Review and summary of Tender is the Flesh by author Agustina Bazterrica
Spoiler Free Review
Tender is the Flesh is based on the premise that in an overpopulated world humans are bred for meat. This is not new territory but this is a new exploration of it. One that explores how easily we are able to dehumanize people and how selfish people can truly be.
In a not too distant future a virus makes animal meat unsafe to eat. The farming and meat industries refuse to let this bankrupt them so they quickly establish a market for human meat. They call it “special meat” and consumers eat it right up. It starts with dehumanized steaks and fillets but evolves to people serving whole legs that are clearly human. Some enthusiasts even go so far as eating the human chattel alive.
The book follows Marcos who works at one of the human meat processing plants. He hates his job but sticks with it for the paycheck. Through him we see the disgusting details of this world.
I thought at first that Tender is the Flesh would parallel our current meat industry and have a lesson in veganism. I was wrong. This is not an allegory for the treatment of cows. The characters in this world go so far beyond how we would ever treat animals that it sticks fully in the horror genre without a clear commentary.
I could see how some consumers could detach themselves from the reality of human meat. It’s easy for us to buy our meat faceless. This happens already so it isn’t a stretch to believe it would continue. Where the realism falls apart is that average meat eaters accept a practice that involves keeping the livestock alive while slowly harvesting meat from it.
This tortuously slow death is committed at the household level, personally by anyone who performs cooking. How in the world this would become normal is beyond me. It works on a horror level but I couldn’t accept it anywhere near realism.
I would easily bet that most people wouldn’t be comfortable keeping a cow on their property, feeding and caring for it every day, and then remove its leg to serve to guests. Then what? Cauterize or otherwise protect the wound, nurse it back to health, give it medicine and clean it, just to cut off another leg and do it all over again for every dinner party? And these people just start doing that with a person?
Home cooks now don’t often even have butchery skills let alone surgical ones!
Even if these people truly believe that the human head, as the living meat is called, are less than the average person and are solely for meat, how could anyone look at a creature that looks like they do and take a limb or meat from their body without any guilt or question?
My biggest hang up with Tender is the Flesh is that it has built a world with no empathy. Everyone accepts this strange reality and the few who decided to go vegan instead of eat humans are chastised and criticized for their lifestyle. Full disclaimer, I do eat meat and this book didn’t change my mind but if my only meat option was a human whose tongue gets cut off when they’re born so that they can’t scream I’m going to pick the tofu.
Everyone in the book is extremely selfish and emotionally cold. Not just when it comes to their new meat but with each other as well. Apparently when you dehumanize meat you dehumanize everyone. It’s an off putting scenario to say the least.
All of that aside, Tender is the Flesh is a quick and entertaining read that is certain to spark a discussion or two. It builds a flawed world (on purpose) and leads to a highly disturbing ending that will shake up even the most seasoned horror readers.
Above all else, this novel is fucked up. No other way to put it. If you are looking to be shocked and disturbed add this book to the top of your to read list.
4/5 human meats 🦵🏻🦵🏻🦵🏻🦵🏻
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What is Tender is the Flesh About?
Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica is about a world in which animal meat becomes too dangerous to eat so the meat industry turns to breeding humans instead. Marcos works at a processing plant for this “special meat” while he deals with the downward spiral of his personal life.
His wife left after the death of their infant son, his father has dementia, his sister is manipulative, and now he has been gifted a special breeding female that he doesn’t know what to do with. The novel follows Marcos has he struggles with morality in a dehumanized world.
It’s the feeling of a complex and precious organism expiring little by little, and also becoming a part of you.Agustina Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh
Tender is the Flesh Full Summary
In a near future a virus has made all animal life not safe for human consumption. This, combined with general overpopulation, has lead to a booming human meat industry. However, to make the product more marketable they call it “special meat” instead of what it actually is.
Marcos, the narrator and main character who goes unnamed for a large section of the book, works at one of the largest meat processing plants in the country. He hates his work and struggles to dehumanize the product, which they call head. Think of individual head of cattle if you’re familiar with the jargon. He only continues this work for the paycheck which he needs to take care of his father with dementia.
One day he is gifted a breeding female from a client. He doesn’t want to accept the gift but is stuck with her. She’s a proprietary genetic line and he doesn’t want to use her in the company so he locks her up on his own property instead. It is not completely uncommon for people to own domestic head so this isn’t necessarily taboo in itself.
