Musings on Human Cannibalism


Ever since seeing the movie Alive, I’ve been curious about people’s reactions to and ideas about survival, particularly to a drive to survive that is so strong that one would eat the flesh of another human being in order to do so. Now long ago, I of course heard about the Donner party and their westward journey during the 1800’s and of their resorting to cannibalism after being caught in the Sierra Nevada during the winter. But this had the ring of urban legend to me at the time (though of course it’s a true story), and it just didn’t sink in somehow. But watching Alive, I really got a sense of the desperation and survival instinct and realized that in a similar situation, I almost certainly would cannibalize the already dead in order to survive. I should say sorry* here to anyone who is disillusioned or otherwise disgusted by my confession. How gross am I?

According to my informal “human flesh = nummy treat or gross taboo” poll, I’m pretty gross indeed. And worse than “gross” a big taboo breaker (and not in the Sade sense that includes wine, candles, and sensuous undulating). Okay, I get that.

Hannibal Lecter strikes fear in our hearts as few other film characters can (well, he was on the page of a Thomas Harris novel first and apparently even a real guy called Hamilton Albert Fish, but you know what I mean); there is just something shudder making about “having a friend for dinner.” When he chews the face off of someone, that’s just gross and terrifying, and even worse (to me) is eating the brain out of a living person’s skull as happens in Hannibal, which I read but did not see the film version of (ooh, need to add that to my Shelfari). And Jeffrey Dahmer, with his boiled boys’ heads and body parts, was a perverted monster that few (if any) of us could comprehend; how could someone rape, murder, chop up, boil and eat people? And all in a nice little neighborhood while looking like the all American guy next door? Talk about shudder making and mind boggling.

Chowing down on people for fun or sadistic pleasure is gruesome and frightening, I agree, but historically, most cannibalism has been done as a spiritual or ritualistic rite or as a matter of necessity (as with the Donner party). People have eaten people in order to gain their strength or wisdom (either symbolically or not, depending on culture and belief system); some cultures eat the brain, heart, or liver of the fallen enemy as a means of gaining their wisdom, courage, or strength or as a show of respect. People have eaten people in rituals of symbolic cannibalism, such as in the Catholic and Lutheran practice of communion in which the host is believed to be transubstantiated into the actual body of Christ. People have eaten people to gain sexual or psychological pleasure (or both). And people have eaten people in order to survive dire circumstances.

This latter case makes sense to me. Even though I do know that a human version of “mad cow” disease has been found in cannibalistic tribes around the world, that this madness associated with eating the flesh of one’s own species is possible, though rare, I would still (I believe) do it. I don’t believe that I would kill someone in order to eat their flesh in order to survive, and of course, such stories don’t really make it back, as the survivors aren’t quick to admit cannibalism, let alone murder, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that this happened in such conditions. But the will to live . . . how strong is it? Is it stronger than your socio-cultural moral system? Would you break a taboo in order to survive? Would you break more than one?


The picture is of Salvador Dali’s “Autumn Cannibalism” (or “Cannibalism in Autumn”)

* Special thanks to Sean for allowing me to use his vid 😀

40 thoughts on “Musings on Human Cannibalism

  1. OK, I’m vegetarian. I have been so all my life. Writing this, I remember going to visit the family of a former boyfriend. His niece, who was 6 or 7 at the time, ran out to meet us. She looked right into my face, perhaps expecting someone unusual, and said in a very matter-of-fact way, “We’ve been cooking special for you because you’re vegetarial.” So since then I’ve been ‘vegetarial.’ I love it!

    The questions you pose are BIG questions, ones that really don’t get truly answered for any of us until we’re facing a true potential of death. I carve up meat for my dog once a day. It’s funny, but I think I’d have less problem carving up a dead body for my dog than for myself. I shudder just to think about eating flesh. Strange?!? Probably…

    As usual, a provocative post, Ms. Fuzzy. Thanks!!

