Cannibalism (with Bill Schutt)
Why do humans have such an aversion to eating each other? How many cultures really practice cannibalism? And does cannibalism happen in the Western world anymore? (Yes. The answer is yes.)
Bill Schutt is also the author of the nonfiction book “Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures” and the adventure novel “Hells Gate” (among many others).
Citations and further reading:
- Cannibalism is common in the animal kingdom – here’s why for humans it’s the ultimate taboo by Jared Piazza and Neil McLatchie, The Conversation
- Die, or break the ultimate taboo: Survivor’s moving account of how Andes plane crash victims were forced to eat their friends’ bodies in story which still haunts the world 40 years on by Dr. Roberto Canassa for The Daily Mail
- Carnivorous Dinosaurs Like Allosaurus Were Cannibals by Riley Black, Smithsonian.com
- ‘Wet markets’ likely launched the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know by Dina Fine Marcon, NationalGeographic.com
- Singer Bryan Adams slammed as racist for post blaming ‘bat eating’ people for coronavirus by Gwen Aviles, NBC News
- Why West Africans keep hunting and eating bush meat despite Ebola concerns by Abby Philip, Washington Post
- The new coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist by Eleanor Cummins, The Verge
- Chicken most likely to make you sicken, CDC illness data show by Kathy Kristof, CBS News
- Thank You for Not Eating Your Placenta by Jen Gunter, The New York Times
- No, you shouldn’t eat your placenta, here’s why by Byrony McNeill, The Conversation
- Placentophagia in Humans and Nonhuman Mammals: Causes and Consequences by Mark B. Kristal, Jean M. DiPirro, and Alexis C. Thompson; Ecology of Food and Nutrition 2012
- Human Birth: An Evolutionary Perspective by Wendy R. Trevathan, Taylor & Francis
- Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated with Placenta Consumption Jodi Selander, Allison Cantor, Sharon M. Young, and Daniel C. Benyshek, Ecology of Food and Nutrition 2013
- Why do some people eat their placenta? by Riley Botelle, BMC Series Blog
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Taboo Science is written and produced by Ashley Hamer. Theme music by Danny Lopatka of DLC Music.
Ashley: If there was an animal that could consent to being eaten, would you eat it? There’s a scene like this in the restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, the second book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. It’s the only book series I can say I’ve read multiple times.
So in the scene, the characters are sitting down to eat at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and the waiter asks if they’d like to meet the dish of the day. And soon this full-sized, cow type animal approaches the table and says, “Good evening. I am the main dish of the day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?” Then it begins to offer up its different body parts and recommend the ways that they can be prepared. The newcomers to the restaurant are horrified and the restaurant regular among them doesn’t understand why. One of the horrified guests says, “I just don’t want to eat an animal that’s standing there inviting me to.” The regular replies, “Better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten.”
I think most of us can relate to those horrified patrons. It’s a bizarre situation, and I’m sure that’s why this scene is so memorable to me all these years later.
I also think I know why we’re so horrified. Even though it doesn’t really make logical sense. I mean, it is better to eat an animal that’s consenting to it than one that can’t. But the ability to consent shows a certain level of intelligence and consciousness. And intelligence and consciousness are traits we associate with being human.
Eating humans is the most powerful taboo there is. It’s so powerful that the survivors of the 1972 Andes plane crash — the one they made a film about in 1993 called Alive! — they waited until they were at death’s door before they consumed their fellow passengers. That’s despite the fact that according to one survivor’s account, they had told each other early on that if one of them died, the others could use their body to survive.
Consent is not enough to bring us to cannibalism, even in the face of starvation. The cannibalism taboo is so ingrained that to ask why almost seems silly. But it turns out that the reason cannibalism is a human taboo isn’t actually all that clear cut. It’s not something we’re born with. It’s something we learn.
I’m Ashley Hamer and this is Taboo Science. The podcast that answers the questions you’re not allowed to ask.
Before we get too far into the ethics of eating each other, we’ve gotta cover some basics because cannibalism has a few different flavors.
