Swift’s Modest Proposal, Revisited: Eating Our Children (UPDATED)

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled …”

Sometime in about my sophomore year in high school, our literature class studied Satire, that literary genre in which vices and shortcomings are exaggerated and held up to ridicule, with the goal of shaming individuals and society into improvement.  Satire is so preposterous as to be funny—but its greater purpose, beyond titillating the reader, is constructive social criticism.

One of the great satirical essays I remember most clearly is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.  Swift, well known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), penned A Modest Proposal to expose the cruel hegemony of England toward the Irish people.  In it, Swift proposes a solution to the problem of Irish children born to impoverished parents who cannot afford to feed them:  Sell them for meat, thus relieving the burden for hardworking parents, and ameliorating the food crisis which plagues the Irish people.  Swift writes:

Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolific diet, there are more children born in Roman Catholic countries about nine months after Lent than at any other season; therefore, reckoning a year after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of popish infants is at least three to one in this kingdom: and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of papists among us.

Swift’s indefatigable irony drew a strong response from our class of 15-year-olds.  One student, I recall—a sensitive girl who hadn’t yet grasped the idea of “satire” and thus believed the author to be truly advocating for roast baby on the dining table—cried quietly in the back of the room.

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The theme of depraved people-eating came up again in the 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson.  The film takes us to New York City in the year 2022, when the city’s population has grown to forty million people.  Housing is dilapidated and overcrowded; the streets and fire escapes and stairways are crowded with homeless people, clamoring for food and a place to sit.  With farmers unable to produce sufficient crops for the burgeoning populace, most people survive by eating small, green wafers called Soylent Green which, according to government sources, are packed with “high-energy plankton.”

The sci-fi horror film ends with a sickening disclosure:  With even the ocean’s resources depleted, there are no plankton remaining.  Soylent Green, we learned in horror, is people.  The corpses of the dead are taken to a processing plant where they are ground and transformed into food for the next generation.

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And still, life imitates art. 

Recently I read news reports on “human flesh capsules” from China.  South Korean government officials have confiscated thousands of smuggled drug capsules filled with powdered flesh from dead babies.  The infants—some aborted, some dead newborns—were chopped up, dried on stoves, then ground into powder, mixed with herbs to mask the contents, and packed into capsules.  The macabre pills were either carried in luggage or sent via international mail.

South Korean customs officials have confiscated the capsules which contain, not only human remains, but also bacteria and other harmful ingredients.  But because the amount was deemed “small” and because they weren’t intended for resale, no one has been punished.  The smugglers have claimed that they thought the capsules were ordinary “stamina boosters,” and that they didn’t know their grisly contents.

UPDATE:  This is actually not the first time I’ve written about eating children in China.  Check out this older post.  Gross, if I do say so myself.

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Here in America, our national obsession with “reproductive rights” has led us to accept that children are dismembered in the womb; that born-alive infants are allowed to die in buckets; that unspeakable things can be done to screaming infants in Kermit Gosnell’s clinic.  Perhaps this gruesome story will cause some to blink—and to ponder whether infants are, in fact, to be intrinsically valued because they have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  One can only hope.

Hope and pray.

  • http://CatholicFamilyToday.blogspot.com Don Gatwood

    No way! This is down right unbelievable. God have mercy on us.