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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dolan

Let's Get To The Meat

Cannibalism is more common than you might think. In the animal kingdom it has been observed and documented in over 1,500 species (don’t biologists have anything better to do, you may well ask). It is especially prevalent in aquatic ecosystems, where it is estimated that around 90% of sea-dwellers engage in it over the course of their life-cycle. Maybe those sharks that chew on the occasional surfer do so just because they are bored with eating their friends and feel like a change.

Stories of humans eating other humans is like manna from heaven for the more sensationalist elements of the media; and readers are only too happy to gobble them up. (I realise at this point that it is going to be difficult for me to avoid using inappropriate metaphors. So, I’m not even going to try.)

Recent reportage of swallowing one’s own include the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 511 which crashed on a remote glacier in the Andes in 1972. The survivors, faced with starvation, resorted to eating the dead. The incident was captured in a book and later turned into a movie, ‘Alive’, starring Ethan Hawke, and with John Malkovich as the narrator. Suggestions to produce merchandising along the lines of, “You’ve read the book and seen the movie, now try the stew,” were happily not followed up.

Serial killers – usually American, but I’m not judging here – provide fertile ground for exploring the human lunch phenomenon. Some accounts of serial killer murders border on the surreal. Richard Chase, ‘The Vampire of Sacramento’, was so called because he drank his victims’ blood. Yeah, Bram Stoker has a lot to answer for. Before Chase moved on to a homo sapiens diet, he started off by disemboweling animals and mixing their organs with Coca-Cola in a blender. It was probably all that sugar that finally sent him over the edge.

The Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, is reported to have written in his notebook, “I need to eat at home more”. He kept heads and other body parts in his fridge – presumably in case he fancied a midnight snack – and in his day job Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory. Yeah, think about that. Is that really a raisin in the Fruit and Nut bar?

Human cannibalism is not, however, a new thing, dating back as it does to prehistoric times. Some anthropologists believe it was common in human societies as early as the Paleolithic Era; and it has persisted in some remote tribes in Africa and the Far East until fairly recently – though more modern documentary evidence links it mainly to religious rituals and times of severe food scarcity.

While the topic usually evokes feelings of disgust and fascination in roughly equal measure, let me play the cod-philosopher and ask the question: Is eating people wrong? While many will see the practice as morally repugnant, tucking into your fellow man is not a crime in the UK, Germany or the USA (that may also be the case elsewhere, but I was getting fed up [!] in my research at this point) – provided you don’t actually kill him first. Murder is still murder, as various killjoy judges have pointed out. But if you can find a way to get a discarded body part into your possession legally, you’re probably OK to eat it, jail-wise at least.

However, before you conclude that the way to supply protein to the ever-growing human population of the planet, is to grind up our deceased neighbours and blend them with Coke Lite, there is another factor – other than the yeucch one – to consider: the spread of disease. Diseases transmitted by cannibalism in mammals include ‘Kuru’ which is a prion disease that causes degeneration in the brain; and was especially prevalent in Papua New Guinea where some tribes practiced endocannibalism in funeral rituals and consumed brains infected by these prions. More recently, ‘mad cow disease’ came about through feeding cattle with other cattle – and we all know how that ended. With luck, ‘Soylent Green’ will remain a fiction. (Look it up if you don’t recognize the reference: you want me to do all the work here?)

I shall leave this subject on a lighter note, for which story I hold Marc, one of my gym buddies, entirely responsible.

Two cannibals are sitting around a camp fire, eating a clown. One says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

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