Ethics of Eating

Critic A.A. Gill Kills a Baboon, Doesn’t Have the Decency to Eat It

Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Sutton may have shown compassion for a 70-year-old lobster, but another critic, A.A. Gill of the London Sunday Times, has gone off in the opposite direction — and possibly off the deep end, say some of his critics. Gill has always been an unconventional reviewer (he was once booted from a Gordon Ramsay restaurant after penning a review in which he called Gordo a wonderful chef but a “second-rate human being”), however, he’s really gone and done it this time, having started a recent review with, “I shot a baboon in Africa, last Wednesday, just after lunch. Shot it dead.”

Gill goes on to explain that he was in Africa wearing “the sort of hat that just makes you ache to kill stuff” when a fellow hunter asked “Why don’t we shoot a baboon?” With the help of a telescopic lens, Gill took aim at one 250 feet away and “a soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out.” Gill admits he had no excuse for becoming a “recreational primate killer,” since “baboon isn’t good to eat, unless you’re a leopard” — so why did he do it?

I wanted to get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger. You see it in all those films: guns and bodies, barely a close-up of reflection or doubt. What does it really feel like to shoot someone, or someone’s close relative?

Gill got maudlin when he examined his kill (“when you stare into the magnifying glass at a profundity, it’s the prosaic and pitiful that’s reflected back”), but it goes without saying that the review stirred up even more of a fuss in the U.K. than his review of the John Dory did here when he gave it five stars, putting it on par with El Bulli. Lord knows the Times of London’s competitors ate it up.

The Guardian quoted outraged animal activists and baboon specialists. A Telegraph blog post called the move “supremely stupid,” and pointed to a trending topic on Twitter wherein people called Gill a “saddo twat” and a “pathetic coward.” In the Daily Mail, an animal activist noted, “Baboons might not be in the same league as endangered elephants but that’s not the point. Even if the world was overrun with such animals, it is not for a journalist to make the call of culling them.” Even the Times revisited the piece, pointing to Twitter reactions such as, “Okay I admit it. I shot AA Gill to see what it would be like to kill a dumb animal.”

The most interesting response, however, comes in the Business Standard today. Nilanjana S. Roy points out that, contrary to Gill’s assertion that baboon meat isn’t good to eat, a group of African farmers recently tried to open a baboon abattoir. They were unsuccessful, presumably because the primates so closely resemble humans (as Charlie put it when he ate monkey meat in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “monkeys are nature’s humans”). But Roy raises a point.

The farmers had specific plans for marketing baboon meat — tinned according to old bush recipes, and in the form of salami. Given that Friar Labat records an 18th century recipe made with donkey meat, wild boar meat and the meat of the domestic pig blended together, baboon salami isn’t that much of a stretch.

Roy goes on to discuss Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and concludes: “Between Gill’s gunslinger act and Foer’s compassionate but persistent inquiry, they might force us to look again at why we eat meat — and to accept that there’s a deep inconsistency between deploring the killing of a baboon while we order another portion of butter chicken or fish fry.”

Indeed, it’s a question we face when we consider eating a 14-day-old duck embryo (upon seeing balut for the first time, a colleague IMed us, “Ugh — eggs are one of my fave foods, but i think i just threw up a little”). And as much as we love lobster, we’re not sure we can get behind Anthony Bourdain’s argument for cooking them alive: “Anything you cut into four pieces and all four pieces move independently, that is one dumb [bleep]ing animal. Now if you were to cut Paris Hilton into four pieces (I’m not suggesting you do that, by the way — that would be wrong) do you think the parts would move independently?”

And this, precisely, is what most likely disturbed people the most about the Gill incident, and for that matter the Bourdain quote — i.e., the fact that he drew a parallel between killing a monkey and killing a man, and admitted to a plainly homicidal impulse rather than justifying his act with the usual arguments about sustenance, gastronomy, and the food chain. Which raises the question — to what degree does this homicidal impulse apply, in whatever sublimated form, to what Gill does eat?

AA Gill reviews The Luxe [Times UK]
Sliced baboon for breakfast? [Business Standard]

Critic A.A. Gill Kills a Baboon, Doesn’t Have the Decency to Eat It