Monday, July 28, 2008

What's That On Your Plate--part 2

Another Sequel Post.

Bugs are a controversial meal, but there's something even more controversial.

Eating each other. Cannibalism.

One of the Australian-related books I read this year was called The Custom of The Sea.

It's the true story of a British ship bound for Sydney in 1884.

The Custom of the Sea refers to a practice where if things are very bleak, one person is randomly chosen to be eaten. This is called survival cannibalism and it differs from ritual cannibalism.

According to the book, survival cannibalism was not rare at sea. It was a fairly open practice with specified instructions on how to proceed (what part of body to eat first and how to do the killing) and there was poetry written about it.

Captain Tom Dudley deviated from the rules a bit. Instead of choosing randomly (drawing straws), he picked the weakest--the young man who was sick and close to death. Then they killed him and ate him.

Tom felt grief for what he did and probably some shame. But he didn't think he had done anything illegal. Because of this, he did not make any attempts to conceal the incident. When they finally reached land, he openly told his story. To his shock, he was arrested. The rest of the book is about the trial.

Personally, the book made me furious. These men did what they could to survive. The man they killed would have died anyway. If they hadn't eaten him, they would have all died.

I felt the same way when I read the book Alive--the one where the plane crashes in the Andes. I couldn't understand the hesitation or the guilt.

I think I'm missing the gene that makes most people see cannibalism as wrong and horrific.

Okay, don't get me wrong. Don't get scared. I'm not some kind of Hannibal Lector. I don't have a craving for human flesh. I don't look at my friends and think Oooh, I wonder if you'd taste better barbecued or fried.

I hope I never come to the point where I have to make the choice--die of starvation or eat my dead/dying companion.

All I'm saying is that if my survival depended on it......

I'm a vegetarian. I don't eat meat. I don't see a need to do it. I think meat is a luxury, not a dietary necessity.

But if I'm in a situation where I'm starving--or someone I love is starving? All bets are off. If there's not enough mangoes in the trees and grapes on the vines, I'm eating any animal I can find--and that includes the hairless ape.

I suppose some people have a deep respect for the human body--the dead human body. I don't.

I never understand why people search for body parts so someone can have a proper burial. I can understand searching for the body so the family knows he/she is truly dead. You want closure. Of course! I just can't personally understand the proper burial thing.

For me, a dead body is gross--a piece of trash that should be discarded. Or eaten if you're really hungry.

I guess it's just one of those moral issues where I'm on a different page than most people.

There was an episode of Nip/Tuck that offended me. A woman and her boyfriend were on their honeymoon. They got stranded somewhere in their car. The woman had hypoglycemia--a bad case and was dying. Her husband sliced off a small piece of his flesh, cooked it with a lighter, and saved her life.

They came to the plastic surgeons so they could patch up his arm.

Now I thought this couple had been incredibly brave. I thought what the man did for his wife was the right thing to do. He loved her. He saved her life. Yes, it's a bit gross. But what can you do?

Christian and Sean acted completely disgusted with the couple. They treated them like pariahs.

When you're in your comfortable home with your fully stocked refrigerator, it's easy to judge others.

When you're starving and there's no food do what you have to do. Or you die.


  1. As a vegetarian (for both moral and environmental reasons) I can agree with everything you said. My friends like to give me a hard time about my eating habits and I have boiled it down to one basic thing- if I couldn't look it in the eyes and kill it myself, then I won't eat it.

    If I were starving to death in a remote place and it came down to it, then yes, I would do what I had to in order to survive. However, it would be done in the fairest and most humane way possible. Most of the animals breed for consumption today are treated neither fairly or humanely.

  2. Darcy.


    I don't really have a problem with an animal dying so I can eat.

    It's more about how they're mistreated when they're alive.

    I feel a bit of a hypocrite though because I do eat dairy and eggs. And those animals are treated bad as well.

    I'm trying to stick to organic and free range.

    Sometimes I wonder....if I was at someone's farm and they had a lovely cow that they took really good care of. He had a happy life. Then they killed him for dinner. Would I be willing to eat it?

    I think morally I'd feel okay with it. But I probably couldn't do it because by now I'm a bit repulsed by meat.

    If I was starving though....definitely.

    I think there's something almost beautiful about being out in the wild, hunting an animal, and then cooking it over a fire.

    The flesh of an abused animal wrapped in plastic in the grocery store. Totally gross.

  3. I like eating the nose and ears best. lol.

    But seriously, I agree with you. I remember reading 'alive' years ago and feeling nothing but wonder, compassion and admiration for the ordeal of survival and courage that the survivors of the airplane crash went through.

    If you want a good story of bad cannibalism though, read about the convicts in Tasmania, where some escaped from Macquarie Harbour, one of whom was a man named Alexander Pearce, and Pearce ended up killing and eating his companions during their trek through the wilds of Tasmania. I suppose it is easier than carrying a backpack, you just have the food supply walk along with you until you get hungry.


  4. Knobby,

    Sounds like a good story.

    What I'm thinking....the whole human death business is very taxing on the environment.

    What if we just cooked the dead and ate them. Then we'd have to worry about only the bones.

    Those....we could clean up and put in classrooms!

    Every classroom would have it's own educational skeleton.

  5. Hi, I am a man who once called himself Knobby, but my identity has changed now. This is the beauty of the internet. It is like magic, and you can do all sorts of magic things on it, as long as you have a magic chair.

  6. This is a book I've found quite interesting on the whole topic of castaways:

    You may like it, too.

  7. Tex: You keep changing names and I keep changing accents. How fun.

    Retarius: I love books like that. I tend to like anything about sea disasters. Survivor stories.

  8. I do dina, and I may stick to Tex again for a while, however, you never know where I may pop up and as whom....

    I think I may become tribog from the planet xzzumph next.

    (is this comment relevant to the topic? How off track can I get and still have you publish my ridiculous comments? lol - I'll have to test and see)

  9. It IS relevant.

    I know for a fact that they're all cannibals on the planet Xzzumph

  10. Yes we are, and I am going to eat you.

  11. I completely agree! I would do whatever it takes to help me and my family survive. I would have no problems eating someone if I was starving to death and they were dead or dying.

    Seriously, it sounds like a great story. I'll have to check it out.