Next time you eat Chinese, for example, you might discuss how, during the Yuan dynasty, royalty and upper-class citizens did so, too. So frequently did high society dine on fellow citizens that the various methods of preparing human flesh — including baking, roasting, broiling, smoke-drying and sun-drying — filled 13 pages of one book Schutt consulted. (Children were considered the tastiest, followed by women and last, men.) In fact, so-called epicurean cannibalism — that is, eating your fellow men/women/children because they taste good and not just because there’s nothing else in the house — was still widespread in China into the late 1960s during the Cultural Revolution.
“Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History” is full of such surprising news. Early in its pages we learn that almost everybody does it: not just in China, or the Donner party, or the New Guinea highlanders whose practice of eating the brains of dead relatives spread the deadly neurological disease kuru (though there’s plenty on these examples, too, in the book). Europeans, we read, “routinely consumed human blood, bones, skin, guts and body parts” for hundreds of years. Cannibalism, in fact, is not that unusual. It happens not only when people are starving or overcrowded. And it’s not restricted to humans.
It gets better.
Here’s some food for thought. How many calories would you get from consuming one whole human body? More than 125,000, according to a new study on human cannibalism that will either make you queasy or have you reaching for some fava beans and a nice chianti.
I knew about spiders, frogs, Komodo Dragons and some birds but didn't realize the natural world is an equal opportunity enabler of cannibalism as well.
But over the decades, evidence has been gathering for an alternative view. Cannibalism, it turns out, occurs in hundreds of species, perhaps thousands. The behavior varies in frequency between major animal groups — nonexistent in some, common in others. It varies from species to species and even within the same species, depending on local environmental conditions.
As important, the behavior serves a variety of functions, depending on the cannibal, and some of these have nothing to do with stress or captive conditions. There are even instances in which an individual being cannibalized receives a benefit.
Sounds logical to me as long as I am not on the menu. :)