Bill Schutt: I guess there’s an overall definition. I would say it’s the act of consuming all or or part of another individual of the same species. Or when you get into something like autocannibalism, if, if you are consuming a substantial portion of yourself, there are gray areas.
I, I guess I would call it that. But you, you know, if you eat your fingernails, uh, or if you cut your finger and, you know, is that cannibalism? So there’s a, there’s certainly a lot of gray area.
My name is Bill Schutt. I am a zoologist and a longtime research associate at the American Museum of Natural. I just took an early retirement at Long Island University where I’ve been teaching for 22 years.
Ashley: Bill Schutt is also the author of the book, “Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History,” and he says that cannibalism’s actual definition is a little controversial.
Bill Schutt: Some people, for example, I know scientists who don’t believe that, uh, that scavenging is a type of cannibalism. So if a creature comes across another, uh, dead animal and it happens to be the same species and it, and it consumes it, you know, some of my friends at the Museum of Natural History don’t, don’t really consider that cannibalism. And then specifically this was with regard to dinosaurs, whereas, you know, I consider that to be cannibalism as long as it’s the same species.
Ashley: Yep. There’s some evidence that dinosaurs were cannibals. Some of the most recent evidence came this year when paleontologists found a trove of fossilized allosaurus bones, a third of which had bite marks from what looked like allosaurus teeth.
And they’re not the only ones. Cannibalism takes place in every major animal group, but not always to the same extent. How much cannibalism goes on depends on a whole list of factors.
Bill Schutt: There are probably, maybe 10 different reasons why animals consume their own kind, and it has to do with parental care and as a hedge against environmental conditions that may change quickly
Ashley: If there’s overcrowding or if there isn’t enough food to go around, or both, animals start to look to their own kind as a food source.
But for many invertebrates, cannibalism doesn’t even require stressful conditions. Many of these species don’t recognize members of their own kind, especially when they’re still eggs. A calorie is a calorie! But family dinners can also happen for reasons beyond nourishment.
Bill Schutt: So terminating maternal investment is one thing that, that I talk about.
If, and animals like lions and the big cats do this, if, if they take over a pride and a female has a cub, uh, they will consume that cub so that the female comes into estrus quicker so, so that he can mate with her and produce his own, you know, line of cubs. So that is cannibalism. Then you have, you know, a, as a reproductive strategy, as a hedge against environmental conditions that are unpredictable is a, is a really neat one.
With these, uh, spade foot toads that I studied out in, uh, uh, out in Arizona. Where you have these eggs, you know these toads lay eggs, they hatch into tadpoles. The tadpoles are in the pond for a bit, and then they climb out and they become little toadlets. But if you lay those eggs in a pond in an environment where the pond might dry up overnight, then, if the pond dries up overnight and, and the tadpoles are still in the pond, then, then everyone’s dead.
So what has evolved is that in these spadefoot toads is that half of them, of the tadpoles, will explode in size overnight, and they will consume the smaller tadpoles. And in doing so, they’ll develop quicker. And so they’ll get out of the — in, in a sense, they’ll get out of the pool quicker. So it is a survival strategy based on the fact that you don’t know if these little pond — And, and when, when I went out there to work on them, they said, yeah, well the, the toads lay eggs in the ponds and I expected something that you could swim in. And, you know, a lot of these ponds were, if you took a Jeep and peeled out the, the back tires and then filled it up with a garden hose, that that’s a pond to them. So they can disappear really quickly.
And so this is a strategy for survival. It’s a type of parental care. There are a number of different types of, of spiders, for example, that will sacrifice themselves to their young. Uh, everybody knows about black widow spiders and, and praying mantis consuming their, the males, which are considerably smaller.
In a sense, what you’re doing is you’re giving, you know, you’re passing your genes on if you’re the male. And you are providing a nutritious meal to a female, uh, so that she gets even healthier and has more of a chance to survive so that her, her young then survive. So there are all of these different tactics.
Ashley: Who would’ve thought there’s an evolutionary benefit to eating a family member? But of course there are plenty of drawbacks too. For one thing, eating your kids or your relatives means fewer of your genes survive into future generations, which is a loss as far as evolution’s concerned.
