Shelf Love

Consuming Desires: Cannibalism and Hunger in Romance

Short Description

“What is a greater expression of love than eating someone else or wanting to consume and have that person in a way that no one else can have?” Dr. Nicola Welsh Burke joins to delve into the intriguing topic of cannibalism in romance novels. We explore the intersection of food, eating, and sexuality, discuss the metaphorical use of cannibalism in literature, and examine the societal taboos and fascinations with the concept. The conversation touches upon various themes such as erotic vampirism, werewolf lore, incorrect eating, and how these elements are used to explore deeper human desires and fears.


romance scholarship, cannibalism

Show Notes

“What is a greater expression of love than eating someone else or wanting to consume and have that person in a way that no one else can have?” Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke joins to delve into the intriguing topic of cannibalism in romance novels. We explore the intersection of food, eating, and sexuality, discuss the metaphorical use of cannibalism in literature, and examine the societal taboos and fascinations with the concept. The conversation touches upon various themes such as erotic vampirism, werewolf lore, incorrect eating, and how these elements are used to explore deeper human desires and fears.

Media Mentioned/Discussed:

Guest: Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke

Dr. Welsh-Burke is an academic and lecturer at Western Sydney University in Sydney, Australia. She’s an early-stage researcher in folklore and fairy tales and the romance genre, and her PhD was on contemporary YA supernatural romance, retellings of little red riding hood from the 21st century.



Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I'm joined by Dr. Nicola Welsh Burke to discuss cannibalism and the ways in which food and eating have been used as a way to explore sexuality and desire in romance.

Dr. Nicola Welsh Burke, thank you again for joining me on Shelf Love Podcast. How are you today? Who are you?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I'm good. Thank you for having me back. I feel like we vaguely talked about eating in the last one, but I think we were talking mainly about lycanthropy. And the like sexy bad boy, because that is what I study. I do a lot in supernatural romance and I have for a really long time been focused on food and eating and it has recently led me to cannibalism as it does.

Andrea Martucci: it so often does.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: we end up here all the time.

Andrea Martucci: For people who did not catch your last episode, you study this. But who are you? What do you do? What's your situation?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I'm a lecturer and an academic at a university here in Sydney, at Western Sydney University. where I live and work, and I have been in, romance land for a few years now. That's what I did my PhD on. And so I've always just been focusing on studying pop culture, romance, things of that nature. I find it a really interesting little niche.

And of course, that is how we met, at conferences. And we met in person last year, which was delightful.

Andrea Martucci: It was delightful. We were in Birmingham, England, which is, I don't want to say halfway between. I think you traveled farther than I did. But it was so great to see you, and we went to this pub the first night there, and it was great, but you were so jet lagged. I felt so bad.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: No, I had to stay awake

Andrea Martucci: I kept you awake, and then we went to museums. It was a good time. It was really nice to see you IRL, as the kids say.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: yeah, see the bottom half of your body outside of a filming capacity.

Andrea Martucci: And also see how large your hands were in person. That was a highlight for me.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: My little rat hands,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, so you actually did a paper at the IASPR conference, and this was in 2023, about cannibalism, but that was like a year ago. So I was like, please remind me what your paper was about. This is just like an open field. You take us where you want to go. Teach us about cannibalism in romance.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: In romance specifically. The paper I did last year was on A Certain Hunger by Chelsea J. Summers. And what I found really interesting at the conference is that I did something that a few other presenters did as well, where we were like by definition, it's not technically a romance because it doesn't have this, but it has this element.

And it was really interesting [00:03:00] to see how everyone would negotiate like your individual definition of romance, but more specifically, sorry, my cat's also joined us.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, thank you for joining us. What's your cat's name?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Loki because I'm very original.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you for joining us, Loki. Lovely to have you on Shelf Love as well.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: He's here to contribute. So the book that I was studying, I found really fascinating because one of my thesis chapters and one of the areas, like I said, was representations of food and eating specifically. And that was a really interesting intersection in the story because it's about -No spoilers, but it's a food critic who ends up killing and cannibalizing some of her partners, not all of them.

And there was this fantastic merging from a writing perspective, these really amazing descriptions of food. So the food that she was studying? No, reviewing. And then also the way in which she prepared her lovers.

From a literary perspective, so this is separate, of course, from the history of cannibalism in reality, but from a literary perspective, there's this really nice, strong theme of that association between literal and metaphorical consumption, but then also the way in which the language around cannibalism and consumption can be used as in place of, or as an enhancement to, depictions of sex and sexuality, which we were talking about before.

You're like, the language of sex is so caught up with the language of food, which is almost by default, I guess.

Andrea Martucci: yes, yeah, so even off the top of my head, it just feels so prevalent in romance novels. And as I was saying earlier, even in the most vanilla romance novels like we're not talking about kinky stuff here. Things like tasting the other's flesh. There's lots of supping, licking. consuming bodily fluids of one's partner.

