This essay explores the uses of animal fat from domesticated livestock (cattle, swine, and sheep) in three separate, albeit closely related situations: as a substance harvestable from within the animal body, as a commodity reconfigured from its original form, and as a tool for scientific understanding in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using the concept of affordances, as initially described in the 1970s by James Jerome Gibson, and subsequentially amended by anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists, as well as material culture or design historians, I trace animal fat across multiple stages of time and processing to show that while certain affordances remained constant throughout the period under consideration, material references to its origin within the animal body receded and ultimately disappeared. I explore the different forms of use and expectations that occurred in relation to animal fats within the cultural environments of the slaughterhouse, tallow chandlery, and soap-manufacturing facility. I conclude with the fundamental shift in ways of understanding animal fat that, beginning in the late eighteenth century, transformed a substance once highly specific and linked directly to a particular animal’s body into something that was subject to chemical analysis and ultimately synthetization. This paper is part of a special issue entitled “Making Animal Materials in Time,” edited by Laurence Douny and Lisa Onaga.

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