Allen, Gary. 1999. What is the Flavor of Human Flesh? WHAT IS THE FLAVOR OF HUMAN FLESH? Gary Allen
Culinary Institute of America
433 Albany Post Rd. Hyde Park, NY 12538

Given the complexity of the tasting experience, how do we deal with describing the flavor of things we have not tasted, or indeed, things we have been forbidden to taste? Do you remember what you, as a child, imagined the flavor of coffee to be? What gustatory bliss was suggested by its delicious aroma? Or the smell of vanilla extract, that begged to be tasted, despite (or because of) the warnings from your mother? Can you recall thinking about the flavor of a food that you have only heard about, one that you have never seen or smelled? The brain immediately tries to provide the missing sensory details, drawing on all kinds of associations. The accuracy of the projected description of the flavor varies widely, depending on the breadth and sophistication of the taster's experience.

Still, we are surprised when we actually experience the food. There is no way our imaginations can predict all the nuances that actually make up a flavor. On the other hand, we can summon up very precise recollections of particularly significant flavors we have experienced. These key flavor experiences endure, unchanging, for a lifetime.

So how do we deal with the idea of a flavor that we have never tasted, that we are unlikely ever to experience?

The description of flavors is always subjective, and usually depends upon comparison with other known flavors -- consequently we generally resort to metaphorical terms.

There seems to be a great deal of speculation about the flavor of human flesh. Writers as far back as Petronius have asserted that human flesh has a distinctive quality that makes it difficult for civilized people to stomach. In The Satyricon, Eumolpus makes a will that requires his heirs to eat his flesh if they want to get their hands on his money. He advises,

"Just close your eyes and imagine that, instead of human flesh, you're munching a million. If that isn't enough, we'll concoct some gravy that will take the taste away. As you know, no meat is really very tasty anyway: it all has to be sauced and seasoned with great care before the reluctant stomach will keep it down."[1]

Anthropologist Jeremy MacClancy described the taste of human flesh -- based not upon his own experience, mind you, but upon the testimony of some of the natives of the New Hebrides islands of the South Pacific:

"From all accounts, human meat is very sweet, in Vanuatu, they say that the flesh of a black man is sweet, whereas the flesh of a white man is really quite salty and stringy, they say it's not so nice."[2]

Derek, a member of the Dani tribe in Irian Jaya reminisced about the taste of human flesh in an article in the Baltimore Morning Sun, in May 1992:

"Deliciouiversity, Corvallis, OR.

.Old ones are tough. Young men and women taste better. And babies taste like fish. The flesh is very soft.

This, superficially, sounds like a reponse to our question -- but there is a vagueness, a reliance upon allusions to unspecified attributes of other meats, that ultimately fails to provide a satisfactory answer.

In the New Guinea highlands, Gimi women, who used to eat the decomposing bodies of their menfolk did so for good endocannibalistic reasons: they wanted to keep the essence of the deceased from being wasted, to prevent the last vestiges of the memories and awareness of the dearly departed from being lost to what we might call entropy. However,

"Older women remember that human flesh had a uniquely delectable sweetness"[4]

The advanced state of decomposition of the Gimi's flesh adds an unsavory element that only confuses the issue at hand. If someone asked us to describe the flavor of milk, but the only form of milk we had ever tasted was ripe Gorgonzola -- our response would probably be of little utility. The Gimi woman's description of the flavor of over-ripe man is, therefore, useless to us.

But there are other questions: Are the descriptions we've just heard accurate? How can we find out? Before we can hope to come up with an answer to the question, "what does it taste like?" we need to have a clearer idea of the meaning of the word "taste." Because our sensation of taste is so transient, so difficult to quantify, we think of it as too subjective for clear description.

Taste is a remarkably elusive quarry to try to capture verbally.

While all languages are similarly challenged, English is especially imprecise when it comes to matters of taste. Everyone has run into the problem of distinguishing between "hot, burning" when referring to the temperature of foods and the physico-chemical effect of chile peppers. English speakers can resolve this confusion, but only through some hasty and somewhat childish explanations.[5]

The difficulty in describing taste experience is compounded by the nature of our tasting apparatus. Our tongue actually tastes only sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness. It, together with the lips, can also feel both kinds of hotness, as well as coldness, a large range of textures and the odd numbing sensation provided by Szechuan Peppercorns and some other spices. (The Japanese add a fifth taste, "umami," that refers to the flavor of monosodium glutamate. There is, obviously, no exact translation, but it is sometimes approximated by the term "savory." Recent research in this country indicates that there are specific sensors on the tongue for umami, so there is good reason for thinking of taste as one or more of but five sensations.) The nose, however, is capable of distinguishing between thousands, possibly millions of scents. What we commonly think of as "taste" is actually a fusion of one or more of the four (or five) "tastes" listed above with one or more smells, with one or more mouth-feels, or touch sensations. In addition, we are almost incapable of "tasting" without considering the input of our other senses: the sound of sizzling meat, the glowing color of a ripe fruit, the slightly oily crunch of a potato chip, the soft yielding flesh of a perfect avocado, its color blending seamlessly from jade to chartreuse.