I mean, not just swapping saliva, but parts and fluids. I don't want to just focus on the fluids, right? But unless you literally cut somebody open or they emit something, it's definitely a sense that part of the intimacy of the romantic bond is also a comfort with the other's flesh. You know? Yeah, I won't continue that thought. But lots of tasting, right? And I think in particular this idea that one wants to taste delicious to their partner.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yes, heaps of that, but then also when you were just talking, it made me think of a lot of the language is also around, I guess what you could call like incorporation. So it's not just like literal associations with eating or tasting, eating, licking like that, but also the idea of absorbing almost, or that incorporating, absorbing within, and it's emerging as well, and so you have this idea of, truly, what is more romantic than consuming someone and they'll be with you forever, obviously, but it's that idea of yeah, we've absorbed.

Andrea Martucci: the Catholics agree in particular.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Maybe, yeah, I was raised Catholic, nickname for us is cannibal, so I guess it all merges into that.

Or is [00:06:00] it we're merging again.

Andrea Martucci: Same, I was raised on the body and blood of Christ.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: the Catholic to goth pipeline it's strong. I was contributing. But actually, the Sydney Writers Festival is on currently, and I went to a talk on Friday night, and it had Esme Louise James in it. And she does Kinky History on TikTok. And has a book, I just bought it when I was there.

Andrea Martucci: Ooh. I love books.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: yeah, I spent a lot of money there, but I was like, it doesn't count because it's on books. But it was on the history of sex. So she's more like a cultural studies academic. And then there was David Baker, who was a scientist and he does like big science, which I had actually never heard of before. And they were talking about one of the earliest I'm going to mangle this, so apologies to the scientists, but one of the earliest recordings or evidence of I guess what we would call like reproductive sex was cells that used to like just clone or like whatever that's called you know when you like you clone yourself you make another version of yourself and then they moved to what was essentially incorporating, so absorbing part of it.

And I only bring it up just because Esme Louise James had said, oh, it seems very cannibalistic. So the earliest incarnation of sex as we recognize it, or as we understand it, was an act of cannibalism. And I was there with a friend of mine who knew that I was talking today and knew what I was studying. So they were really excited. They're like see, it's all connected. And I was like, that's what I've been trying to tell you. But that made me think of the it's incorporation. It's not just, associations of eating and like biting a chunk out of someone but it's also the idea of like we've merged together, I have you now in like the best possible way

Andrea Martucci: And more permanently than the temporary merging of intercourse, for example, like penetrative intercourse, which is often described in literary circles as two becoming one, there's nothing between us, we are one being now, which is different from incorporation, but playing with that same idea of being so close and again like intimacy. But incorporation feels a little more permanent.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I think so and i think it's also the language used around it can be quite heavily romanticized, also it cannot be, but from a romance perspective, I think there's definitely that idea that, yeah, like the two becoming one or the permanency of it. But a lot of it, forever the struggle between like sex and cannibalism, that's clearly a fun struggle, but a lot of it is to do with that negotiation of the internal external.

So you're even talking about like food preferences or even talking about cultural food preferences rather than specific like individual ones. It's about what is and is not quote unquote acceptable to put into your body. This is not a correct food animal or this is not correct food. And then, what are you allowing to permeate?

And with many sex acts, as it were, there would weird way of putting it, but definitely there'd be that, the penetrability of the body or the things going into [00:09:00] other things, regardless of what they are, regardless of where they go. And it's that blurring of the boundaries between inside and outside, or, the individual and something else.

Yeah, with incorporation and then with eating, it's this idea of what are you allowing yourself to consume? What are you allowing to be in you, for lack of a better phrase.

And actually in the book that I was looking at for the conference and in like several of the books in the media that I've looked at, there's definitely a lot of discussion around that either it's like the deviance of letting something unacceptable quote, unquote, a lot of quotes around my conversation today, the deviance of letting that in or the thrill or the rebelliousness of consuming something or allowing something inside you that is not traditional or not the norm, whether that be, through a quote, unquote, deviant sex act or through, what is often referred to as incorrect eating, so eating something that's not appropriate or not accepted as food, and cannibalism is obviously very incorrect eating, morally and legally, I should say, obviously.

We're always talking about it hypothetically.

Andrea Martucci: I think the majority of our conversation really, we're talking about these as metaphorical concepts. Mm hmm. I think very important to be clear with that from the beginning. We're not encouraging actual cannibalism, but it is very interesting that it comes up so frequently, and very interesting what you were saying about what is considered acceptable to let into one's body.

I love my cat, but because I love my cat, it is unacceptable to eat a cat

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yes, it's a non food animal

Andrea Martucci: But why is it then that, we love other people and yet we're so preoccupied with this idea of, like it's metaphorical, right? I know that books like the one that you were talking about are playing with the idea of literally doing this..

But, we see this in many more figurative ways, particularly in romance, right? That are, do not have characters that are cannibals.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, and even in I always think of Where the Wild Things are, right? I'll eat you up, I love you so much. Or, I always think of it as part of that the cute crush impulse that you get sometimes. And one part of it is we talk about babies or small animals.

You want to crush them or you want to eat them or they're very like edible. And so it's just something that we talk about a surprising amount or we use the language of a surprising amount.

And then when it gets into something like romance, so I always say when I'm talking about what I'm studying, I go, oh, like it's having a bit of a moment, like cannibalism in romance.