  2. Wow, this is a bit of a departure from shoes!! LOL. Seriously, though, if you strip away the thin layer of ‘civilisation’, what you are left with are hundreds of thousand of years of evolutionary instinct. The two most powerful being survival and procreation(or are they two sides of the same coin?). I truly believe that in extreme survival situations, many will revert to the baser instincts. I’m not saying everyone would. I’m sure there are some who couldn’t go that far. But evolution’s main principal is ‘survival of the fittest’. Fittest doesn’t necessarily mean strongest or healthiest, but most adaptable. There are many many documented cases, such as the ‘Andes’ incident, that support this view. In normal everyday life the thought of eating human flesh repulses me, but I can’t honestly say, if I were in an extreme survival situation, that I wouldn’t do it. And despite their loud protests, I suspect deep down a lot of people agree.

  3. i have to agree with mitch. i think if it came down to absolute survival, a lot of people (including myself) would probably forget about the taboo. but i hope i’m never, ever in that position.

  4. I love that pic, you know I’m a Dali nut.
    This is such a good blog, tho I may appreciate more when I’m not so tired.
    But I will say this…eating people for pleasure = sick and very wrong.
    Eating dead meat in a life or death situation? Hell yeah.
    Dean would so do it.

  5. Jillene, I didn’t know you are a vegetarian; are you vegan? (is that when even eggs and stuff are off limits? Could google it, but you already know, so . . . :D) I do know what you mean about being better equipped to feed your dog meat, though; it’s funny how we’ll do the extraordinary for those we love, things we may not do for ourselves. Well, not funny, just comment-worthy. 😀 Huggs.

    Wow, Mitch, thanks for the great comment! I totally agree with you, and as Jillene says, we can’t truly know what we’d do in such a sitch until we are there, but I do think you are spot on with this one. Can’t wait to see what others think, too! Yay!! Fun topic, huh? ;D

    Kerry, I agree, and honestly, I’m such a homebody (as in I don’t even like to go out to check the mail) that I doubt I ever would be in such a situation (maybe that’s why I can easily say I’d do it? Hmmmmm, food for thought. Ugh. No pun intended). 😀

    Tally, OH!! Dean would SOoooooo do it. But do you think Sammy would? I don’t think he would, but we’ll see what happens with the finale, I guess, see if he does go darkside (somehow, from the dead). Or do you think Dean would eat Sammy? And not in the Wincest way, you bad gone to the darkside girl! 😛 I love Dali, too, one of my friends just moved to central Florida, and I was like, you HAVE to go to the Dali museum there . . . it’s so good. 😀 *huggs*

  6. Interestingly shuddery blog.
    But I think you really need to get into a life or death situation in order to figure out what you would really do. The instinct of survival can lead to many unpredictable actions. You may just surprise yourself. (Although I do hope you don’t get into one.)
    In a way this is the same as trying to learn about a foreign culture from reading books, which is all very well. But a whole different story when you experience it in person.
    I do eat meat (as well as nice veggies), but I could not eat human flesh for pleasure. Brrrr!
    I sometimes wonder if we would be able to communicate with cows, share our thoughts and secrets with them, go out for long hikes with them, go swimming together, would we still eat them?
    Beef in NICE, especially with sauteed spinach and garlic butter, maybe some potatoes gratin, but I often feel guilty for eating it. I always comfort myself with: “Well, it’s not me who killed it, and if I don’t eat my steak fillet which is charred to perfection, nice and smoky crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth-tenderness as you cut into it, what was the poor animal slaughtered for- Nothing?”
    I am horrible, I know. I should really switch to veggies. But I get cranky if I’m on veggies for more than a week.
    So, I’m in a no-win situation.

  7. What an intense blog Fuzzy. I was really looking forward to this post. I completely agree with you, if I was ever faced with the situation of eating human flesh in order to survive, I would likely have no choice. Fortunetly I have never been on the verge of starvation so I do not know what true hunger feels like, but I can only imagine and at that point it would be totally acceptable if there was no other choice and the person was already dead. I pray to God that I never will be in a situation like that. I just had this conversation with my husband and he agreed, you have to eat to survive, it’s basic human/animal need/instinct.
    Have you ever seen “Cannible Holocaust”? It came out on DVD a few months ago and it was banned in the US because it is very violent and graphic, if you have the stomach for it, check it out. It’s hard to find though.
    Very thought provoking blog, awesome post!

