Cannibalism is probably the diet with the worst rep. It seems to inspire nausea in those who even think about it, but, personally, i don’t experience any visceral disgust when i ponder people meat. For one, i was raised catholic, a religion which cannibalizes the son of god as part of a sacred ritual. I’m confident catholicism installed all sorts of masochism into my supple young brain, not that cannibalism is innately masochistic, but, you know, it can be. The way jesus did it it certainly was. Actually the layers of masochism run pretty deep in the last supper. Lotta salt poured on a lotta emotional wounds during that meal.
Then there’s my veganism. Regular meat grosses me out, but since people meat isn’t really a thing i ever encounter, at least knowingly, the idea of it feels like an exciting novelty, like the insect burgers in the Becky Chambers space operas. Doesn’t sound tasty but i’d like to try one.
Once, someone poked an ant off my foot and popped it into her mouth. My response would have would been about the same, i think, if she were eating an actual human foot, which i imagine would taste similar to that ant (but of course a much different texture).
Here’s a chestnut to grace your next zoom party: ask everyone if they had the opportunity to try people meat, would they do it. More specifically, i like to ask people if they would eat me if i died, with the knowledge that i fully consented to this use of my corpse. I assumed most people would, like me, say something like, “yeah sure, wouldn’t mind knowing what people taste like.” In fact, a sizable majority says something like, “no way would i ever do that, that’s absolutely revolting.”
At a reading in Minneapolis back in 2018, Dame Charlie Jane Anders brought up something like this topic, remarking on how curious it was that humanity has more taboos around cannibalism than it does around killing other people, when, evolutionarily, cannibalism has more going for it than killing. Sometimes, when i think of all the dead bodies we produce, seems an awful waste.
Naturally, all this had been a buildup to a defense of Ms. Lovitt from the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. For the very first time in my life, i am not being sarcastic: i think Ms. Lovitt’s culinary output is generally sound and a more enlightened society would recognize her innovation. Which isn’t to say i defend murder! But she doesn’t kill anyone, that’s all Mr. T. We can think of the Demon Barber as a machine, that’s what original stage director Hal Prince was all about: the guy’s a metaphor for the industrial revolution. The demon barber machine produces corpses and Ms. Lovitt utilizes the base materials, creating meat pies so tasty it inspires droves of people to chorus, “damn, that’s good! More hot pies!” It’d be one thing if her cannibal pies sucked, or even if they were merely passable, but everyone loves them.
I’m sorry but that’s inspirational. I mean when life hands ya lemons. Wouldn’t it be nicer to merrily feast on tastefully anonymous dead people, instead of dressing them up in clothes and putting them in boxes to rot, or just burning them away into ash, as if we, the living, are nervous to confront the various uses they can provide. “A Little Priest” is such a refreshing song, because it’s about stripping people of their pretensions, especially people who happen to be dead. “What a nice frame what’s his name has, had...has!” sings Ms. Lovitt, reminding us that under cannibalism we can, after we die, continue actively contributing to society.
But this is an industrial cannibal utopia, a lofty dream impossible to realize. Mrs. Lovitt's dream world does go up in flames by the play's climax. Cannibalism is probably unhealthy anyways. Probably her customers suffered some amount of digestion issues. Not to mention the merriment of her customers is entirely dependent on the fact that they don't know they're eating people. If she were to announce, "hey everybody! you're eating man!" the jolly consumers would likely vomit. They would likely consider themselves poisoned.
Yet in that nineties western horror movie Ravenous, human meat is like a superfood, so packed with rich nutrients it grants colonialist white people immortality and scary mega-strength. They’re like Draculas, eager to never die, harnessing their sinister powers to exploit humanity down to our very bodies. At one point near the movie’s end, the lead cannibal, surveying some kind of cannibalistic carnage, throws out his arms and merrily proclaims “manifest destiny!” So maybe cannibalism is actually too healthy.
The movie's director, Antonia Bird, emphasizes the hardscrabble grime of this familiarly greedy lifestyle. There are gross close-ups of human meat stew, cluttered unkempt sets, and naturalistic lighting, so it all feels lived-in. Those who indulge in cannibalism take on a bloated appearance and come across as too pleased for their own good (drenched in blood and generally looking like a corpse, a cannibal colonist perks "I feel terrific!"). While cannibalism if often thought of as the ultimate act of culinary desperation, the iconic Donner party, in this movie it's a sick indulgence of an anything-goes frontier.
The cannibal men are quite banal, they talk about eating people both like it's a lofty endevour and like it's a health fad, like bone broth or something. So many characters die, the movie feels like a slasher. Final girl is a native woman, but she's not really in the movie much. What little screentime she has is cool: there's a memorable part where she pounces Guy Pierce with a knife, because she's in a paranoid situation where anyone, or everyone, in this military fort could be a cannibal.
We don't get to see our colonist cannibals industrialize their diet, but we can assume this would be part of their conquest. Perhaps people are afriad of cannibalism's monsterous potential, because it must have a little innate appeal: humanity by and large doesn't mind consuming dead things for nourishment. And by and large, humanity doesn't mind finding reasons to treat people as disposable non-entities. There's almost a feeling of dreary inevitability around the idea of industrialized cannibalism, evoked in the dystopia novel "Make Room! Make Room!" and its film adaptation with the much less excited title Soylent Green. I haven't read that book, or seen all that really quite boring movie, but i have marveled at the book's paperback cover, and i know the concept. If populations continue existing and growing within an unstable capitalist expansion, it's maybe only a matter of time before our efficient, economical, and dehumanizing methods of food production fully utilize the stuff of people for its materials.
All of this is my vegan propaganda.