And people are like, Oh, we're like, really? And I'm like yeah, if you sit down and you think about the language that we use and the way that it's just, you probably make cannibal references unconsciously in your everyday life or have recently, and then going into, I did a lot of work in supernatural romance. I was looking at werewolves specifically and of course vampires, but there's always that fear of incorrect eating with the werewolf because you're [00:12:00] concerned that they are going to physically consume you. In a way that's different from a vampire sucking blood, right?

But within supernatural romance it's also very heavily eroticized, so it's not only just the language of consumption and sex but also this is a figure who eats incorrectly or who has the potential to eat incorrectly. But we have eroticized that, we have romanticized that. The big bad wolf, but a sexy, big, bad wolf.

That's the summary of my PhD thesis, the sexy, big, bad wolf. That could have saved me a lot of time, I think. .


Andrea Martucci: yeah, if only you had started there.

So speaking of vampires, so a lot of vampire sexiness, there's always this very sexy moment that usually goes along with literal sexual intercourse , which is the drinking of the blood, right? Which is the penetration of the other and then incorporation of the other's life force, essentially, into them.

And even other supernatural stories, werewolves where they have to bite the neck of their fated mate and there's some sort of like blood play or exchange that goes on where they incorporate pieces of the other. It's so interesting like it does show up so much.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. And it's all about the bite for those ones, right? Specifically, especially when you're negotiating the morality of blood consumption, you often see workarounds where they consume donated blood, or they have it in a cup or something like that.

But so much of it is circling around the bite and the bite on the neck, or I guess, depending, there are many places you could consume a person from as a vampire. I imagine. So if you have a vampire love scene without the neck bite, what are we even doing? What's the point?

That's that's why we're here. Because it's so in grainted in the lore as it were, and the appeal partly for many people, obviously we all find different things appealing, but the appeal of it is in part yeah the bite and the blood sucking more so than just, yeah oh, here's a, an elegant crystal goblet with blood that you have dripped into.

You're like yeah, it's, I guess the same end result, but not what we're here for.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, it feels like the location from which the blood is coming from, not only that it is being pulled directly from the body, but that it's in these highly vulnerable places. The neck.

The fact is that you're talking about places where these major arteries are running close to the surface, right? That's literally what we're talking about and that's why they are vulnerable places where as animals, which we are animals, we are so protective of these spaces because, primally we understand that they should be protected.

And so it does seem to be an ultimate sign of trust when that bite is consensual, obviously, and a violation if it's not consensual.

There's a great book by Heather Guerre in her Tooth and Claw [00:15:00] series. The series has both vampires and werewolves, but in the one with the vampires, she's literally like a donor who goes to his house and instead of taking the blood out of her and putting it in a bag that he can suck, like she arrives at his house like, DoorDash. You know, here I, Here I am and

Nicola Welsh-Burke: 30 minutes or less.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and there's an interesting financial component like financial transaction component. That's just one example where i'm thinking of where it is playing with that idea of it being better when it's from the source and also the intimacy and the discomfort of doing it the first time and then it like of course it comes along with getting off. There's inherently this sexual component that's understood to be there and then of course it becomes a romantic and sexual relationship.

But you were talking earlier about the difference between putting it in a goblet versus taking it from the source. And it always makes me think about how okay, so when two people are making out, they are swapping saliva, right? And yet, we all feel a bit uncomfortable at the idea of if I spit in a cup and then hand it to my husband there's, there does tend to be a little bit of revulsion in the idea of drinking from that cup.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: It's all in the execution, right? Like, it's got it's got to be contextual, for most people, I imagine that would be fair. You said that before we started recording, and I was like, it is 9am, ma'am please.

When we're talking about vampirism as well, it's that discussion of where do we start classifying something as cannibalistic, right?

Because it is the consumption of another person's like body fluids. And then there's that angle of, is this an eroticized sex act or is this a cannibalistic act? And I think it's a really interesting one to think of in relation to, it is a way that you can explore some of the things that we were talking about with cannibalism, the like consumption, the incorporation, the closeness like that, in a way that's renewable, because there's really only so much of a person you can eat before they have been eaten.

Andrea Martucci: You have now extinguished their being, and they are no longer a partner,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: It's a one and done kind of situation, unless you're like rationing them out. At least with bloodsucking, it gets replenished, it gets renewed. But I was just thinking, some of my other research is in participatory culture and fan culture. And I was like, oh yeah I've definitely seen fanfics where the trope is they've turned into vampires and one of them becomes like the donor to the other for financial reasons or they're kidnapped or wherever you want your trope hmm. story to go.

Andrea Martucci: it's only one bed for vampires.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, it's the only one bad for vampires. It's such a renewable source, but it's also such a renewable story as well. We just come back to it time and time again to be like, how can we successfully negotiate our desire to consume someone else via fiction and via vampirism, I imagine some other vampire scholars may see it differently, which is, part of the appeal, but [00:18:00] it's a renewable source.