  8. Great job Fuzzy, I was waiting for this one but you hit all of the main points! I have a friend who is a descendent of the Donner Party! As you pointed out they left Illinois for Sutter’s Fort (which is now Sacramento) the last part of their journey would take then over the Sierra Mountain Range, which is now called Donner Pass! They left with many oxen’s to pull their wagons over the long trail! After many tragedies they were forced to kill their last few oxen’s for food! After this they headed out on foot! When the food ran out they turned to cannibalism for survival! The Donner Party consisted of many families and they all resorted cannibalism, so feeling here is I would definitely do what ever I had to survive! I have read that the will to live is so strong, I think that many would be surprised what we are capable when faced with survival!
    Already mentioned here is the fact that many culture’s would eat the brains and different organs in the belief that they would gain wisdom, strength and powers of the deceased. Even have Dahmer covered in here, thanks Fuzzy!

  9. Hmmmm Fuzz…
    BIG hmmm… I am very much a carnivore, and like my beef rare to the point that if it were any MORE rare it would be going “moo”… However, that being said, I don’t think that I could eat human flesh. As Fanta pointed out, and I feel the same way, that I wasn’t the butcher who prepped the animal, didn’t have a relationship with it and neither did I see it frolicking in a meadow prior to a portion of it sitting on my plate…

    I wonder though, at what point does a person abandon civilized behaviours or a ‘sane’ (for lack of a better word) mindset? I never saw “Alive”, so I couldn’t identify with this movie at all. Very interesting blog, my dear … @@ hugs, G. xo

  10. I have to say, after reading everyone else’s comments, I don’t believe that at the point of total starvation that anyone would think rationally. I read that if someone has not eaten for a long period of time, it becomes painful, the need to eat would over power your senses. At that point you would eat anything to survive anything to make the hunger subside.
    I really don’t think anyone would die of starvation as a choice, not if the food is there. That’s my opinion and I firmly believe it.
    Wow Fuzzy, so good that I came back for seconds….hahahaha

  11. lmao @ swimming with your cow friends, Fanta; you are too funny! Giggle, giggle. I think if my cow friend that I swam with all the time were to drop dead in some frozen tundra somewhere, he’d WANT me to eat him to stay alive. I know that if you and I were out trekking through the frozen mountains trying to make a new civilization and I died (um, of natural causes), I’d want you to eat my yummy corpse to stay alive. I’d be delish, I’m sure, and I’d want you to live, even if I didn’t. It’s funny, you know how on Bridget Jones she was so afraid of being eaten by dogs? I’ve always thought that if I do die at home (most likely, I guess, as I’m here more than anywhere else), I’d WANT my cats to eat my body to survive. They would, of course, whether I wanted them to or not, but I really would want them to. And you. Even though I’ve never been swimming with them. Or you. teehee. As Tally says, and I guess it’s up to each person’s belief system, but for me, I guess once dead, the body’s just that, a body. And I’m so with you on the lovely cut of beef (or chicken), and I would really eat the beef before a person; we’re talking the dead person is all that’s available, not that you have a whole menu of choices. Teehee. 😀 Huggs for days to you and thanks for the fab comments!

    Hiya Maggie! Yes, I totally agree with you. I’ve not seen that movie, but now you know I’ll have to get it. 😀 And no worries about typos / spelling errors; I’ve never seen anyone never make an error (if you follow that weird sentence structure! Gah, it’s late). 😀

    Wow, thanks, Michael! For the compliments and for the fuller picture of the Donner party; I saw a program on them one time, and it was really remarkable that ANYONE survived that ordeal at all.

    I so get you, GG, and it sure would take some soul searching and sort of working up to that point . . . I don’t mean to sound like I’d dive on the first dead body the second I had a tummy grumbling. It’d not be a fun or happy or proud moment, I’m sure, but if pushed to that point of eat this or die . . . I’d eat that. I’m pretty sure. hehe @ frolicking in the meadow 😀 Huggs xx

    Ooooh, groan @ came back for seconds, Maggie! Bad pun. lmao. I’m so glad that you did, too, because I think you make a great point about that pain and the overpowering urge to eat/survive. I know I’ve read that people at sea will drink the salt water because they are SOOOOOO thirsty, even though they know it will kill them. Likewise in the desert, people will eat the sand thinking it’s water. The body and mind are very strange things indeed, mysterious and complicated. I did a post in the winter about how people who freeze to death often feel toasty warm and actually strip off their clothes (that’s why they’re found curled up without hats, coats, gloves on.). I find it all very fascinating. Huggs to you my newest pal! 😀

