When constructing his successful satire, A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift assumed most people would find the idea of eating (Irish) babies offensive and disgusting. And, in 1729, he was right.
I'm not so sure the same would be true today.
Ever heard a parent cradle his or her chubby baby and say something to the effect of "You're so cute, I could eat you"? I have, many, many times, and I don't think a disproportionate number of my acquaintances are cannibals. I even observed one mother jokingly(?) nibble on her 18-month-old's chubby thigh.
But, Joanna, you say, they don't seriously want to eat their kids. I guess not, though they, unlike some North Koreans, aren't starving. But nevertheless, popular culture is certainly sending us some weird messages regarding consumption and children.
Every Halloween, for example, I see more and more small children dressed as fruits, vegetables, bacon, hot dogs, cookies, etc. Of course, they look freakin' adorable. But the increasing popularity of these costumes suggests there's something appealing as well as permissible about conflating children with food. Even the police department of Mountain View, California, proved susceptible to this confusion.
It's not entirely clear whether the proliferation of "edible children" imagery is a reflection of society's interest in conceiving of kids as food or whether these representations are actually encouraging more of us to think that babies, not beef, is what's for dinner.
Freud would certainly have a field day with this topic, and I'll leave it to modern-day social scientists and psychologists to offer elaborate explanations as to why the prospect of eating children appeals to us. Perhaps we lay people would have better insight into if Hansel and Gretel had asked some questions before pushing that witch into the oven.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.