Le Rôti et le Bouilli: Lévi-Strauss Theory of Cannibalism1


  • 1

    Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 1967 meeting of the Northeastern Anthropological Association and at Harvard's Social Anthropology Workshop. George Homans, Sally Bates, Alison Brooks, Roger Brown, and Claude Lévi-Strauss provided valuable criticisms, and Gertrude Dole gave me access to her extensive but as yet unpublished survey of South American cannibalism. I would like to hold these people responsible for any errors herein, but alas I cannot.


In a recent article entitled “The Culinary Triangle,” Lévi-Strauss contends that an analysis of cooking as a language will reveal certain structural oppositions in society. He predicts that the practice of cannibalism, which employs various modes of cooking, will also reveal such oppositions. An examination of Lévi-Strauss' argument and a test of his predictions indicate that, owing to theoretical and methodological weaknesses, his ideas on how best to serve our fellow man will be of little use to either cannibals or anthropologists.