Cannibalism can also make you sick. Just like you’re more likely to catch a cold from a fellow human than from your cat, eating your own kind puts you at a greater risk for parasites and pathogens that only exist in your species and that know how to get past your defenses.
Bill Schutt: Kuru, which was first investigated back in the 1940s and 50s in New Guinea, that’s something that I spent quite a bit of time looking at and, and that was, uh, it’s a horrible neurological disease that resulted from this indigenous group consuming their dead, you know, instead of burying them, that they consume them. So their puny rights were, a big part of it was to consume the, your, your relatives and scientists over the next 15, 20 years figured out that there was a, uh, a disease.
And it’s still controversial, whether it’s something called a prion or, or is it a virus that is causing this disease sort of related to mad cow disease.
Ashley: But when the situation gets dire, you aren’t really thinking about the possibility of disease. You’re thinking about the reality of starving to death. That was the reality during what’s probably the most famous instance of human cannibalism in recent history. The last days of the Donner Party.
Bill Schutt: The winter of 1847, 48 in the Sierra Nevadas, this group of pioneers had started late and they took what they thought was going to be a, a new route that was going to save them time. And it, and it actually did just the opposite. And, and the key when you were going to California from wherever you were were leaving from — these guys left from Independence, Missouri — was to get over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into California, places like Sacramento, before the passes up in the mountains were covered with snow. And they missed it, by some accounts, by a day. And so they were stuck up in the mountains and they really didn’t have any guides.
And so in retrospect, if they would’ve gone back down into the lowlands, they probably would’ve been fine. But they decided to stay up in the mountains and, and possibly try to get through, and that was the fatal error. And about half of them died and, and most of them were cannibalized.
But um, there was some murder. I mean, when you’re starving, you do extreme things. And it’s not just the Donners, but a couple of of American Indians who were associated with the group. They were, I believe, murdered and consumed. When I started this book on cannibalism, I figured that the Donner Party being the, the most famous example of cannibalism in, in North America at least, uh, that everything had been done.
And I was just gonna sort of mention it, and I really lucked out because there was a controversy that arose right when I started to do the research on this book. And, and all of the researchers, the Donner Party researchers that I went out and met and, and worked with in the field, told me about the fact that there was this new, you know, conception, or, or perception rather, that cannibalism hadn’t happened. And so I got to look at that problem. And it was just a, it was a mess up that a, uh, a college public relations department had put out a press release indicating that one of their professors had been doing research, and this was true, and they were, uh, at, at one of the Donner party sites.
And there were many of them because the Donners moved around and they had two big camps. And this was, uh, analyzing the, the contents of a fire pit where cooking was taking place. And they found no evidence of human, uh, remains. And so they put some statistics together and came up with the idea that, you know, uh, no human cannibalism.
So that was true at that point because when they were cooking their animals, they were not eating humans. Cannibalism didn’t take place until really late in the game with the Donner Party. They were up there in the mountains in the middle of this horrible winter, uh, with nothing to eat. So cannibalism took place late in the game, but they ate a lot of animals and shot, you know, went hunting and killed their, their pets and things like that.
And that’s what wound up in this fire pit. So it was no surprise that they didn’t find human remains. But the school reported that no human remains equals no cannibalism. And and so this whole controversy started, but whenever you mentioned it to the, um, Donner party researchers, they just shook their heads and rolled their eyes because they knew for a fact that there was no question that cannibalism took place at four different locations, uh, during that winter.
There’s no doubt about that.
Ashley: And I seem to remember from your book you said that it only really took place in earnest for like two weeks at the end or something.
Bill Schutt: Yeah. You know, they, they were rescued in stages and, and there was cannibalism even along the way when, when a rescue party got stuck in a storm.
But for the most part, they weren’t really consuming bodies until relatively late in the game. Uh, but when they did, there was plenty to eat at that point. Uh, and that’s what the last rescue parties found when, when they encountered these people that, you know, they were consuming the dead and there was just, there was really no question about that.