  12. Yeah, but the majority of people who die of natural causes belong to a quite advanced age category, therefore quite chewy- I assume, no matter how much exercise they did while they were alive…It would have to be seriously tenderized. Maybe suitable for burgers? LOL

  13. lol, Fanta, you’re too funny! I do take your point about having a relationship with someone, etc. and wondering how that works on farms where people DO live with and care for the animals they kill and eat. I know I couldn’t do that when I can go to the store and buy pre-killed stranger cow/chicken/etc. But then, I even catch spiders and icky crawly things on the end of a mop or broom and toss them outside so I don’t have to kill them. Have a great day, you! xx

  14. Hi Fzy! great morbid blog!
    I guess theres not much more to say that hasnt been said earlier sufice to say that the answer to the dilemma of what i/you would do..well, i guess i would if it was a case of survival. Makes me cringe even writing that but… i think we all have a remarkable capacity to cherish our fellow human beings but at the same time when confronted with life or death,a worryingly capacity to commit harm and be animalistic in our behaviour. A deep recess or psyche of darkness that most of us and in normal situations we are not even aware of.
    I guess books like Lord of the Flies and Conrads Heart of Darkness touch on this.
    hugs xx

  15. I don’t know what I would do. I would hope I’d be able to survive on nuts and berries (though some of my friends are nuts — I’d hope to not have to survive on them!) I’ve got a pretty darn good layer of blubber covering this bod, it’s quite possible I could last without sustainance for WEEKS!!!

  16. Great blog Doc. I can’t imagine eating a dead body, I hope I am not put into such situations. Since there is no other alternative then one has to do this like Andes. In that scenario I will try to do my best to explore more for food 🙂 Can’t imagine what will happen after I will leave it there :). I read Typee by Herman Melville, a true story, he faces such situation in a tribe, read it if you have a chance, it is a great story. They practice cannabilism for so many years. It portrays both sides of the story it is nicely done. While you and Fanta try to make a burger, just warn me before I don’t want to read that recipe 🙂

  17. Hmmm…how did I miss this post yesterday?!?! First of all….”For sexual pleasure”????

    Actually, although I voted for “gross” or whatever the choice was at the time (I’m too lazy to go, I have to agree to the “survival” theory. I’ve seen Alive…good movie…and yes, I would have been one of the people actually eaten! Well, at least if I wasn’t already dead and was being eaten!

    I just read an article about cannabalism today (well, the articl might have been a year old..who knows…but, i just read it!). It was in the Smithsonian Magazine. Geee, I love that magazine! Anyway, it “bit” into the reasons why some tribes/cultures have/still do practice cannablism.

    Interesting post! :o)

  18. How odd, I actually had this discussion with my husband the other day….we both agreed you do what you have to survive, primal instinct and all. Of course he was hoping I’d go first since he said there’s more flesh on my bones…..I know…isn’t he sweet? (:

  19. Its people… PEOPLE! *lol*

    Seriously though, I believe that, if I were in the situation, I would do it. Heck… I’m a Brit and we eat all sorts of crap in some of what could be described as our National Dishes, (Steak & Kidney Pie, anyone? Or how about some lovely Black Pudding?), so eating a dead person, when all other avenues of survival have been explored and eliminated, wouldn’t be such a push.

  20. Hey Rash! Omg, now you’ve given me another book to add to Shelfari; I forgot about Heart of Darkness, such a good book, and yes, a look at so many things we don’t care to see. Thanks for the great comments. 😀

    Oh, JustMe, if there were nuts and berries, I’d eat those, too! But in the Donner thing and Alive, there is just snow and frozen tundra . . . . Ugh! And lol on the body storage, I got some of that going on, too, so a rescue party would have some time to find me before I wilted away, that’s for sure. Teehee

    Typee by Melville, I think I read that in high school, but I don’t remember it; I’ve got it around here though and will give it another read. I liked Bartleby and Moby Dick (though I skipped all the whale stuff/cetology — or however it’s spelled). lol @ warning you about the people burgers; not a problem there. I’ll just put on some of my world famous celery salt, and you’ll never know the diff. Baaahhhaaa (just sick humor, of course!). Huggs

    lol, Ang, you like even numbers . . . too funny! I’ve not seen Smithsonian magazine for years and years, but I liked it, too. 😀 Seems I do most of my reading online these days (or at the doctor’s office). Sigh.

