Follow TV Tropes


Carnivore Confusion

Go To
"Let me get this straight. You know her; she knows you. But she wants to eat him. And... everybody's okay with this? DID I MISS SOMETHING?!"
Timon, The Lion King

There's an unspoken awkward issue in fiction involving Talking Animals. A lion is a carnivore - its teeth and intestinal tract are geared to eat meat. But what if the lion is as much of a person as Mr. Antelope? If everyone can talk, and everyone at least implicitly has the same thoughts and feelings as everyone else regardless of species, does this mean predatory creatures are forced to engage in a form of murder to eat? Or is it more like cannibalism? And then what happens when human characters are added into the mix? Let's not get started on Anthropomorphic Food...

Works of fiction will address this in one of several ways:

  • By far the most common approach, especially in older fiction, is the Predators Are Mean subtrope. All your heroes are herbivores. All the villains are carnivores à la The Big Bad Wolf from the Three Little Pigs.note  This subtrope is so strong culturally that people assume Real Life predators are mean, evil, and nasty, and all the herbivores are cute, cuddly, and friendly. Anyone with any knowledge of real animal behavior knows that's not the case at all; some herbivores like rhinos and hippos can be extremely aggressive, while social predators (wolves, orcas, etc.) can be tamed, trained, and even become companions — this is why domesticated dogs and cats, in real life, even exist in their modern forms.
  • Advertisement:
  • Sometimes your heroes are predatory animals. Now carnivores are okay, so scavengers often become the Villains By Default. The usual ethos is that only evil weirdos eat carrion, and only cowards do not hunt. They will be depicted as ugly and intimidating. Often the carnivorous heroes will never be seen actually killing and/or eating another animal. Example: The Lion King.note 
  • An increasingly popular option in fiction has been to render the carnivore's prey in a realistic, non-cute manner. The prey does not talk — the prey is not humanized in any way. Fish, in particular, are nearly always a viable mealtime option, unless they're major characters. Invertebrates of all kinds usually get a pass as well, again with the exception of times where they are the main characters.
  • Advertisement:
  • Similar to the option immediately above, some works such as The Chronicles of Narnia and the Spellsinger novels make it clear that only some of the animals have human-like intelligence, while others are normal animals. In some fiction, there are explicit differences between the anthropomorphic and normal members of the same species — bipedality, speech, clothing, etc. It's okay for a talking lion to eat a non-talking deer, but eating a talking deer would be tantamount to cannibalism, even for a human.
  • Establish that the carnivore is unlucky (Wile E. Coyote) or that their chosen prey is too fast or aggressive to catch — for example, Jerry of Tom and Jerry. This makes the point moot, since we never see the predator eat.
  • Invert most of the above examples by making the prey totally unlikable. The cat gets double satisfaction when eating that jerkass rat, as not only is he delicious, he also deserves it.
  • The prey is suicidal and wants to end his/her life. The suicidal prey does this by waiting to be caught by the predator or walking/running/crawling/slithering/flying into the predator’s mouth/beak. The predator, who would likely eat nonsuicidal prey, doesn’t want to eat the suicidal prey.
  • Vegetarian Carnivore: Depart from real-world biology completely: the carnivore can choose to go vegan if they really want to. A common way of doing so is by rendering carnivorism as something similar to alcoholism (An American Tail, Finding Nemo, etc).
  • Somewhat similarly, the solution in works with more of a science fiction bent is that the technology available has created meat substitutes that are readily available for humans and animal carnivores (Star Trek: The Next Generation explicitly pointed this out in an early episode).
  • Some works, such as Happy Feet, will half-refer to this problem, and then avoid the issue entirely.
  • Others, such as Pearls Before Swine, will play it up for Refuge in Audacity. The pig knows enjoying a nice ham dinner is cannibalistic, but just doesn't care.
  • Still others, usually ones that take place in a World of Funny Animals, will completely ignore the issue altogether. The cow will happily join her dog friend for some burgers, and absolutely no one will think of the implications.
  • This may be caused by Predator Turned Protector: a carnivore for some reason decides to protect their prey and live with them.
  • More recent works will use this aspect for social commentary (Beastars, etc.). YMMV on how well they do.
  • Finally, predation can be treated as just a fact of life. See Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, the Dinotopia books, and the Webcomic Kevin & Kell, among a very, very few others: Carnivorism happens, it's nature, and it may even be incorporated as a part of both the talking animal economy and social structure.

May or may not result in Sapient Eat Sapient, depending on how it is handled. See also Super-Persistent Predator, Let's Meet the Meat, Ascended to Carnivorism, and I Taste Delicious. Compare Furry Confusion, Cats Are Mean, Reptiles Are Abhorrent (notice that small lizards and turtles, two groups that include herbivores, get to be non-abhorrent far more frequently than snakes, which are all carnivores), and What Measure Is a Non-Cute?. As with What Measure is a Non Cute, do not expect to see realistic animal behavior taken into account. When it's between a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire and a human, it's Warm Bloodbags Are Everywhere. Things get really ugly when I'm a Humanitarian or To Serve Man gets thrown into the mix.

