Raven Becomes Voracious: Tales of Insatiable Hunger

Our recording of ‘Raven Becomes Voracious’, with Rebecca Leach and Stanley Ulijaszek, is now available on Oxford Podcasts: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/raven-becomes-voracious-tales-insatiable-hunger-body-and-being-networks-storytelling

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‘Raven Becomes Voracious’: a guest post by Amy McLennan

Raven is both a creator and a trickster in the mythology of the people of the Pacific Northwest.

His story, drawn from Franz Boas’ records and performed by Rebecca Leach, was one of satiation, of being struck down with illness and misfortune, and of returning to contented family togetherness. Then – suddenly! – the whale fat sizzled over a fire, and others coerced Raven into tasting it. His new hunger was profound.

Raven was hungry. So was I.

But this hunger was nothing compared to that experienced by the conscientious objectors involved in the wartime Minnesota Starvation Experiments. Stanley Ulijaszek read research records, describing participants’ aggression, illness, asociality and psycholological distress. Their hunger was profound.

When Raven’s people could no longer feed his insatiable hunger, they sent him to new lands, which flourished under him. Following WWII, hunger was likewise flung to the far corners of the world, away from developed nations rebuilding following the conflict. But insatiable hunger did not disappear. There is the everyday hollow-belly hunger of precarity and poverty on the one hand, with all of the devastating impacts documented during the starvation experiments. And the everyday hunger of always-wanting-more on the other, with bodies and ecosystems that, like Raven’s community, cannot support the constant demands for excess.

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Amy McLennan is a medical anthropologist whose interests include food and nutrition-related health. In her spare time she enjoys rowing, exploring, and experimenting in the kitchen. Follow Amy on Twitter at @amykmcl

Raven Becomes Voracious: Tales of Insatiable Hunger  

Rebecca Leach and Stanley Ulijaszek at 'Raven becomes voracious'.
Rebecca Leach and Stanley Ulijaszek at ‘Raven becomes voracious’.

Long ago in Haida country, in the time of the trickster Raven, lived a tribe and their prince – a prince who could never eat. Why was the prince perpetually satiated? What unlikely food awakened the prince’s hunger? And what role would Raven play in turning the prince’s stomach?

The inaugural event of the Body and Being Network brought together the origin myth of the voracious Raven, as told by artist and storyteller Rebecca Leach, and histories of experimental starvation, as read by Professor Stanley Ulijazsek, director of the University of Oxford’s Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity.

Our tales of insatiable hunger were told on 30 October 2014, 5-6:30pm, at the Jacqueline du Pré Building at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.