“Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own.” Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
“Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Niger, a toddler’s mother shoos annoyingly persistent flies away from her precious child’s mouth and eyes in a futile attempt to ease his suffering in some way—his emaciated face and distended belly portend his imminent death. Even when she manages to find food or water and gives him a bit, he immediately vomits it back up. He will soon become another of the 15 million nameless, faceless children who will die of starvation this year.
Haitians lob Molotov cocktails, burn tires, smash windows, and pelt riot police with rocks in a desperate demand for something more than “mud cookies” to satiate their hunger. According to the World Health Organization, one third of the human population is well-fed, one third malnourished, and the other third is starving.
In the wealthiest nation on Earth, the mean-spirited “every man for himself” ethos forces lonely, forgotten grandmothers to face the grim choice of buying their medicine or putting meager amounts of food on their table and demands that single working mothers forego paying their utility bills so that their children can eat.
Such abject and profound suffering….and so unnecessary!
Yes, that’s right. We have it in our power to put UNICEF out of the business of providing for hungry children. We can render Oxfam obsolete. Feed the Children? Food pantries? There is really no need for them. We can feed the multitudes and we don’t even need a single loaf of bread nor one fish to accomplish this feat.
We have all the food we need to eradicate world hunger. We are simply too myopic, closed-minded, tradition-bound, and quite frankly, weak-willed, to do what is necessary.
Flesh, flesh everywhere, Nor any morsel to eat…..Does Soylent Green ring any bells, dear reader?
Why is Charlton Heston’s startling discovery near the end of that movie so horrifying to many who watch the film? Heston and his friend, Edward G. Robinson, lived in an over-populated, heavily polluted, food-scarce dystopia (starting to sound familiar?). So why does the possibility of Heston munching on Robinson (or any other human animal for that matter) in the form of a green wafer draw such a powerful visceral rejection from most viewers? What kind of a heartless person would want another sentient being, particularly a friend, to die of starvation rather than eating something of theirs, even a part of them, for which they had no further use?
Why the nearly inviolable taboo on cannibalism in “civilized” cultures? Why is human flesh so sacrosanct that we allow people to succumb to starvation whilst nourishing “meat” decomposes and goes to waste?
We human animals fancy ourselves to be the master species, “unique” in our “superior” cognitive and communicative capacities. Yet our most noticeable characteristic is our ability to create global havoc, devastation, and misery. Therefore we have found it necessary to hide our monstrous agenda behind “traditions,” acculturated and inculcated customs that grant us license to exploit, oppress and murder with impunity while preserving our own “sacredness.”
Anthropophagy, commonly referred to as cannibalism, has been vilified and condemned throughout history. Western European “explorers” annihilated millions of indigenous people in the “New World” under the pretext that they practiced anthropophagy and were better off dead or enslaved than they were living in their natural “uncivilized” state. Scholars and historians have determined that often the claims of cannibalism were greatly exaggerated or utterly fabricated. But regardless, according to “conquerors logic,” we were morally superior to the indigenous folk of Turtle Island because even though we slaughtered millions of human beings, we did the “moral thing” and left their remains to stink and rot rather than eating them. Genocide in the name of imperial expansion is excusable while cannibalism is not, according to Western cultural tradition.
The Donner Party, comprised of hyper-individualized pioneers imbued with the locust mentality of American westward expansion, was heavily inculcated with the “civilized” ethos of Western culture. Yet when push came to shove, those God-fearing Christians ate the remains of their dead companions rather than starving to death. So much for tradition in that instance. Pragmatism won the day. Where is our pragmatism now that we are facing a global crisis?
The Raft of the Medusa is an over-life-size painting that depicts a moment from the aftermath of the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse, which ran aground off the coast of today’s Mauritania on July 5, 1816. At least 147 people were set adrift on a hurriedly constructed raft; all but 15 of them died in the 13 days before their rescue, and those who survived endured starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and madness. (Source: Wikipedia)
When an individual practices cannibalism for reasons other than necessity in Western culture, they become loathed pariahs, drawing the collective wrath of society and facing harsh consequences. Consider the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed, dismembered and ate 17 people, was imprisoned for life and beaten to death by another inmate. Meanwhile, when powerful political figures commit genocide in Eurocentric “liberal democracies,” they do so without consequence and are even richly rewarded. George W. Bush, who murdered over a million Iraqis by proxy (yet ate none of their remains as far as we know), has retired to a comfortable, privileged existence. In our “civilized” culture, Lady Justice is not only blind; she is deaf, mute, and intellectually impaired as well.
Like most traditions, the taboo against anthropophagy is rife with hypocrisy. And hence not surprisingly, it is closely linked with our malignant and slavish devotion to our planet-murdering mindset of anthropocentrism, perhaps the most self-serving, deeply ingrained, and morally reprehensible tradition woven into the fabric of the human psyche.
Most of us are, or were, “meat” eaters. Some even proudly proclaim themselves to be carnivores and predators. Yet the reality is that human animals lack the speed, strength, stamina, claws, and fangs to hunt down their prey, slaughter them bare-handed, and immediately devour their raw flesh, blood, and muscle tissue. We are more akin to scavengers or necrovores. Like vultures and raccoons, we consume rotting flesh from nonhuman animals who have been dead awhile before their tissue enters our mouths, sometimes for months since we enjoy the technological “advantage” of refrigeration.
Many amongst us have few misgivings about factory “farming” billions of sentient beings (thereby condemning them to “lives” of abject misery) and violently murdering them to mass produce ton upon ton of decaying tissue upon which omnivores feast. However, despite the malevolence of this genocide, the fact that “meat” production is causing myriad environmental horrors and wasting tremendous amounts of grain and potable water, and the fact that we waste tons of human animal flesh each day as we bury or cremate those who die, our cultural taboos prevent us from even considering the possibility of employing necro-cannibalism as a part of the solution to our Animal Holocaust, ecocrisis and growing food shortage.
Necro-cannibalism, as opposed to homicidal cannibalism, would ultimately provide us with “meat” from human beings who have already died. Since those who still consume flesh are necrovores anyway, this would not be a significant departure from their eating habits. Cultural tradition, which dictates that we revere the “sacred” species barrier and the absolute sanctity of human life (Dick Cheney or your dog–you have to choose—who are you going to sacrifice and eat?) is all that is holding us back from implementing a simple solution that would mitigate intense anguish and torment.
We pledge on our driver’s licenses to donate our organs to those who need them after we die; why not our flesh as well?
That slab of ribs you’re craving is as close as your local morgue……..
i. And probably according to the mores of a number of other cultures, but let’s focus on the hegemonic paradigm of Western civilization for the purpose of this little commentary.
Jason Miller is a relentless anti-capitalist, vegan straight edge, and animal liberationist. He is also the senior editor and founder of Thomas Paine’s Corner and the blog director for The Transformative Studies Institute.