Can·ni·bal·ism. The act or practice of eating human flesh by other humans, usually out of necessity, for ceremonial purposes or due to sadistic or pyschopathalogical motives.
(Warning: You may not want to eat and read this article at the same time). So we’ve heard the stories, seen Hannibal Lecter do his thing, maybe even paid attention to the recent re-trial of Armin Meiwes, the man who ate his dinner date on good crockery with potatoes and pepper sauce. We know almost automatically that cannibalism is an ethical and societal no-no, and so we avoid discussing it when eating, and especially when eating meat. Instinctively, we’ve been trained to think that cannibalism equals bad. But then in normal circumstances, other than being a yuck-subject at dinner, cannibalism isn’t usually a problem we struggle with. In normal circumstances, very few of us feel the sudden urge to rush out and gnaw at the nearest passer-by’s ankle because of hunger, ritual or some deep and abiding obsession with human flesh.
But what about abnormal circumstances? What happens then? Say you’re stranded on a deserted island with another person and you’re starving. There are no plants, no nutritional materials, the seas are barren and you’re weeks away from being rescued. Would you eat another human to stay alive?
It’s definitely a personal decision, and the ethics involved aren’t helpful. Nor are slogans like ‘Cannibalism Is The Answer To Overpopulation And Third-World Hunger!’, and a question along the lines of whether eating someone from an overpopulated country is better than eating someone from an underpopulated country just asks for severe and immediate pain. Morality aside, however, in case you ever find yourself in such a situation and you’re willing to risk a lot for food, here are some technical tips on eating flesh when the nearest supermarket is a sizeable body of water away.–
Tip #1: Eat someone else, (if you can’t eat someone else, don’t eat yourself).
Firstly, if you’re in an eat-or-die situation you don’t want to go to the trouble of consuming anything not worth your time in nutrients. Your best bet in terms of survival is if your island co-inhabitant is a corpse already, since the whole aim of eating is to gain energy and not to waste it by pointlessly wrestling another human to death. But does human flesh provide the necessary nutrients in the first place? Interviewing nutritionist Judy Ross, I asked whether it was healthy to eat a person.
“Well, I would imagine it would be the same as other meats,” Judy told me over the phone. “You’d get iron, vitamin B12, protein… all foods provide energy or nutrients. I assume it would be the same as if you were eating a steak.”
That didn’t sound too bad. I quite like steak. Initial question over, I moved on to my main problem, one in which my island didn’t involve a convenient corpse. After all, if the other human on my hypothetical island was alive and stronger than me, trying to strangle that person would definitely be an unhealthy course of action. Perhaps, I sug- gested, in such a situation it’d be better just to cut off my own hand and chew on that until rescue came?
“Eating yourself probably isn’t a good idea,” Judy said, unimpressed by my nutrient-preserving plan. “The negatives outweigh the positives, since your body doesn’t use 100 percent of your food.
Also, if you cut off your hand, you’d be losing nutrients that way because of blood loss. The body is a closed circuit, so if any injury occurs, you need more fluids and nutrients to heal. I’d say eat somebody else, because then you’re not doing yourself an injury.”
So speaking nutritionally, if you’re stranded on a deserted island with a corpse, life is good (apart from the obvious problem of being stranded on a deserted island, with a corpse). If you’re unlucky enough to get a live human, however, don’t attack them unless you know you’ll win, don’t mention cannibalism to them, and do not under any circumstances resort to eating yourself.
So what are the good bits?
Probably the eye fillet, butcher Gareth Thompson told me when I found him sawing at an unnamed meat. Its the least used muscle on the body. Its down your lower back and supports your spine theres not very much of it, though.
Tip #2: Pretend it’s pork (or veal).
If you’re of a squeamish nature but willing to go to almost any lengths to survive, it might be helpful to know beforehand that humans doesn’t actually taste that bad. Not having had suitable experience in this area, however, I refer to the expertise of two connoisseurs of the human flesh in order to make this claim.
The first is William Buehler Seabrook, reporter for The New York Times who roasted and ate legally-obtained human flesh in the interests of research.
He states that human tastes like veal- “mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game and pork have. A little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible”.
However, German cannibal Armin Meiwes compares it to pork, having eaten his victim with potatoes and then packed the rest of the meat into the freezer, frying occasional portions in garlic and olive oil over the period of a few weeks. I am inclined to believe Meiwes’ opinion simply because he ate more, but also because in the right circles human is known as ‘long pig’, probably for similar reasons. (It is interesting to note, too, that younger specimens can be referred to as ‘hairless goat’. As such it seems the only meat that hasn’t been compared to human yet is fowl, which is rather odd since the common cry of the strange-meat tester is usually, ‘hey, it tastes like chicken!’)’.