Ashley: Yeah. I feel like that’s such a misconception. You know, you just think about the Donner Party and it’s like, well, we don’t have any food, let’s start eating each other. But it’s, you know, it took a really long time to get to that last resort.
Bill Schutt: Yeah, absolutely. You know, that, that’s the thing with, um, with cannibalism and, and, and you really have to tie it into starvation.
This type of cannibalism has taken place probably thousands of times throughout history, after famines or, or during sieges. And so when you are at a situation where there’s nothing to eat and you’re looking at your children starving to death, and now your mind is playing tricks, then you’re gonna make a choice whether you are going to eat the dead or you’re going to starve to death.
And famously this took place up in the Andes with a, a rugby team. There was a book about it, Alive, and a movie that came out. Uh, but these people are put into situations that you, you really can’t conceive of it. You know, I’ve been interviewed probably a hundred times for this book. And I have to say, probably the worst was this radio announcer, it was a late night announcer, decided that his question to his audience was going to be, uh, would you eat someone if, you know, if you had to. And when he mentioned the question, I didn’t say anything, but I just shook my head. And I’m, I’m thinking to myself, you just don’t know. You know, it doesn’t matter what you say, you’re not gonna be able to, to make that call until, uh, uh, until you are in a desperate, desperate situation.
And that’s what these people were
Right. It’s not, it’s not logic, it’s survival.
Bill Schutt: Yeah. When your body starts to consume itself, when there’s, then, now, then there’s only so many options that you have left.
Ashley: That brings us to the big uncomfortable question. Why is cannibalism such a taboo? I mean, once a person’s dead, they are just meat.
From that perspective, it almost seems stupid for the Donner Party to wait that long to eat their fallen members. There was a powerful taboo at work to stop them. What’s up with that?
(to Bill) And you know, this seems like the obvious question, but what is it that keeps us from eating each other? Like, why do we have such an aversion to cannibalism?
Bill Schutt: Western culture is, is, is so completely dominant that we are ingrained because of Western culture to believe that or to, to think that cannibalism is, is the worst taboo that, that you could possibly do to, to, to someone else is to consume them. And this came from the Ancient Greeks who decided that this was true. And they started by, you know, cannibalism started to be something that the other did, you know, the, the, the group that wasn’t the civilized group. And of course you were the civilized group and everybody else were the savages. And so there were descriptions of, of tribes that the Greeks would come into contact with, uh, that consumed other people.
And so it spread from there to stories. For example, Homer in the Odyssey, you have Odysseus coming into contact with Polyphemus and, and I realized that Polyphemus is a Cyclops, so it’s not really a human, but that was the whole, you know, he ate a bunch of Odysseus men, and so that became, one of the, the first instances where a, a cannibalism type event was really thought of as the worst thing that you can do.
And from there it moved on through the Romans and Shakespeare and, and you know, you move on and on through time and it snowballs and you have Sigmund Freud knocking cannibalism and you have the early anthropologists, then you’ve got fairy tales that were geared towards, you know, not necessarily towards children back when they were written.
And, and all of it really pointed to the same thing that, that cannibalism was the worst taboo. So now when I say the word cannibalism, you have an ingrained response to it. And I think that’s why it’s become the taboo that it has. Plus the fact that it has to do with food. And food is fascinating. You add food to, you know, the, the greatest taboo, and now you’ve got instant fascination with this topic.
Ashley: I find that so interesting. So it’s not ingrained in us to fear cannibalism.
Bill Schutt: No.
Ashley: It’s, it’s cultural.
Bill Schutt: Yeah. Culture is king.
Ashley: What a culture eats is a big part of how they define who belongs and who’s an outsider. Like in Chicago where I live, there’s a nearly taboo level aversion to putting ketchup on hotdogs. Other people do that. True Chicagoans would never.
Likewise, new Yorkers love to dunk on Chicago style pizza. A true New Yorker likes their pizza flat and foldable. You know, so they can eat it on the street paired with the acrid smell of hot garbage that they keep on the sidewalk because they don’t have alleys. Anyway. Where was I?