Andrea Martucci: You touched earlier on biological aspects of this, right? And without going too far into the history of actual cannibalism, is there a biological drive here? Again, you also mentioned that instinct we all have where you see a little baby with cute chubby legs and you literally just want to bite them and and when my daughter was a baby I would literally just enclose her little leg with my teeth and it was like my teeth are like shaking. Like I know I'm not gonna bite down, but I'm just like ahhh, it just feels so good.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: The human impulse to bite something, right?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, why?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I can't speak from a from a scientific biological perspective.

Andrea Martucci: Have you ever bitten a baby's leg though?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I have not actually, what is so interesting about that impulse is that, so when my niece was born, she's almost four now, but when she was a baby, a lot of people would say that. And they'd be like, oh, just want to bite her, we want to eat her little legs.

And I'd be like, what is wrong with you all? I am calling the cops. Everyone calm down. And then at the same time, I will have that impulse for like my cat's paws or something. I'm like what if i just chewed on your little ears and i was like oh there it is like it's the same impulse but for whatever reason it's animals for me rather than babies.

And I was like, they're both the same.

Andrea Martucci: They're both yeah,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: They're both incorrect. And it's still that idea of yeah, you want to sink your teeth into something because you love it so much. And from a historical perspective in relation to cannibalism, do you know what? I always stumble because I always write it: androphagy?

I guess it depends on how you pronounce it, but historical real cannibalism. You talk about endo and exo cannibalism, so from within a community, from without a community, and endo cannibalism is cannibalism of your own community, and it can be done very ritualistically, and it can be done as part of funerary rites, or funerary cannibalism, and it's the importance of it being someone that you know, someone close, someone important to you.

Which is not as common in like the Western history of cannibalism, but it definitely a different spin to it as it were, because for a lot of like historical, and still now, we often in Western society use cannibalism as a shorthand for a lack of civility, or we use it to demonize the other, and what is a worse act than killing and eating a fellow human.

Which is wild, because cannibalism has existed within Western society as well. And if nothing else as a kid, when you're learning about ancient Egypt, they talk about how people would in the Victorian era, find mummies and make them into medicine and eat them. And then everyone's like, oh, but those cannibals are over there. They're absolute animals. They're primitive. How dare you. Anyway, I'm painting with this thousand year old mummy corpse and then eating it. And you're like okay.

Andrea Martucci: it's all about the delivery method, as we know

Nicola Welsh-Burke: truly, yeah. So to go back, because we were talking about yeah, what's the impulse? I don't know the impulse, but it's obviously there because it has [00:21:00] existed for so long. There was a really interesting article about it. I'll send you the name so you can put it in the notes, but it's around the lines of the dark secret of like European cannibalism.

And they were talking about it's pretty much been there from the beginning, and it's trying to find evidence of it. They found cannibalism in, I think it was Jamestown and it was about finding indents in their skeletons that implied preparation.

And how people were talking about it as a very shameful thing because it's seen as very shameful, obviously, because it's eating someone else. But also they were talking about it within the language of, again, it's all in the delivery. This was fine because they were starving. They had nothing else.

In great times of famine there'll always be instances of cannibalism. And it's explained away in that there was literally no other option. They had eaten all of the food plants, the non food plants, and then we get here. I'd just been listening to, you know that After Dark podcast?

Andrea Martucci: I've never heard of it, no.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I love it. It's a lot of kind of like weird, spooky things, and they had just done a two part episode on the Irish famine. And right at the end, they were saying, there's actually not a lot of focus on any cannibalism that occurred during it because people are so hesitant to talk about it. But one of the hosts had said, this is the inevitability of a famine, you're going to have cannibalism, and what's particularly interesting for lack of a better phrase is the way in which we talk about it. Why are we so happy to talk about cannibalism on TikTok is like the hot new erotic trend.

Like, why are we so happy to talk about Hannibal and all of those incarnations, but the second it gets to like, what you would I suppose call the acceptable kind, we get very squeamish about it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: like, if you're gonna do it, it's gonna be in this situation for most people and it's still very like, oh. It almost is a sign of respect, for the people involved to be like, I don't want to talk about it, we'll leave them to that. And then you go on TikTok and everyone's like, erotic cannibalism. It's the thing. You're like, okay mood, but an interesting clash there.

Andrea Martucci: So what is going on on TikTok? What are the kids doing over there with erotic cannibalism?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: It had a bit of a blip, I would say. A bit of a thing a while ago. TikTok is very dependent on your own algorithm, right? So I was getting a lot of Hannibal fan edits because I am a Hannibal girl, to no one's surprise. And I feel like people were just the logical conclusion of that being like, yeah, what is a greater expression of love than eating someone else or wanting to consume and have that person in a way that no one else can have? I think it was a little bit of a duck into dark romance for a lot of people that they hadn't considered or hadn't thought of before.

And they're like, Oh, people are talking about this? And I was like, yeah it's been there for a while. So I think I've just been watching people discover it as a romantic idea. That being said, TikTok is TikTok, so it was probably just a very small area that I managed to find myself in. I couldn't say TikTok as a whole is very focused on it.

I am sure, as you know, romance social media, there's always the [00:24:00] sections where you talk about the darker romance or the darker elements. And so it it comes and goes. And again, it doesn't have to be literally cutting someone's limb off and eating it. It can be vampire based.