    River! How strange not only that you guys were talking about it but also that Maggie and her hubby were, and I’ve been thinking about it . . . very weird, but I guess that stuff happens. And teehee @ your hubby’s sweetness! 😀

    OMG, Dudge, tell me that’s a Buffy quote!! Please!! I love Buffy, and if it’s that Doublemeat freakout you’re meaning . . . yay!! hand clapping glee. What exactly is Black Pudding? Is that like (or even actually) blood pudding? Icky. And isn’t hagus like intestines or some such? Shudder. You are so right, though, not too far at all. When I was in school in England, we had tongue all the time (it seems in my memory, anyway), and I loved it with some gravy and Yorkshire pudding. Can’t think I’d eat it now, though.

  21. Hi Fuzzy 🙂

    The whole concept enters the realm of speculation. For those who might say that, categorically, they would not and those who would say that, categorically, they would. We each say what we will do with the greatest of thought but in the end it’s the acid-test that would tell. It wouldn’t be until I am in that situation that I would *know* what I would or would not do.

    After saying which, gut-instinct tells me that the bigger percentage would; but that would still leave a minority; the size of which doesn’t really matter. But amongst those that couldn’t would probably those that thought they could.

    Not much of a contribution I’m afraid, but those are my immediate thoughts. And I must say that primal instincts are exactly that; in effect it comes down to just what primal level one would go; in that much we can truly say we are all different.

    Hugs and love


  22. Ah, tongue! How I miss that, Fuzzy. The truth is – whether you vote ‘gross’ or ‘taboo’ or what – you would eat human flesh (hopefully dead already) to survive. That doesn’t make it any less gross, but you would do it. I voted (a bit late) ‘taboo’ because of the above ie gross, but I’d do it. But the point is I would continue eating human flesh once I’d been rescued (I would be rescued, wouldn’t I, Fuzz?) and I wouldn’t kill for it (although it might be a good excuse in certain cases. On the other hand, are those people I would want to eat. Hmmm, more to this than I thought!). I read all your interesting comments on shoes too, but couldn’t think of anything to say . . . Mitch was right; this is a bit of a random leap (even for you). X

  23. Thanks for your always fab and very welcome comments, FrankiE! :))

    Hehe, well, I’ve not known you that long, Neil, but I do like to write about all sorts of things, and death/corpses/decomposition are among my fave topics, I’m afraid. Well, okay, not as fave as shoes. And politics. But on the list. ;D xx

    Oh, thanks, Kerry; well, that’s okay, that your hubby’s not quoting Buffy (who does? Besides me.) I’m off to check out that link . . . what IS black pudding, though?

  24. Hmmm . . . I don’t think I’ve even heard of this film, but now I want to watch it! Thanks for the tip, Kerry. 😀

  25. well, black pudding is a sausage typically made from pig’s blood cooked with a filler, such as oatmeal, seasoned and then put in a casing like regular sausage. yes, it does sound kind of disgusting, but it is quite deliscious.

    and i wouldn’t be surprised if there was a small homage to soylent green in that buffy episode.

  26. oh, is it like lebanon baloney? I like that a lot, and think it’s sort of similar.

    oooh, prolly so, they did all sorts of homagey things on Buffy; I really really need to see that movie!

  27. i don’t know, i’ve never heard of lebanon baloney. i tried searching on it, and couldn’t find anything, either. i’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.

  28. Hey Fuzz,

    I just read about that Dahmer bloke and he was horrible! At least he is dead now I suppose but then that doesn’t help all the people he murdered does it! I’m not sure if I could eat another person but then again unless I am put in that situation I suppose who could tell. If I was desperate to life the who knows what I would do!

    Great blog topic here Fuzz. Big big hugs to you and yours. x

  29. Yay the long awaited cannibalism blog! Did I miss the shrimp blog BTW, or is that permanently on the backburner now? Interesting question on whether there are circumstances on could potentially eat human flesh. The survival instinct is so strong though, that I guess if it came to it, I could envisage eating human flesh, even though the thought of it is really icky.

