Bon Appetit

The other day Michele and I had a lengthy discussion about cannibalism. As you do. (what? Don’t you??)

It all started when one of us made a joke regarding the difference between cats and dogs – when their owner dies, dogs will sit howling next to the body, pining and wasting away. Cats will eat your face. And that’s one of the many things I love about the members of the feline race, I said – how wonderfully unsentimental they are.

I am 8 or 9 in my first memory of being told about cannibals. Sitting in the gym at my school, along with all the other students, I am watching a slideshow, overwhelmed by the exotic images on the screen, so lost in the stories of far away places that the sounds and smells of the gym disappear and I am thisclose to actually being there. An explorer/anthropologist/author (I'm pretty sure that this is him and this may be the book I later bought) had come to my school to tell us about his time spent with the cannibals of New Guinea. I remember two things vividly. The first being that when the tribes went to war, they’d fight (with spears) in an open space. When the first warrior was killed, the war was over and the victory given to the other tribe (how very civilized). The body of the warrior was also given to the victors (this I learned later – or maybe I just remember the later learning of it) and he was eaten as a tribute to his bravery, in the hope that his courage would become absorbed by the diner. The second thing I remember about that day was standing up and asking what human for dinner tasted like. Somewhere between pork and chicken, he said.

This was the moment that first sparked my interest in anthropology - when I went to university, I took several courses in the field and this was where I learned about kuru, caused by eating infected brain tissue (especially partly cooked infected brain tissue, which was why it was primarily found in women, who would be tasting the dish as they were cooking it for the warriors. Or so my memory claims). This ended up being a nice bridge between anthropology and my major of psychology where I learned about other kinds of diseases causing brain damage and boy, am I ever digressing.

Years after that lecture first made me wonder what human flesh tasted like, I read my first English book about the Peruvian soccer team that crashed in the Andes and were forced to eat the dead in order to survive. This was the second time I was prompted to think about cannibalism and what I'd do in the same situation. And so, we’re more or less back on track regarding the conversation that started it all, as naturally the next question following talk of the Andes crash was whether I thought I could eat a person. My answer was yes. Purely theoretical, y’understand, as I have yet to be placed in a sufficiently dire situation where this might be necessary, but if I ever crashed in the Andes (or somewhere of similar harsh environment) and some people died and it was a matter of survival… I'm not saying the first bite would be easy, but if it was the other way around and I was dead? Well, this is where I engaged in some firm direction, informing Michele that under those circumstances, she'd better start chowing down. I'm fairly thin, so it wouldn't be able to keep her alive for long, but every little bit helps and it's not as if I would be using my body anymore. I did make it clear though, that I wasn't giving anyone permission to off me just because they were a mite peckish and couldn't be bothered going down the beach to catch fish.

Which is probably why I love the unsentimentality of cats. Because I so would do the same thing.

Would you?


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