Right. Food and culture. This in-group delineation can get a lot darker than a little Chicago New York rivalry. Like it is right now. The coronavirus pandemic was originally blamed on a wet market in China that sold the meat of wild animals like snakes, beavers, porcupines, and possibly endangered animals like pangolins. Wild animal meat is sometimes called bush meat. Westerners don’t eat that stuff, so that fact alone made the market and the country’s people immediately suspect. The singer Brian Adams famously blamed a canceled tour on some, quote, “Bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards, end quote.
The same was true during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. One Washington Post article ran with the headline, Why West Africans Keep Hunting and Eating Bush Meat Despite Ebola Concerns. While there’s legitimate risk in eating wild animals, these takes have an extra layer. They’re basically saying that these people, these others, are too evil or stupid to realize that civilized people don’t eat bush meat. And they’re saying they don’t deserve our help or sympathy.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Americans end up in the hospital each year from eating salmonella infected chicken, but we’re not blaming them for their illnesses.
But here’s the thing. Those far away cultures you’ve heard about practicing cannibalism. You know, like in those old cartoons where an island tribe captures the hero and puts him in a soup pot? A lot of it is colonial propaganda. Because if explorers discovered a new land and there were already people on it, they could either do the hard work of international diplomacy or they could call them savages and feel just fine about enslaving them. And cannibalism was a great excuse for that.
Bill Schutt: I think there’s probably been far less cannibalism taking place than was reported. I believe that once cannibalism became the taboo that it, it still is. Uh, then it was used, the very term was used as a bludgeon, as a way to subjugate different groups that were encountered by, you know, a series of flag planting, mostly Europeans. Starting with Columbus in the Caribbean and then through Mexico and South America and Africa as well. And, uh, if you were able to use, you know, if Columbus, for example, he made four voyages and the first voyage he reported back to, Queen Isabella, that the tribes that he came into contact with, the indigenous people were, you know, they were nice, they were fit to become good Christians, and they were, they, they seemed like good people and he was really there looking for gold.
And, and when you didn’t even find gold, he looked for something else. And almost as valuable were, were humans for slave trade. And so, I certainly am paraphrasing here, but the word from Europe came back to him. Listen, we need you to treat these people with respect. But if, if you find out that they’re cannibalism, then all bets are off.
And when lo and behold, on his, uh, subsequent visits back to the New World, all of these groups that had previously been described as those sort of nice folks were suddenly, they were cannibals and, and, and fit to have their, you know, their, their property stolen and enslaved and beaten. And killed and hunted like, like animals. And the same thing was used in other places.
And, and so, uh, I think that anthropologists initially, some of the early anthropologists thought that there was a lot of cannibalism going on. There were some studies that were done that were also kind of shady when you look at them nowadays.
Um, and I, I believe that, that, yeah, that, that there was ritual cannibalism for a number of reasons, funerary rights or, or as behavior to sort of terrorize a, an enemy. Or medicinal cannibalism is huge. But as far as being as widespread as we might have thought, you know, a hundred years ago, no, I don’t believe so.
Ashley: Ritual cannibalism is different than, you know, eating human flesh is part of a balanced breakfast.
Some people are gonna hate me for saying this, but I think it’s kind of like the Christian ritual of holy communion where people eat a wafer and drink wine that’s all meant to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus in order to basically connect with him. Just in this case, you’re actually eating the body. Historical accounts suggests that Caribbean societies would consume their fallen enemies as a way to transfer their strength or courage to themselves.
And in the same way a number of cultures are known to practice funerary cannibalism, where they consume a deceased loved one in order to help their soul leave their body and ease the family’s grieving process. The Europeans who encountered these cultures didn’t take time to understand these rituals and used them as an excuse for lies and cruelty.
That’s ritual cannibalism. But medicinal cannibalism, well let he who’s without sin eat the first bone, if you know what I mean. Europeans at the time were routinely consuming human tissue to cure what ailed them.
Bill Schutt: From the Middle Ages on right up until the early part of the 20th century, every part of the body was eaten for all sorts of medicinal purposes.