When an animal character is named after the food they provide, it's A Pig Named "Porkchop".

Example subpages

    open/close all folders 

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, Wilie the baby wolf seems to think of the goats as his friends and treats them accordingly, and yet he doesn't have any problem with his parents Wolffy and Wolnie wanting to eat the goats.

  • Pagliacci features a restaurant run by griffins aimed specifically at carnivores. As can be expected, they serve meat items, including beef. However, this is set in the world of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic... where cows are presented as sentient creatures...
  • Estee's Naked Lunch in the Triptych Continuum has a similar idea, wherein a griffin comes to Equestria to open a butcher shop. Given that there are a few species who need to eat meat (including a few griffins) living there already, and they've been relegated to getting their food from back-alley shops (or worse, pet supply stores), they're at least happy about his arrival. As is a pony named Sizzler, who works at the meat station at the palace. Word Of Fanfic Author is that in this continuity, meat is harvested from the non-sentient monster species. (Basically, if it's trying to kill and eat you, go right ahead and return the favor.) Ranching is a decidedly hazardous profession. There's also a cross-species agreement in place called The Treaty Of Menagerie, which basically states that none who consume meat shall take it from any who talk or think — but not every race has signed off on it, with the Diamond Dogs and dragons noticeably absent.
  • In RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse, ponies can and occasionally do eat meat, though never from anything sapient. However, not all ponies really get the difference, and this has caused occasional friction between Trixie (whose hometown of Neigh Orleans has a much more meat-based cuisine than most regions of Equestria) and her friends.
  • Littlepip and Velvet Remedy argue over the former's eating rabbit shish kebab in Fallout: Equestria
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell:
    • Vix-Lei, despite being a minotaur, sees nothing wrong with eating beef. She explains that since the cows in the world of Canterlot High are non-sapient and different enough from her own species, it doesn’t matter.
    • In the sequel, despite being a pony (a nominally herbivore species), Gentle Step has developed a taste for meat.
  • The Bridge: Numerous Equestrian species like mermares and griffins are at the least omnivores, but the distinction between eating non-sapient animals or fish and other sapient beings is seen as a very big difference. So herbivorous ponies don't pay their neighbor's much mind.
    • That said news that Godzilla Junior once regularly dined on dolphins and whales when he was growing up and saw nothing wrong with it. Godzilla was aware of cetacean intelligence but often saw them as a bunch of jerks who'd attack him when he was young, he still didn't consider it cannibalism as he'd never consider doing that to humans or ponies.
  • In Short Hand, Andrew, the human in Equestria, makes note of his diet problems as eggs, chicken, and fish aren't enough for him to be healthy and he needs the occasional red meat. After asking around, Applejack presents him with a perfectly cooked steak, but Andrew is rather unnerved by the cow watching and commenting that she knew the cow he's about to eat. When he decides to eat it anyway, she starts gloating as apparently his steak came from an enemy of hers, which causes Andrew to simply take the steak and leave.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible: historically some theologians have proposed that the animals in the Garden of Eden were all herbivores, with meat-eating being a result of the Fall.
    • The above is possibly a back-formation from Isaiah 11:6, which speaks of the future messianic age: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
    • It is also taken from Genesis, where the animals were told by the One Upstairs to eat any of the green plants, while humans were also originally vegetarian. It's not sure if this was intended to be outside of the Garden as well and people have differing interpretations.
    • The only animals explicitly shown to be intelligent were the serpent and a donkey, the former of which was evil and the latter of which was given the ability to speak.
  • Buddhism considers all animal life sentient. They refer to them as sentient beings, which is why some branches of Buddhism prescribe a vegetarian diet. Most, nevertheless, do consider that even a sentient being is still OK to eat for survival or health reasons (but still not to do unnecessary harm). Some also allow eating meat if you didn't kill the animal, say if the animal dies of natural causes or a non-Buddhist already killed it (the latter can be seen as a case of Loophole Abuse, but the logic behind it is that the karma for a Buddhist is worse for killing animals as the Buddhist knows better, whilst a non-Buddhist can argue ignorance).
  • Hinduism also prescribes vegetarianism for similar reasons. Contrary to popular beliefs, cows are not "sacred", it is just considered wrong to eat the flesh of the one who gave you milk (as a mother). Some branches of Hinduism though allow you to eat animal meat if they are already dead and/or in the case of there being no other food sources at hand.
  • Some Native American tribes have certain animals as forbidden food as they were considered the ancestors of the tribe.

  • Taken to the extreme in Thorbjørn Egner's Dyrene i Hakkebakkeskogen (The Animals Of Hakkebakke Forest), one of Norway's most popular children's plays ever. By popular vote, the animals pass a law banning carnivorism. One of the animals who supports the law is the alpha bear (brown bears admittedly eating plants for 80% of their diet), while one of the animals who opposes it is a hedgehog (which eats invertebrates and small vertebrates).
    • Carnivorism is played much like alcoholism here too, as the fox, who had been the main antagonist up to this point, turns to stealing meat from the nearest farm to get his "fix".