It could be an exchange of energy am I draining your life force in some other way? Am I like an emotional cannibal, almost. Or even, it's not my area, so I won't go into it too much in case I get it wrong, but they talk about the idea of like cultural cannibalism as part of appropriation.

And it's this just like rabid absorption of another's culture for the same reason. You own it. You have it now. And you can see it in colonial narratives, especially. Historically in colonialism, as the act of colonialism, there's a lot of creating cannibals of the colonized country to allow quote unquote, or to acceptably come in. We are bringing civilization. I mean, Australia, they definitely had that narrative here. And across America, I imagine as well. My American history is not as, detailed, knowledge wise.

Andrea Martucci: It's definitely used as an othering in order to make unacceptable things acceptable from a perception situation, right? Obviously, it doesn't actually make it acceptable, but it creates the patina of acceptability. Yeah, so it's very interesting that in the culture at large, cannibalism is this shameful taboo thing that is othered, it is not for us, or it's only for the most dire extreme circumstances, and we really don't want to talk about it.

And we also don't want to talk about colonialism, which is in and of itself an incorporation, right? Like, I'm going to take you and I'm going to absorb you into me, and you are no longer your own thing, now you are part of me.

So thinking of romantic narratives, you were talking about Hannibal fan edits. What is being eroticized here? Like we talked earlier about vampires. There's the exposure and intimacy of these vulnerable places. There's the consent to be incorporated, but there's also a desire to consume.

Like when you think about sexual acts, and how much of them are freighted with figurative language that sounds very much like cannibalism. The tasting, the enveloping of another's body part in a mouth or an orifice of some kind, right? Right? To penetrate or be penetrated, etc. in whatever way, but like how much of it is that tasting and I mean there are ways to sexually stimulate somebody that don't involve these things, right?

So why are we like, adding on this layer of you taste so good. Like it's not just about for example, stimulating a nipple by licking on it. It's also that the one consuming is like, oh, this is so good, It's pleasurable for me as well.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I think it's because has for a really long time been that [00:27:00] association between food and sex. In general, we talk about like the pleasure of eating or the enjoyment that you get from eating, but also from a literary perspective, there has frequently been descriptions or representations of food, of acts of eating, of preparation, as a placeholder or as a replacement for sex acts and sex scenes.

So when I was looking at it in my thesis, sometimes it was because I was looking at young adult fiction, and there's this argument that we often have descriptions of food, descriptions of feasting, descriptions of the enjoyment you get from eating or from other senses because you don't want to put a sexy in any young adult or children's book.

And so it is creating the pleasure, like you are vicariously having a pleasurable experience, albeit a non sexual one. And it just it connects on or it evolves into, I was going to say adult literature, but that sounds a bit, so literature read by adults, in that it is just providing, in that written sense, a way for us to have a sensory and sensual experience that might not be part of a sex act or part of a sex scene and then they similarly merge or are incorporated into each other and that is when we get those associations like that really clear one to one comparison of like food to sex or eating the act of eating and the act of sexual activity or sexual pleasure.

And so we have that kind of allowing ourselves to enjoy it or have an enjoyable, pleasurable experience while reading.

And I think a lot of it does come down to that.

I think also, I would have to say, going back to the Hannibal edits, I do think some of it is just because the girlies on TikTok do also just love Mads Mikkelsen, so they're just doing fan edits about him and about, all of the characters. But I was like, I feel like part of it is that.

Andrea Martucci: Wait, so they're not doing it with what's the actor's name, in,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Anthony Hopkins?

Andrea Martucci: They're not doing Anthony Hopkins fan edits?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I bet you someone is because there's a fan edit for everyone. I just haven't found it because I was a Hannibal TV show girl and so I, we've gone down that path. I bet you I'm gonna find one now. Next time I'm on TikTok, I will send it to you as soon as I do. But see, I feel like the appeal of the cannibal Mads Mikkelsen for a lot of people is more appealing than the cannibal Anthony Hopkins.

I am not the best judge of good looking men but think, think

Andrea Martucci: Hrm, what's the difference between them? One of them is young and considered virile and handsome

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Comparatively.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, comparatively, because Mads Mikkelson is what, in his late 40s?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I think he's in his 50s.

The thing about TikTok is that they're always like, oh my god, these old elderly men that I love, they're so old, and then it's some 40 year old guy, and you're like, is that old? Oh no,

Andrea Martucci: Oh, no, I'm old.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: yeah, it's me yeah. Well, which cannibal would you prefer, Mads Mikkelsen or Anthony Hopkins?

Andrea Martucci: Probably Mads Mikkelsen. I'll be real. I'll be real with you. My tastes do lean in that direction.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: In the [00:30:00] show, we see a lot of the preparation, the food preparation, or the yes, it's food preparation, but there's a lot of cooking scenes in Hannibal. In a way, like in A Certain Hunger, there's a lot of description around how she actually prepares the food, so part of it is just a recipe blog, almost you're, you're watching it get prepared alongside knowing that it's a person that they're preparing.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, exactly. And the wine pairings are important as well.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Of course.

