christian-based perspective.)’Uncle Bob’ remains ‘Uncle Bob’ when dead; the act of death doesn’t translate ‘Uncle Bob’ into beef, pork, or mutton. We shiver when thinking of the disarticulation or mutilation of a dead human body. In fact, there is an increased association upon the death of a human being (or any loved pet) in contrast to the dissociation with the death of animals we eat. We hold funerals, bury, burn, and otherwise commemorate the loved one’s death; we remember and eulogize the loved one’s good qualities and forget the bad. We tend to keep the body whole, or attempt to make it appear whole. We honour the dead body.

In contrast, for animals we eat, we raise nameless masses of them, slaughter them in big cold warehouses, rename their body parts then package them in plastic and ship them around the countryside, completely disarticulated from the rest of their body. We de-value the dead animals.

If Yvonne were a visiting E.T. anthropologist from Planet X, she might see this behaviour as demonstrative of the following:

– people want to associate more with their ancestors than with their food;

– people go through great lengths to dissociate themselves from their food;

– people seem more comfortable with carcasses in the ground than carcasses in their stomachs.

What’s more morbid: a fascination with the death of one of our own species, or turning a blind eye to what we put in our stomachs? We honour our own dead, but we don’t eat them. We de-value our food, but it eat anyway. Shouldn’t we, instead, be establishing a personal association with our food (like the cannibals) and acknowledging the power and strength that we derive from their carcasses?

Will Yvonne continue to read pop Zen Buddhist theory while trying to reconcile interconnectedness with mass denial? Will Yvonne manage to find someone else with whom to talk about dead things? Will anyone else ever appreciate the humour in Dead Baby jokes?

Stay tuned!

Related posts/articles:
Eating Animals – Johnathan Safran Foer
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