So, one of my universes, is basically a 70’s retrofuture inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. They’re animals, for the purpose of creating a fragile civilization, as well as its themes of “Humanity returns to nature, when society breaks down.”

What I’m asking is how plausible is it to have a world that functions on a system of pretty much, cannibalism? How could it work better?

The standard societal structure, ever since the stone ages, was that the carnivores were the ruling class, the omnivores were the nobility and the herbivores were the peasants. Control over the peasants and society, was by periodical “harvests” where significant numbers of peasants would be culled to feed the ruling carnivore class. Otherwise, fish is the main sustenance for carnivores in between harvests.

As society and technology advanced, their own “enlightenments” came about, where herbivores and omnivores gained more privileges and rights, as well as states that were run by omnivores and herbivores.

Things were somewhat fine, while populations were small enough to support the needs of the carnivores without culling of populations. As everything continued to grow, and war destroyed resources, a worldwide famine was on the horizon, yet not many made an effort to halt it, for political entities all across the world, saw it as a perfect opportunity to strengthen their control over their own populations.

Science is both encouraged and suppressed, as things like space colonization are seen as solutions to overcrowding and famine issues, but genetic miracles to end the famine, are held back like cards, waiting to play at the right moment.

An additional question as well, is how long would it take for a world to “eat itself?” Say, all the meat eaters couldn’t get anything at all, so they riot, murdering for food, breaking apart societies into anarchy. How long would it take for people to starve, or kill a significant amount of the population?

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    $\begingroup$ Are these different species or all the same species? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ "privileges and rights" is the key issue here. It is conceivable to imagine a civilization dominated by carnivores in which herbivores are a slave caste. It is also conceivable to imagine a "Zootopia" where carnivores stopped eating meat altogether. But anything in between... I'm not sure. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ Can we please highlight the actual question? You ask 2 questions in the second paragraph then ask a couple more in the last paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ It's only cannibalism if you eat your own species. Also, this questions is way too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Cyn
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ If they are different species how is it any different than earth? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 3:33

3 Answers 3


As that odd person who has rocked up to a barbecue we've been at with their bottle of organic wine and wearing a 'meat is murder' T-shirt, our society still hasn't resolved the issues of eating non-sentient creatures to a perfect consensus. We have pockets of people who complain bitterly about GM foods for instance, but don't know that these foods have literally averted famine in the past and are still our best hope for doing so into the future.

The bottom line is that when there is plenty, you can be as selective as you like about what or who you eat. When there isn't, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs kicks in.

Changing a meat diet to fish for instance has already been done in the European past; many crusade knights ate a diet of fish as their exclusive protein on grounds that it was considered impious to eat meat. But in order to do so, there had to be a plentiful supply of fish to support those knights. Fishing industries picked up to support that need, and pasturing of sheep and cattle waned except for wool and dairy production. Of course, many of the peasantry still ate meat so it wasn't killed off completely, but the important thing is that there was a fundamental change in the balance of food production industries.

For people who need to eat meat exclusively, and if fish isn't present, the best fictional analogue to your question is that of vampires. If we think of vampires as the carnivores in your model, and normal humans as the herbivores, it's almost an identical model and many of the issues you raise are covered in various fictional works.

Want to swap out 'meat' for an alternative source? Look at True Blood. Want to look at Vampires as trying to live in harmony with humans and other races? Try Twilight, although I admit that it's a problematic example. Want to see the possibility of a hidden ruling class of vampires? You've always got the Underworld Franchise.

The list goes on.

In all cases, you'll find exceptions to the rule because not everyone wants the alternative in both food and culture that the protagonists represent. Someone wants true human blood, or open control of humans and/or vampires, etc. Your society will still have those kinds of power plays.

Ultimately, humans see themselves as the only truly intelligent species on Earth and we abhor cannibalism because it's bad enough thinking of eating a creature at all, let alone eating a creature that can think. But, carnivores are unlikely to see their world in quite the same way, even if they become intelligent and even enlightened.

The herbivores are still peasants; they're still food.

I'd argue that the carnivores are highly unlikely to allow the herbivores to be come intelligent, let alone privileged in any society. Just like we've selectively bred dogs to be less intelligent (and more reliant on us) than wolves, like we don't breed sheep or cattle for their cognitive abilities, intelligent carnivores are more likely to 'farm' herbivores, not uplift them to a similar status to themselves.

What you describe as cannibalism is really just cross-species predation, in a world where the prey is intelligent. Intelligent carnivores are actually going to breed that out of the herbivores because it's a complication to their food supply they don't need or want.

So; as I see it, your society will function in one of two ways;

1) Your carnivores switch to fish exclusively and then embrace their former prey as a member of their society, making it both culturally and emotionally unpleasant to eat their fellow citizens, or

2) Your carnivores continue to eat the herbivores, but farm them rather than embrace them, breeding out the intelligence wherever possible to make their farming practices easier.

If you go with option 2, your mixed species society is impossible. With option 1, there are some really interesting explorations to make around the moral and emotional decisions your carnivores may one day have to make if the fish run out. But, there may also be some members of your society who simply don't believe in a picotarian diet and end up becoming a form of serial killer in your society. There is of course also the issue of whether or not a former prey can ever truly be seen as equal to your carnivores.

For inspiration on how option 1 may look in reality, there are plenty of vampirical and post-apocalyptic works of fiction that explore these kinds of moral dilemmas in a world where you just have to eat.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is a really good answer! I actually might go with a mix of one and two. Maybe, differing by nation, continent, or religious belief, there's people who would have religiously pursued 2, in their strict hierarchy, while 1 would have been a humanist type idea around the world. As society advances, and conflicts become more ideological, the famine provides a great opportunity for worldwide liberation, enslavement, or even genocide of meat eaters. $\endgroup$
    – Knight_Owl
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 4:27

as well as states that were run by omnivores and herbivores.

Firstly being different species your issue isn't cannibalism which is only when members of a species eat other members of the same species, but set that aside.

If the non carnivores are capable of this then they would exterminate the carnivores. They vastly outnumber them and would have a fifth column within each carnivore enclave, perhaps even outnumber the carnivores in their own homes.

This has happened on Earth, cannibalism was used by elites in Polynesia and other places as a means of terrifying the populace. In each case eventually as numbers grew they were challenged and either changed their ways or perished. The last case in one country ended when the ruler pointed out a young girl for dinner, but what he received was his own eldest son gutted and cooked up for the feast.

When people have nothing left to lose they will fight to the death like cornered rats except a LOT more dangerous due to intelligence and liability to do a bit of torturing and genocide when the tables turn.

  • $\begingroup$ That's an interesting point. Do you have any sources on that? I'd like to read more. $\endgroup$
    – Liquid
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 8:49

Caste System

Even if some herbivores are part of the ruling class, there will inevitably be lower class herbivore who will still be peasants, and at the very bottom 'useless' or 'undesirable' class who ensure the worst or illegal jobs. The carnivore can make their harvesting within theses lower class since the other social class will have little consideration for them, even may not considerate them as the same species.

This system can be reinforced by a caste system, where everybody stay in the same social class all their life, because upper class herbivore will be certain to never be a part of the harvesting. At last, you can as well establish some sort of specism, where only certain species, seen as inferior, will be part of the harvesting.

In conclusion, harvesting can be placed as long as it target only a precise category of people and the majority of herbivores are certain that them and their loved ones will never be harvested.


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