Andrea Martucci: Like a nice Chianti. So, hunger. Sexual hunger. Hunger is often used to describe sexual appetites. Just like, listen to the words that we use, Sexual appetites. Obviously there's a lot of transference or permeability between these phrases that we use.

I know that another area that you have worked on, particularly in YA when we're talking about girls, is inappropriate hunger on the food end of things. So very interesting then when you think about These terms playing with, not just hunger for food, but also sexual hunger because there's obviously a taboo against young girls having hunger of any kind.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, when we talk about incorrect eating, it's often to do with, again, like eating non food animals or , even on a really basic level, an example of incorrect eating might be having Christmas dinner in the middle of the year because it's not the time for this specific meal.

So it's just a weird, or eating non breakfast foods at breakfast, however you define that. And then you could argue that incorrect eating for women, especially, could be overconsumption or eating too much or eating what we consider like unhealthy foods or fattening foods, big quotes around them as well.

So it is not just you are not eating the correct animal, but you are not eating correctly in the sense of, you shouldn't have a large appetite, you shouldn't be eating certain things, you should be eating, like women laughing alone with salad. Like you've gotta have, you are eating produce, you're eating chicken rather than anything else.

And in my YA studies, because I was looking at things like lycanthropy, it's almost the most acceptable way to incorrectly eat is to be a monster. So not only do you get to explore hunger and desire in whatever incarnation that is, but you also get to experiment with it and you get to eat incorrectly and you know, you get to lose control in whatever way, however you determine that.

And so it makes sense that we see incorrect eating tied in with what you would consider like incorrect expression of sexuality, which as a young girl is showing any level of desire and sexuality. And so I guess that's where we see a lot of the language intersect there, and then also connect to the idea of the best way to be able to explore your sexuality in these novels is to become a werewolf. Perhaps the best way to explore your sexuality and hunger is also to become a cannibal because then you're [00:33:00] allowed to get a bit weird with it than just say, Oh, I actually just enjoy eating food or I enjoy having sex. You've got to, you've got to add something to it so people could be like, Oh she's a bit cooked when that's happening.

But I guess that makes sense.

Andrea Martucci: Right. But she's a wolf, so

Nicola Welsh-Burke: So it's fine. It's, it is what it is.

Andrea Martucci: I think I mentioned this book to you, Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yes, we were talking about it when I saw you last year.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, the things you're talking about are making me think of this book so much, because it's a teen novel, I don't know, written over 20 years ago, or something like that. And I read it as a teen and I read it recently. I think it's still actually a very interesting book, but she's a werewolf, right?

And she's part of a family of werewolves, so she's born this way. And something very interesting about the book is that she is unrepentantly sexual the entire book. And her community is very sexual, and the humans that she interacts with they desire her, they find her alluring, but they also find that strange about her.

There literally is a moment where she's digging into a hamburger or a steak, and the other girls are eating salads, and

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Mmm,

big trope of that,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, big Not Like Other Girls energy, but it's remarked upon, her appetites of the food and the sexual variety. She comes to everything with just a completely different attitude because she is from a different community as well as literally a different species.

She also is concerned that she might consume her love interest who's a human. And, I'm going to spoil it. At the end, she's like, okay, this is a little weird, she's like 16, and at the end she basically becomes like, the mate of the alpha of their community, and he's 25, so he's not super old, but in retrospect it is something where I'm like, oh, I don't know, what's the age of consent for werewolves in Louisiana? Anyways, but they fool around a little bit, and It's like she's no longer scared of hurting him the way she was scared that she might be too much and overwhelm her human partner. Like she was too much, he couldn't handle her.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: The appetite was too much. She wasn't restrained. Because so much of it is narratives of restraint and control. You have to control yourself. That's why you're eating your salad. That's why you're not maybe having seconds. If you were a werewolf, you are allowed to eat a steak when everyone else is eating salad.

So you're allowed to be, within reason, a bit more wild or acknowledge more your desire, whether that be a sexual or a food appetite or a food hunger as it were.

Andrea Martucci: And I guess, I think what's interesting about that as a YA novel and romantic narrative is that the conclusion is not that she has to bridle her hunger and control her hunger, it's that she is with somebody who she does fear that she will [00:36:00] consume him, and she finds a partner who's an equal who appreciates how much she is, her hunger like her sexual and hunger for whatever meat Etc, like you know, she finds her match. She cannot consume him but like her hunger is not a threat any longer, right?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: He's unconsummable The appeal of the un consumable, then, that's the illicit... If you're accountable, if you're a werewolf, the appeal is actually someone who cannot be eaten. Perhaps. That's forbidden. Love

Andrea Martucci: Or, if you're a shiny vampire, somebody whose mind you can't read,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Exactly. You can't consume their thoughts,

Andrea Martucci: Who is unknowable. Exactly,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Unknowable and uneatable.

Andrea Martucci: yeah

Nicola Welsh-Burke: you always want what you can't have.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, that's true.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: When I talk to people about researching cannibalism, Blood and Chocolate does come up. And the other one that comes up a lot is a movie rather than a book, but like Fresh, which is a few years old now. And it was. Oh, I can't remember the director. Sebastian Stan is in it being chaotic.

He's a great chaotic actor and he plays a like weird cannibal serial killer.

