10 Things You Always Wondered About Cannibalism

Hannibal Jail

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The recent spate of stories in the news about face-eating, ripping a man’s heart out of his chest, and serving one’s own penis for dinner has put cannibalism back on the map.

It’s horrifying, nauseating and suggests that the coming Zombiepocalypse may not be complete hogwash but it also presents a number of unanswered questions—questions that we should have answered considering that humans have been engaging in cannibalistic practices for millions of years.

From its root cause to the best body part to eat, we’ve answered all of the cannibal questions that you were just too scared to ask.

When did humans first start eating each other?

Anthropological data shows that millions of years ago, Homo antecessor, the link between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, were cannibalistic for nutritional reasons. Humans eventually developed more advanced hunting techniques in order to prey on animals since consuming each other was not a sustainable food source.

In 1492, when Columbus came to the Americas, he encountered the West Indies Carib tribe, who were ritually cannibalistic. The explorers mispronounced their name and called them Canibs instead of Caribs. According to Merriam-Webster the first known-use of the word cannibal was in 1553.

From the 16th through 18th centuries, blood, ground bones and other body parts were routinely used in what is referred to as medicinal cannibalism. Through cannibalism's history there has been a persistent theme that the vitality of the human body and spirit can be ingested to bestow power and life force upon human beings.

In the 20th century instances of survival cannibalism are known to have occurred in China up through the 1960s and even in North Korea more recently.

Is eating another person against the law?

Why do people eat other people?

No one really knows. Aside from ritualistic and survival cannibalism, there's only speculation as to why criminal cannibalism occurs. Cannibalism is not listed in the DSM, the bible of psychiatric ailments, but psychologists have speculated that it may relate to childhood trauma relating to separation anxiety from the mother and resulting oral aggression. Maybe criminals who commit acts of cannibalism are found to suffer from schizophrenia.

In some of the most horrific cases, are elements of sexual cannibalism where people derive sexual satisfaction from fantasizing about and consuming humans.

During the Miewes trials in 2004 and 2006, he revealed his motivation:

...Meiwes said he had always dreamt of having a younger brother--'someone to be part of me'--and had become fascinated with cannibalism as a way to fulfil that obsession.

He was not alone. Miewes had contact with over 400 men on the internet who were interested in cannibalism.

Why did that man in Florida eat that other man's face?

Drugs. Many of the cases you're seeing in the news are the result of drug-induced psychotic episodes. According to NPR, the guy in the Miami face-eating incident was most likely under the influence of bath salts.

The U.S. cage fighter who ripped the heart out of his training partner after he believed he was possessed had allegedly drunk a cup of tea spiked with hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Gizmodo recently did a post explaining that cocaine-psychosis is a real thing and is likely the cause of some bizarre (face-eating) violent crimes.

Is it socially acceptable to eat any part of the human body?

Not really. But there's been a recent focus on placentophagy, women eating their own placenta after giving birth, especially after celebrities like January Jones revealed eating hers after the birth of her son.

Some mothers get their doula or a professional placenta-preparer to dry and then encapsulate their placenta, make it into a broth or cook and serve it post childbirth. In nature, many mammals eat their own placenta for nutrition but humans don't have the same need since they're able to rebuild their bodies after pregnancy through vitamins and regular food.

Advocates claim that the placenta returns post-pregnancy body to health, reduces post partum depression, helps to shrink the uterus and aid in breast feeding. But the scientific basis for the nutritional value in consuming placenta is tenuous at best.

If you're curious, here's a video of a husband cooking his wife's placenta:

Who are the most famous cannibals?

Most notably, the Silence of the Lambs characters Jame Gumb, more commonly known as Buffalo Bill for his line, 'It puts the lotion in its skin' and Hannibal Lecter. Buffalo Bill is a composite of serial killer Ted Bundy, who pretended to be injured in order to ask his victims for assistance, Ed Gein, who killed and skinned women and made their hide into suits which he wore, and a Philadelphia criminal who kept women in a five and a half foot deep pit in the ground.

It's more ambiguous who served as the inspiration for Thomas Harris' Hannibal but apparently the author once told a librarian in his hometown that the character was based off of murderer William Coyne who escaped prison in 1934 and went on a cannibalistic murdering spree.

Other notable real cannibals are the Stella Maris Rugby team who ate fellow teammates after their plane crashed in the Andes in 1972; Jeffrey Dahmer, American necrophiliac cannabilistic serial killer who was murdered in prison; Armin Miewes, mentioned throughout this story; and Albert Fish, cannibal, serial killer and pedophile who was executed at Sing Sing in 1936.

What does the Bible say about cannibalism?

A lot. Many of the references to cannibalism have to do with the siege of Jerusalem and what would happen if the Israelites disobeyed God. Here's one from Jeremiah 19:9:

I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.

There are also numerous verses where human sacrifice is mentioned. In some verses it is demanded by God and in others child sacrifice is forbidden.

We'll let the theologians decide whether these references are metaphorical or literal.

Can eating a human kill you?

What do humans taste like?

The answer is overwhelmingly pork, which may be why the idiomatic culinary term for human flesh is 'long pig.' Miewes, our favourite German cannibal, said in an interview from his jail cell that: 'The flesh tastes like pork, a little bit more bitter, stronger. It tastes quite good.'

In the 1920s a couple of German serial killers sold human meat on the black market labelled as pork.

In 1981, a Japanese man Issei Sagawa, cannibalised a Dutch student. He's currently free, living in Japan since the French declared him insane and refused to send the court documents to Japan in order to prosecute him for murder. In an interview with Vice, he said that human meat is odorless and not gamey. If given the chance, he'd like to eat a Japanese woman, 'I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu is the best way to go in order to really savour the natural flavour of the meat.'

If you had to eat a human, what part should you eat?

The brain and muscles are probably your best bet according to Yale certified nutritionist Dr. Jim Stoppani. Muscles offer protein and the brain would provide slow-burning energy since it's high in fat and glucose. Yet the brain does present an added risk since it's the part of the body with the highest concentration in prions, which give rise to the fatal disease Kuru.

The liver and kidneys are filled with waste products since they're part of the body's filtration system so best to avoid those. Eyes contain an acidic solution which can make humans sick, fingers and toes are filled with cartilage, which your body won't digest and penises are spongy and have little nutritional value.

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