  • In the Sylvanian Families franchise, there are a lot of food accessory sets, and not all of them are clearly vegetarian. One release is a fish and chips van, and some of the highly detailed food can be a little suspect. Barbequeues are also risky. But topping that is the hamburger resturaunt, and for those low on space there's also a hamburger wagon.
    Official Babble: No fast food rubbish here! All the meals on offer at the Sylvanian Hamburger Restaurant are top quality, healthy, locally sourced products! If you're in a hurry, the restaurant even has a take-away window that you can drive up to!
    Official Babble: The Hamburger Wagon has fold out counters and fold out rooftop seating area. Comes with lots of hamburgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, rolls, drinks and other accessories.
    • A Farmyard Accessories set comes with milk churns. There was a milkman figure (currently unavailable). And finally, there's a cow family. For the contemplative among us, this borders on Squick material.
    • It's worth noting that in the 1987 animated series, the michievous 'Slydale' fox family was the most likely to cause trouble, using Predators Are Mean. Even now rabbit families outnumber any other species.
  • My Little Pony:
    • Generation 1 characters were generally somewhat civilized animals, and generally acted like horses that just happened to talk and live in castles, and occasionally wear clothes. Various non-pony species were also portrayed as sentient in G1. Almost everything they ate — whether it popcorn or grass — was normally something a vegetarian could... yet there's a pony named Munchy, who has pictures of hot dogs and hamburgers all over her body, and her card refers to ponies eating hot dogs.note  If that same backcard story is any indication, Munchy simply transforms things into junk food via magic, thereby sidestepping the whole issue.
    • G1 also had a lion named Kingsley, and Tabby's backcard story describes her playing with lion cubs. What Ponyland's lions eat is conveniently left unmentioned. (Maybe Munchy is responsible for supplying them with meat?)

    Web Original 
  • Pork. It's okay, they're cool with it.
  • Darwin's Soldiers mostly avoided this trope for the first RP as all meat was fish. The second RP got a little sticky with Aisha wanting a meatball sub and slabs of meat hanging in the walk in freezer. The third RP also mostly avoided it as well.
    • However, Word of God is inconsistent on this matter; Serris said that anthro and "normal" animals exist and eating "normal" animals was acceptable. But he has also said to assume all meat is seafood.
  • In Felarya, most characters eat humans, yet are really nice otherwise. It isn't odd for the predators to exchange words with their prey.
  • The Furtopian Hoofer Revolution embodies this trope. The entire hoofer revolution of 2010's April fool's day forum take-over revolved around this trope as its theme; the ungulates and other herbivores rebelling against the carnivores. Further hilarity ensued once a herbivorous fox, a carnivorous rabbit, and a number of shape-shifters came into play, adding to the confusion.
  • Inverted in ASDF Movie 7, where the talking muffin wants to be eaten (and is so cheerful about it!) yet nobody he meets feels like eating him.
    Mr. Muffin: Why won't you let me die?
  • Super Smash Adventures: Billy Piranha is a Piranha Plant who prefers eating vegetables, particularly watermelons.
  • The puppets of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared are notably having a chicken picnic in the third video. Not only is one of the people eating it clearly a bird, but they are also eating it raw.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged uses this as a minor Running Gag in reference to Oolong.
    • In Revenge of Cooler Abridged, Krillin's campfire stew includes "por... (glances at Oolong) ...poise"; when Cooler's minion Sauza says that it actually contains pork, Oolong shouts "Rot in hell Krillin, I almost ate that!"
    • In the Android Saga, Chiaotzu makes tonkotsu ramen and, just like in the Cooler movie, Oolong asks what's in it. The difference is that Chiaotzu admits it (realizing what he's saying as he's saying it), which makes a shocked Oolong remark "I Taste Delicious!"
    • In History of Trunks Abridged, the Kame House group is shown hiding from the Androids in Master Roshi's submarine. They discuss going for a food run, and when Puar says that one of the only foodstuffs they have left is pork rinds, Oolong replies that he's already made peace with that fact.
  • Hector's World: Predators like dolphins and crabs are friends with fish and their diets are never brought up, although when Ranjeet is warned not to put his personal data online, an angler fish at a computer is seen as an example of a shady character.
  • Lucas the Spider subverts this with the titular spider. At first, Bzzt (a housefly) is terrified that Lucas (a jumping spider) will attempt to eat him. Luckily for Bzzt, the friendly Lucas turns out to be one of the herbivorous species of jumping spider.


Video Example(s):


Hide the meat

A couple of grocers learn that this isn't an issue for harpies and mermaids regarding poultry and fish.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / CarnivoreConfusion

Media sources:

Main / CarnivoreConfusion