Everything that you can name was cured by either drinking blood or consuming fat, or grinding up bones. You know, there was a run on mummies because of a, a mistranslation of, of texts. Uh, people thought that this material mumia was, uh, was of medicinal value right up until the Merck Index in the early part of the 20th century. It listed ground mummy as a, as a cure.
So, you know, to me it was really in interesting that, here’s this western taboo, but all of a sudden, there’s this — I mean, and this was not just, this wasn’t poor people. It was everyone, kings and, and middle class and desperately poor people. This was a very, very common practice for hundreds of years in Europe, hundreds of years, and then suddenly it, it disappeared and it, it went away, and no one talked about it anymore.
It was like they, you know, that they just swept all of it under the carpet and nobody really mentioned it until relatively recently.
Ashley: But in China, these Western taboos didn’t really take hold. So while both Europe and China did practice medicinal cannibalism, China just didn’t hide the receipts.
Bill Schutt: China didn’t really get the memo about cannibalism being the big taboo from the Greeks.
And so, um, they developed their own cultures, of course, and they recorded it really well. So that was a culture that where medicinal cannibalism and cannibalism as a way to honor your parents if they were sick, uh, that you would consume a piece of them. Filial piety, it was called. These things were quite common.
And also there was a lot of survival cannibalism because there were so many, there were so many famines and there were sieges as well. And, and so a lot of cannibalism took place in China. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen elsewhere, but they documented it so well that it sort of stands out from the ancient cultures as being a group where cannibalism did occur.
Ashley: They didn’t see anything wrong with it, so they were fine with writing it down, whereas maybe other cultures kept it under wraps.
Bill Schutt: Yeah, I mean that’s another example of culture is king. It, it depends on what you think is normal behavior.
Ashley: But if you think cannibalism is long gone in the West, well, you’re sorely mistaken.
There’s a form of cannibalism taking place all over North America. It’s being spread through the internet and it’s made landfall in our suburbs. But it’s not teenage satanists or a psychotic serial killers. It’s wealthy, married white women, and they’re eating their placentas.
Why? Well, the idea here is that almost all mammals eat their placentas, and they must get some benefit out of it that we’re missing by throwing ours out. And there is evidence that these mammals get some benefits. Studies suggest that rat moms that eat their placenta feel less pain, thanks to a boost in certain substances that act as the body’s natural painkillers. And some other research suggests that it could give mammal moms an extra dose of hormones that help them bond with their babies.
But humans have not historically eaten their placentas. As far as we know, there are zero pre-industrial societies that incorporated it in their traditions. Beyond using small amounts in herbal medicines, humans just haven’t done it.
And that makes some sense. Seeing as we have very different reproductive systems from many other mammals. We don’t give birth to litters, we don’t go into heat, and we’re some of the only mammals that menstruate. It also makes sense then that the benefits of eating human placenta are held up by thin, mostly anecdotal evidence.
The biggest reason that new mothers eat their placenta is to stave off postpartum depression, since the placenta is full of hormones like oxytocin and prostaglandin. But it’s not clear whether these are present in high enough quantities to make a difference, especially when the placenta is cooked or consumed in a pill form. Those are two of the most popular methods.
But that doesn’t stop alternative practitioners from preparing placentas for profit. To learn more about it for his book, Bill Schutt got up close and very personal with one such placenta provider.
Bill Schutt: This was a great story. I mean, I also write fiction, and when this story unfolded, I just looked at it and said, boy, if I wrote this thing from scratch and just made it up, it couldn’t have come out any weirder than, than it did when I went through this.
I was about to start school, I I teach at Long Island University and classes were just about to start. And I got a phone call. I was investigating, um, this whole idea of consuming placentas by mothers who had just given birth.
And so I made a couple of phone calls and I got the number of, uh, of somebody down in Plano, Texas. And I gave her a call. And this is a woman who made a living by going to hospitals and collecting the placentas of her clients and then preparing them in various ways. And then the client would consume that placenta with the idea being that you would be able to replace the hormones that were lost after birth.