It's the story of a girl who is like unsuccessful in love and she meets this guy who's amazing, but then he like chains her in a room and has a bunch of women that he like sells off for parts to cannibals and they're presented as I am selling body parts to weirdos who eat body parts and those clients are presented as being incredibly like odd and like twisted and weird and as is he, but we just see him more and they superficially have a rapport because she's trying to escape him and they have a lot of conversations around the appeal of cannibalism and what's so interesting in that is that to get on his good side she eats human flesh, like he makes spaghetti or something with human in it, and she eats it, and there's this really interesting scene where she goes back to her little prison cell, as it were, and is sick physically sick, because she had to eat someone else, and you so rarely see, because the cannibalism itself is, the eroticized element of the cannibalism in the movie is presented as very deviant, as very different.

And then from what I had been consuming, heh heh, media wise, you don't really see people have that like visceral response to it. Because of what I'm looking at, it's always like very eroticized or it's not even presented, it's off screen, off the page. And I thought that was just a really cool little way to show this idea of negotiation.

And plus, to go back to the Mads Mikkelsen comment, Sebastian Stan is a good looking guy. And so a lot of it is the weirdos that he's selling body parts off to are presented as being very unattractive. And it's that idea of morality assigned to physical appearance, whereas a lot of the memes that came out after the movie were like, I could change him.

He eats people, but it's fine. He's got great cheekbones, so it all connects up. And I was like, [00:39:00] okay, so you have to be hot. How hot do you have to be for cannibalism to be accepted?

Andrea Martucci: That hot, apparently. I mean, Apparently we know the answer, you know, um, scientifically studied. That makes me think of, this is a real thing, there is a market for used panties.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: It feels like an escalation of that same idea,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Oh, that's so interesting because in the movie, there's a scene where he's arranging like a box, a gift box, and he puts underwear in there and he has like photos of the girls and things like that. And it's a whole, yeah, it's a little,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: But yeah, it's the escalation, and it's again, it's often used as a shorthand for this guy's a bit weird.

Unbox with me, this woman's leg. And so they're like, yeah this is not, she's like, I cannot emphasize enough, the director, this is not a hot thing. And everyone's like, oh, is it though?

Andrea Martucci: This should not be. Yeah. And you talked about consuming media, my Ears perked up. And, there's this idea you are what you eat, with both food and ideas that what you do sexually, for example, also determines who you are.

But then, from a media perspective, also this idea that what you consume, media wise, changes you. You incorporate it into you, and now it's a part of you, and I don't know, how you view the world, or how you behave in the world.

Speaking of consuming, like, why do we like consuming this weird media. There's obviously this desire, perhaps biologically within us, that is creating these connections already in our mind, like these associations are there, and then we're putting words to them. Hotness, a hot person doing anything. suddenly, it just becomes desirable no matter what, but like I suppose even leaving aside that part of it, just like why are we interested in consuming media about cannibalism?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Consumption.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Is it escape? Are we living vicariously through these characters?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I think so. I think part of it is definitely the appeal of something different, of something that is seen to deviate from the norm, there's always going to be an intrigue, at least we want to know what's going on there. And for the most part, media is a relatively safe way to explore desires that you might not want to execute in real life for lack of a better phrase, or also just, it is weird, so we want to check it out and see what it's about.

I always think when people talk about like media getting worse or content getting worse, or like more deviant, quote unquote, just always think, people used to go and watch executions for fun, so have we always just as humans, just watched been intrigued by the dark side of things and we have just found a way to explore it or to negotiate or even make up our own narratives about it, because I imagine real life cannibalism, eroticized or otherwise, is going to be [00:42:00] relatively different from what you read about and so it's not that people actually want to eat people, but you just want to poke around in there and see what's going on.

And so maybe that's just a way for us to do that where in a seemingly acceptable manner, even though, some areas of media or some genres are often seen as a little weirder, quote unquote, than others.

It's still oh yeah a lot of people like horror, a lot of people like, violent action movies. And you go, yeah, this is not something that I would do in my everyday life, but it's definitely something that I get to play around with,

I feel like it's often that just idea the safety of it.

Andrea Martucci: Right. I was just listening to an episode of Betwixt the Sheets from Kate Lister,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: A fantastic, I love that podcast.

Andrea Martucci: and it was literally the one talking about torture in medieval times and, and talking about public executions and all of that. I was cleaning my office, so I was like on a podcast binge. What's interesting, having just listened to that, is I think on the one hand there's this entertainment and fascination where we're curious. about this stuff, but also morbidly curious and fearful, right?

With public executions, the whole point from the state's perspective of doing that is as a deterrent, right? Don't do this. Don't do whatever it is that got this person drawn and quartered.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: this will happen to you if,

Andrea Martucci: Right,

and it's horrifying. So there's the deterrent aspect oh gosh, I am not going to overthrow the king, or try, whatever it is, but then there is also this can't look away, morbid fascination, seeing, I imagine just somebody's insides where you're like, oh my god I don't know if I want to see this, but it's like, when else can I see this? Whatever, unless you're there's a lot of public executions going on.

