Barbar was a key moment in us granting the elephant human qualities, sentimentalizing the wild and providing zoos and fun parks dramatic license to present staged realities of the wild.
The stock of elephants may be falling in West, Central and East Africa and the conservation movement working hard to save them but now in some parts of Southern Africa, there is a problem of too many animals and in some places elephant culling and the animal's meat is back on the menu.
In a programme that will be shown on Channel 4 Television in the U.K. next week, two of England's most original, environmentally-conscious chefs - Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee - challenge their and our food taboos.
Fergus and Jeremy attempt to eat their way up the ladder of animals considered taboo for consumption in the U.K. but part of the diet of other cultures. They travel the world. One place they visit is the Kalahari Desert in Namibia at the time of an elephant hunt. I directed the documentary.
The population of elephants in Southern Africa is now increasing due to conservation and the changing course of water supply across the continent.
In countries like Namibia, villagers and elephants compete for water and vegetation and stories are legion of attacks and killings of humans by the animal.
And in need of investment, Namibia makes a market in the professional licensed hunting of elephants.
At $30,000 upwards a pop, wealthy Europeans and Americans visit the country in the summer to hunt for 'trophy' meat. Once the animal is killed and the hunters taken their 'prize' - be it the animal's feet or head - villagers are invited to cut up the carcass and share the meat.
All of this is done in the name of ecotourism, "sustainable population management" and villagers love the taste of elephant meat.
I couldn't eat an elephant. But plenty do.
What interests me more is that while in one culture, an animal is mythologized; in another, people happily kill and eat the thing.
Now there's nothing either shocking or surprising about that - except that liberal right-on-ness says that today we should eat real food and celebrate authentic, local and seasonal food culture. And eating elephant in Namibia appears to be all of these values writ large.
Authenticity is a huge currency of popular modern culture.
There's the honesty and integrity of Obama.
A limitless diet of TV shows on extreme eating, tribal living and meddling with lost tribes - i.e. Discovery Channel +1, 2 and +36.
To almost all of us, eating elephant is an authentic step too far. (as is dog - see my earlier post)
It transgresses taste, cultural preferences and personal style.
But doesn't Namibian relish for elephant start to make our commitment to 'real', 'local' and 'authentic' food look like a load of old parochial chic?
Image of dead elephant courtesy of Abby's Mom.