The rules and societal acceptance for domestic head are strange. Slavery is strictly and legally forbidden. Sex with the head is taboo and also punishable by law. Using them for meat is the primary purpose but these consumers take it way too far. It is standard practice to harvest meat from them slowly, keeping them alive for as long as possible in order to have a consistent supply of the freshest meat possible. Absolutely disturbing.
In his life Marcos has a dying father, a wife who has left him and isn’t communicating after the death of their child, an emotionally distant butcher with whom he previously had an affair, and now his female.
As he returns to work we get a tour of the plant through the eyes of two job applicants. One is horrified and becomes nauseous, the other is too excited about the prospect of killing. The reader is likely supposed to use this section of the book to determine where they stand on the issue. It read to me like a typical processing plant and since I’m a meat eater and daughter of a butcher I wasn’t too freaked out. I don’t want to eat people but I can’t say the horrors of meat are anything new for me.
His wife finally calls him but says she’s still not ready to come home. To deal with everything he gets very drunk and destroys his dead son’s bed. Then, he sets the female free.
He wakes to find that she hasn’t fled, she doesn’t really know any better. He watches her sleeping and is startled by his own thoughts, we can guess what. So he traps her again and flees to the butcher. In order to purge his thoughts he has rough sex with her in a bloody butcher room. Ew, don’t do that, wipe the table down at least.
He goes to visit his sister and we learn that he doesn’t eat meat. This is strangely the minority in this world. One would think that with the larger acceptance of veganism today that more people would take that option over eating humans but apparently they just judge vegans even harder now.
The sister tries to use Marcos to get a domestic head of her own. Offended, he storms out.
On his way home he detours to an abandoned zoo. He comes here from time to time to reflect on the world that they’ve lost. A world where people joyously kill any animals on sight. He wanders further in than usual and finds a litter of small puppies. Throwing caution to the wind, unafraid of the virus, he touches animals for the first time in years. He finds himself smiling and crying for the first time since his son died.
He only leaves when the adult dogs come back and chase him off. He fantasizes about dying for the dogs and letting them feast off of his body.
When he gets home he cleans the female. It is implied that he has sex with her and it is made fairly clear that she is unable to consent or even knows what it means. She has the mental development of a child left outside of society. This is rape in the same vein as beastiality.
Flash forward and the female is living in the house instead of locked outside. She’s becoming domesticated. She’s 8 months pregnant.
Marcos has a meeting with a hunter who purchases head from him and we get another glimpse into this bleak world. He wants to purchase pregnant females to hunt. He says that they have the most fight in them because they have the most to lose. He likes to eat from them while they’re still alive. We don’t do this to animals now, why would this become accepted practice? Sick freaks.
An inspector comes by Marcos’ home and forms suspicions he is illegally keeping domestic head without registration.
His father dies and he spreads the ashes at the zoo. He replaces the ashes with sand and trash from the ground to give to his sister. She never helped with caring for him and always referred to him as a burden. Once again, people in this world are just so cold.
He carries on at work but without his father has less motivation to keep his job. He visits with the head of a lab that acquires head for disturbing experiments. He no longer puts on his customer service face and is sassy and impatient with them.
He continues his spiral downward as he ignores calls from his sister and his wife. He reluctantly attends a service for his father put on by the sister where she serves an arm from a domestic head she’s keeping alive. He finds the armless head in her new cold room. Seriously, how could that become normalized? With any living creature? Could you do that to a cow with your own hands and look the poor thing in the eye every day? Sorry, this was the most disturbing aspect of the book and honestly the reason to read it.
Back at the plant human scavengers have attacked a transport car, killed the driver, and stolen the meat. They agree to poison these hungry people for their theft.
He returns home to find the female going into labor. He calls his wife for help. As a nurse she is able to help deliver the baby. While she should be absolutely disgusted with this scenario she understands his intentions and they work together.
She delivers a healthy baby and then they kill the female. They have their family back.
If it wasn’t clear, this man impregnated the female to replace their dead son and his wife is totally cool with that. He doesn’t eat meat but he breeds with one. His morals seem a little confused.
But the end. Happy ending for their fucked up little family, may this whole world burn.