Presentation on Commensality at the University of Cambridge
Daniel presented a paper concerning commensal relations using his research on the activities of birds at landfills.
Who Is Eating What and Who Is Eating Who? Beyond Commensality of Multispecies Relations. Commensality and the City, Cambridge, 25 May, 2023.
Taking food as a central point of my analysis, I ask how commensality depends on what is being eaten together. Food itself has a special potential for mediating multispecies relations. To explore relational ambiguities, I use my research on ravens who retrieve food scraps at Czech landfills, transport them out while creating accumulations of food containers, wrapping, and bones in the landscape. This seeming litter creates opportunities for other species who continue in scavenging. What was human food prior to its discard becomes the vehicle of commensal relations cascading down from the kitchen table to the forest floor. Ravens, however, secure other kinds of food as well. Farmers’ and hunters’ horror stories about flocks of ravens waiting patiently for newborn calves to peck out soft parts of their bodies shift the relations. Ravens thrive at the expense of both cattle and humans; the former becoming food themselves. Historically, humans used poisoned meat to eradicate ravens in the region. Performance of the seeming commensal relation was used to mask the intent to kill. Similar shifts in relations can be traced when hawks and feral cats enjoy eating with ravens ‘at the same table’ but, other times, are ready to go for ravens’ throats. Commensality is only one of the repertory of relations among the species inhabiting the same space.