So, dear squeamish reader, if you’re unhappy with the fact that you’re chewing something that was talking to you a day ago, close your eyes when cooking, and when eating, pretend it’s pork or veal.
Tip #3: If you’re going to eat human bits, eat good human bits.
Okay, so nutrition and taste are covered, but how do you know what bits to eat? If you’re stranded on a deserted island and you have (for the sake of convenience, since this isn’t an article on murder methods) a corpse with you, you can’t just hack at the body any old way. Obviously some parts of the body taste better than others, and if you’re going to eat human, you might as well eat the good bits, right? So what are the good bits?
“Probably the eye fillet,” butcher Gareth Thompson told me when I found him sawing at an unnamed meat. “It’s the least used muscle on the body. It’s down your lower back and supports your spine… there’s not very much of it, though”.
I had to agree with that statement; the circle he formed with his fingers was no bigger than a coaster. Realising that beggars couldn’t be choosers, I decided to forego quality and instead aim for quantity. If the eye fillet wasn’t big enough, what was a better place to get a sizeable amount of good meat from?
“The leg. It’s tougher because it’s been exercised more, but there are bigger muscles there, and they aren’t so hard to cut off the bone.”
For some reason, the words ‘hard to cut off the bone’ didn’t sound fun as I eyed the hacksaw Gareth had been holding. As far as I knew, power tools and boning knives weren’t standard equipment on barren islands, and there’d be no point cutting anything if it was too difficult to accomplish with a sharp rock at most.
“Well, if you know what you’re doing it’s relatively easy,” Gareth said when I asked about cutting up carcasses. There was a brief demonstration on a leg of lamb as he continued, pointing at the white lines of fat.
“You just follow the seams- there are seams in between each muscle, so you follow the different muscle groups and dissect each muscle through the seam.” Noticing my interest in the fat, he added helpfully, “The fat is where most of the flavour is. On a human it’s found mostly around shoulders, the chest and the neck area.
”So, advice from the expert is this: look for the eye fillet if you want the tenderest meat or aim for the leg if you want more substantial servings; follow the seams at all times and if you want the full human flavour then try the fat. (If you found tip #2 all too necessary, however, I suggest you avoid the fat.)
Tip #4: Don’t get caught (or eat human only if absolutely necessary).
Don’t get caught is an self-evident mandate, but you should know what’s at steak first (please note obvious pun). According to the 1961 Crimes Act, you could be imprisoned for ‘improperly or indecently interfering with or offering any indignity to any dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not’. However, the maximum imprisonment time for this offence is two years, which is surprisingly lenient when compared with, for example, the 15 years the state of Idaho offers as a maximum, specifically for the ingestion of human remains. This difference is mainly because New Zealand has no direct law against cannibalism, which means we may eventually reach the same problem Germany faced during the Armin Meiwes case, when lawyers realized that under German law the most they could charge Meiwes for was murder (and even that point was iffy, because his victim had volunteered to be killed and eaten).
Until that changes, though, if you do get caught you can expect two years maximum for eating your fellow islander, but most likely less than that since cannibalism due to necessity is tacitly condoned by most countries. On the other hand, you do lose major brownie points if you killed said fellow islander, because New Zealand law doesn’t hold back when it comes to penalties for murder.
Tip #5: Practice makes perfect
While I realize it’s difficult to practice eating other people when you keep the above law in mind, it turns out there is another option to human flesh to get yourself used to the idea of cannibalism. It’s legal, it’s palatable even for vegetarians, and it’s called Hufu. A tofu-based product meant to resemble the taste and texture of human flesh, the only down side I can find to this interesting alternative is that it closed down a while ago and no-one is actually sure whether the whole business is an internet hoax or not. Mark Nuckols, the founder and CEO of Hufu, LLC, has only offered this comment: “I think that a lot of the pleasure of eating the Hufu product is imagining you’re eating human flesh. For that moment, you can join the fraternity of cannibalism… if you really want to come as close as possible to the experience of cannibalism, Hufu is your best option.
”So while Hufu is on hold, in the meantime I advise practicing on pork as the nearest taste substitute (See tip #2). It’s possibly the closest you can come under New Zealand law to preparing for your own deserted-island cannibalistic experience – short of stranding yourself in a kayak out in the harbour with a human figure made entirely out of tofu, that is.
Whether cannibalism is right or wrong does depend on the circumstances, but in the end the issue is mainly up to you. You are the one who gets to choose whether to eat or refuse to eat another person in a desperate situation, and after all, you may never need to find out if you can stomach human flesh.
But if you do ever find yourself with no food and you’re hungry enough to attempt anything, remember- don’t eat yourself, avoid fat, try to have had some practice beforehand and remind yourself that you’ll get two years at most for eating, uh, pork. And above all, rest assured, this knowledge definitely gives you the upper hand on your two-person island for those times when seafood is not a viable option.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.