    I remember watching a program about cannibalism a while ago that mentioned The Custom of the Sea, which was where sailors marooned at sea with no supplies would draw lots to see who would be dinner. There are a few documented cases of this actually happening. Imagine being the one who had the shortest straw knowing you were about to be killed and eaten. Would you try and flee? Did the others leave it for a while so you could say your last minute prayers? Horrible, horrible thought.

    The other recent case I remember from the news was the bizarrely macabre case of Armin Meiwes.
    []. He was a German cannibal who mutilated a guy who supposedly volunteered to be eaten. Men may want to look away at this point, but Meiwes cut off this guys penis and the two of them ate it together, before Meiwes killed him! Ewwwww…ewwww and ewwww again!

  30. Great blog Princess! You have inspired me to write a blog about another case of cannibalism for surivival, which I shall post in a few days. It is the story that Fabienne touched on.

    Cannibalism in itself is awful, but it has been a sad reality in some cases. I can’t imagine ritualized cannibalism unless it occured in areas where meat was otherwise scarce, and even then…yucky!

    You have to blog about angels now to help me cope with the mental anguish this cannibalism subject created! 😀

  31. omg, Kerry, I just watched that clip; it’s crazy. That movie looks well worth the watching! And I see why Dudge said “it’s People” too. Yay! 😀

    Thanks so much, Snuggles!! I feel the same way you do, that’s for sure. Huggs and love to you xx

    I doubt the shrimp blog is forthcoming; not a lot to say about shrimp unless you’re Bubba Gump. And Gaah! Fabi, drawing lots to see who’d be dinner? THAT would be tough; I don’t know how I’d react in that kind of situation. Now, all fat and comfortable, I don’t think I’d be able to kill or be a party to the killing of another human being for food, and I have to say I hope it’d stay that way in any sitch. As to would I flee? Where to if I’m on a ship? And that did remind me of that Shirley Jackson story “The Lottery,” too, just how you posited it, I think. I’d heard of that penis sharing German guy before or at least some German . . . didn’t he “love” his willing victim and think highly of him for his great sacrifice? And didn’t he advertise for him online, too? Foggy memories, so I may have a couple stories confused here. Thanks for your always thoughtful and thought provoking comments, Fabi. 😀

    Hey Princess Ceres, yes, it’s pretty compelling stuff, huh? I’m looking forward to your blog now, that’s for sure! As to my angel blog, I’m trying to work out how to do it that it’s not a book, you know? So much to say about that one . . . it’s still simmering. 😀

  32. It would depend on how much I wanted to live. If it was hopeless and death was soon, no I wouldn’t do it. But if I could return to the love of my life by chowing down, yes, I guess I wouldn’t think twice. The whole subject is “gross” but I still feel compelled to read up on it and can’t turn down a good story or movie like Hannibal.

  33. I stopped in to see what you were up to about two weeks ago and came across this particular blog. I got carried away with all the links, and, before I knew it, I was doing something else. Here I am again, finally, commenting.

    I personally find the thought of eating another human’s flesh revolting and think it utterly impossible to be in a position where I would have to choose between dying or surviving by cannibalism. I feel like I need to write the word ‘duh’ after that statement.

    I am a fan of true crime (My favorite author of all time is Ann Rule) and am currently reading a disturbing tale of two men who together killed dozens of victims I have read the true story of Hamilton Albert Finch. I have seen crime scene photos of Dahmer’s, The Ripper’s, the Green River Killer’s, I-5 killer’s… countless photos of victims (don’t worry… you don’t have to block me!)… the human mind is indeed an unpredictable thing.

    Just having said that the human mind is unpredictable, I suppose then it would be safe to ask: “Who really knows what one would do to survive?”

  34. Know just what you mean, Pris!! 😀

    Hey there, Pinkidelphia, so nice to see you!! Yeah, I did get a bit carried away linking this and that, huh? Sorry, I do that from time to time. 😀 I read Ann Rule’s book on Bundy years ago, and I remember thinking it was really good, but I can’t recall much else about it. People are just sickos; well, some of them are, anyway. Thanks for stopping by!! 😀

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