But do think that that's some of the fascination, right? Where we know that to consume one we love would be to destroy them. So we do not want to do that, and I'm not saying we actually want to see their insides, but there is this desire to know somebody's insides figuratively.

We don't want to see their literal beating heart in their chest, but we want to know what is in their heart.

So yeah, I mean it's just so interesting the way humans make meaning and create symbolism that just is freighted with other desires, but just the consistency with which we go to these, associations.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: The tried and true narrative, yeah.

Did you see, it's maybe the other month it came out, Anya Taylor Joy's wedding photos, and she had, her and her husband had anatomically correct heart cakes, photo of them both just like heart in hands, like taking a chunk out of each one.

And I have a very strong brand. I think many of my friends sent me those photos to be like, this made me think of you. And I was like, the mortifying ordeal of being known because I would absolutely have that as a wedding cake. It is this, I'm eating the organs of another, but it's so funny cause I, I [00:45:00] default to saying this as well. You're like if you eat them, then they're with you forever. But they also wouldn't be

like, you would digest them. Yeah the appeal is I'm gonna, I'm going to eat you and then you will be with me forever and I will always have you.

And it's like, you probably won't after 12 to 24 hours, so why do we even default to that narrative? Cause I know biologically that wouldn't happen, but it's still this idea of this is the best way to always have you here. And it's it's the worst possible way. Go old school Victorian and put a lock of their hair somewhere.

Then you'll always have it.

Not this is temporary.

Andrea Martucci: And also, hunger we are insatiable, right? You eat, and you sate your hunger, and then, a few hours later, once again, you are hungry,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: you're out there eating other women. There's other people out there that you've consumed

Andrea Martucci: Yeah!

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I thought what we had was special. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: It's interesting that, like this idea of I'll have you forever, my hunger will be sated forever. Our hunger is never sated

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. Yeah. Like

Andrea Martucci: know?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: the point of it. Like it, it continues.

Andrea Martucci: And even vampires are dead and their hunger never abates,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: But see, then you can get the romance of the regular donor or that, I will only drink your blood. That's commitment and renewable.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, and speaking of multiple partners and insatiable hunger, this is also making me think, then, of the rake trope of virility is like a sexually promiscuous man whose appetites are just so strong that he's just like having sex up and down the street, right? But then when he finds, and again, this is a heteronormative trope that is heavily based in gender norms and stereotypes, but like when he finds the one woman who is enough for him, he does not need variety. He can have the same dinner every night, and he's gonna be happy. Then true love. Yeah, so that, I don't know, that also feels connected in a way,

Nicola Welsh-Burke: no, yeah, I think it is. Yeah until you find your regular blood donor, until you find your one true love and you stop sucking other people's blood or other body parts and settle down,

Andrea Martucci: well, variety is the spice of life until you're in love.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: yes.

Andrea Martucci: And then the same spices every night are the spice of your life. It doesn't have the same ring to it, though. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about, or did we crack this nut wide open?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: We went on a journey, which I think was very fun, but I also, even just talking before when we said like consuming media or consumption, I know it's not called that anymore, but I was just also thinking like tuberculosis used to be called consumption, not in any sort of like edible way, but in the sense of like being consumed by the disease.

But you then had consumptive chic because you were feverish and flushed and pale and there was nothing hotter than looking like you have consumption. I know that's slightly off topic, what we were talking about, but still like the appeal of the you delicately cough into a handkerchief with blood back to like women and control and restriction and you're too weak to do anything and you fall onto a fainting couch and you're very flushed and yeah.

And everyone's Oh my God. What a beautiful, sick girl.

Andrea Martucci: What a beautiful [00:48:00] tragic figure.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: She's never been beautiful. Yeah, what a beautiful, tragic figure. Unfortunately, so young, being consumed by this disease. I don't know, there's gotta be something there as well. There is with the study of sick lit and consumptive chic, but I couldn't say consumption that many times without mentioning the disease.

Andrea Martucci: We had to do it.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke, I think we made a meal of it.

Nicola Welsh-Burke: We covered the topic from soup to nups, bones and all.

From soup to Anya Taylor Joy's anatomically correct heart cake.

Andrea Martucci: I think that's perfect.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke, thank you so much for being here. Where can the human beings listening to this podcast find you if they wanted to connect with you, or if they wanted to read any of your scholarships?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I am on, I believe we have to say, X formerly known as Twitter.

Andrea Martucci: We don't have to say

Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, I was like, I'm on Twitter, which is just a lot easier to say, @drnicolawb and you can find me there. And I also have links to any of my articles that I've written, and of course this last, the last episode we did together is also there.

Andrea Martucci: Awesome. What's your most recent publication? What should people look for?

Nicola Welsh-Burke: I was looking at two different Little Red Riding Hood retellings that kind of bracket the 2010s, one at the beginning, one at the end, and I was looking at the way in which both of them looked at narratives of disgust and the female body. So I'm always talking about bodily fluids, pretty much .

That, one was a little bit more on menstruation and monstrosity, which is just a massive field when you're talking about lycanthropy as well. Cycles, moons, wolves, it's all together. But yeah, that's, that was the last one that I published last year.

Andrea Martucci: Love it, I'm going to check it out too.

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