So for example, the baby blues, where you have these emotional ups and downs that women have after they give birth. And these people, believe that by consuming their placenta, that they can recharge in a sense, their hormone supply and feel better about themselves. And so they do this. So I thought I was gonna be interviewing this person over the phone, and after I got done talking to her for a bit she said, well, that’s too bad you can’t come down to Texas because you could eat my placenta, I just had a baby.
And. I just kind of like, there was silence on the phone as I’m going, did this woman just ask me to come down to Dallas, Texas and eat her placenta? And, and she did.
So, so if you know me, then as soon as I get off the phone, I’m thinking to myself, you know, if it’s 10 years from now and I’ve written a book about cannibalism and I had the chance to go down there — and I’d always been fascinated by the Kennedy assassination. I’d never been in Dallas before. If I had a chance to go to Dallas, Texas and, and meet this woman who I could interview and then have her placenta consumed, and she, she, she said, my, my husband is a chef. He could make it any way you wanted. We could make it ossobuco or you know, he can make a taco out of it. And I’m going, all right. So I got off the phone, I told my wife about it, and she’s like, yeah, well I know that you’re gonna go. And, you know, 10 minutes later I was ordering the plane tickets. And so I went down there and it just turned into this incredible adventure.
All my preconceived notions about what I was gonna find when I went down there were just out the window. She had 10 kids, uh, there and they were all homeschooled. And there was a huge windstorm that had hit Dallas the day before. So there were all of these factors that sort of made this into this incredible story.
And the guy wound up, he’s got his chef’s outfit on and he cooked this placenta up. And I’m, I, um, I tasted it. And it was, it was actually really good. So.
The next question I usually get is, would you do it again? N no, I, I would not do it again. I, I don’t necessarily think it’s safe. Even she admitted that she thought that it was a placebo effect, if anything, that her clients were getting, and that placebo effect is strong, but it was not something that I would ever do again. It was just because I had the opportunity to do it.
Ashley: It’s so amazing that in your research for a book on cannibalism, you ate human flesh .
Bill Schutt: Yeah. I know.
Ashley: Eating a placenta is different than eating a person though. For one thing, the person it was attached to is usually still alive. But seen as our planet’s population is growing amid the ever-present danger of climate change, I wonder if our taboos against cannibalism will ever relax. After all, we can consent to it. And our bodies aren’t being used for much else. So I asked Bill about it.
Bill Schutt: You get cannibalism when you get something like an increased stress associated with overpopulation or, or the lack of alternative forms of nutrition. And, and these are key reasons why cannibalism might occur in the future among humans.
I’m not saying that, that it will, I don’t want to go on record as saying, oh my God, he’s predicting that, that we’re all gonna become cannibals. But when you have, you know, if you have isolated situations where people are really poor and then throw in a bunch of guns that the other group has, then you know that at a certain point all bets might be off and, and that type of behavior might occur.
But I don’t think, you know, Western culture and the Western concept of cannibalism is so strong that I, I just don’t believe that we’re gonna be backtracking and eating human hamburgers anytime in, in the future.
Ashley: Hmm. Never say never.
Thanks for listening. Taboo Science is written and produced by me, Ashley Hamer. The theme music is by Danny Lopatka of DLC Music. A big thank you to Bill Schutt. His book is called Cannibalism, A Perfectly Natural History. It’s super entertaining, and you can find a link to pick it up in the show notes. Bill has also written a number of other nonfiction and fiction books, and I’ve included a few of those too.
Thank you to the people who have reviewed the show on Apple Podcasts. Jay Gaius complimented the length and said the production quality is great. The episodes are paced really well, and the content is informative and entertaining. Looking forward to more. Thanks, Jay Gais. We also got one from Casa Trumpeta that says she’s still got it.
I, I hope I still got it. I only only been doing this a little while. They say Ashley’s breezy, casual, and humorous style fits nicely into subject areas that might be stressful for some Thanks. You can expect the next episode in two weeks. Until then, follow the show on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All of them are at Taboo Science, all one word.
And the website is TabooScience.show. All right, that’s it. I’ll see you in two weeks.