This assemblage of sensations is then modified by our memories and imaginations.

When we taste, we remember and compare other "tastes," other experiences and expectations, implicit and explicit. We automatically engage this entire sensory battery whenever we pop a morsel into our mouths. Proust was able to instantly recapture large portions of departed memories with a taste of a madeleine dipped in linden tea, but we are incapable of tasting (or indeed, even thinking about tasting) a madeleine without summoning all we know of Proust. That is quite an extensive range of sensations for one little cake-like cookie. The result of all these instantaneous analyses is not mere "taste," but a more complex experience that is better described by the word "flavor." To avoid confusion, the word "taste" should be reserved for the limited range of sensations produced by the four (or five) basic tastes described above.

Our search, then, is for information about the flavor, not the taste, of human flesh.

In Italo Calvino's story Under the Jaguar Sun," the narrator and his lover are visiting Mexico. The food they encounter is, of course, wonderfully seductive. The Aztec ruins they visit gradually entangle them in a discussion of the cannibalism practiced by the ancients. Once these two aspects of Mexican culture (diet and history) are combined in their minds, they are drawn into speculation about the culinary properties of humankind. Olivia, the narrator's lover, is especially caught up in the search for gastronomic understanding. She repeatedly tries to engage people in discussions on the topic, asking for example:

"But this flesh - in order to eat it... The way it was cooked, the sacred cuisine, the seasoning -- is anything known about that?"[6]

The Mexicans that she interviewed were understandably reluctant to get too involved with this crazy gringa. However, Olivia is persistent enough to eke out the following, somewhat abridged, dialog:

Olivia: "flesh that couldn't be eaten just for the sake of eating, like any ordinary food. And the flavor they say it isn't good to eat?"

Salustiano (her Mexican guide): "A strange flavor, they say."

Olivia: "It must have required seasoning -- strong stuff."

Salustiano: "Perhaps that flavor had to be hidden. All the other flavors had to be brought together, to hide that flavor."[7]

Olivia continued her speculations with the narrator afterwards. They were thinking about eating the wonderfully exotic foods of Mexico, but their words were concerned with the nature of cannibalism and its influence on modern Mexican cuisine.

Olivia: "We who tear one another apart, pretending not to know it, pretending not to taste flavors anymore."

Narrator: "You mean that here -- that they need stronger flavors here because they know, because they ate . . ."

Olivia: "The same as at home, even now. Only we no longer know it, no longer dare look, the way they did."[8]

Olivia has hit upon the issue of the avoidance of knowledge, of the culpability for the death of the eaten, that Visser wrote about in Much Depends on Dinner.

"We generally avoid actually killing what we eat ourselves, and do everything we can to prevent ourselves from realizing that a death has occured at all."[9]

Olivia guessed that Aztec diners were not compromised by our modern taste for self-deception.

Olivia: "For them there was no mystification: the horror was right there, in front of their eyes. They ate as long as there was a bone to pick clean, that's why the flavors . . ."

Narrator:"To hide the flavor?"

Olivia: "Perhaps it couldn't be hidden. Shouldn't be. Otherwise, it was not like eating what they were really eating. Perhaps the other flavors served to enhance that flavor, to give it a worthy background, to honor it."[10]

Calvino has done an admirable job in describing the process of imagining the flavor of human flesh, the application of ideas about culture, and religious responsibility to make an educated guess about an unknown foodstuff. Like any speculation of this sort, we know that the results are bound to offer little more than philosophical interest.

How can we really know more about the flavor of this forbidden fruit?

There are (or have been) people from other cultures who have tasted human flesh. We can ask them -- either directly or by reading accounts of other peoples' interviews with cannibals. There are two obstacles to our understanding when using this approach.

The latter method depends upon previous investigators having asked pertinent questions. In most cases, anthropologists and explorers have had concerns that did not include wanting to know about the flavor of human flesh. Aside from using the mere existence of cannibalism as something to be exploited, these investigators didn't really want to know about the subject in quite so much depth.

Both methods -- reading through existing documentation and direct interviews -- suffer from another impediment to understanding. If a cannibal was asked about the flavor of the meat, and the quality of the translation of the question and answer were adequate, the probability is still great that the cannibal would not be able to describe it well. We know how difficult it is for us to describe well the ethereal nature of a flavor, why should we expect the process to be easier for our cannibal acquaintance? Even if his description was full of insights into all the things a gastronome wants to know, what cultural assumptions would cause gaps in the record, gaps the existence of which are invisible to us?

At an even more fundamental level, anthropologists need to know that the people being studied have not altered their lifestyles in response to the outside world. Again and again, interviewers have found an understandable reluctance to speak openly about cannibalism among groups who have contact with the modern world. Margaret Mead expressed the delicacy of the problem, she wrote,

"[when an anthropologist] is interested in warfare, headhunting or cannibalism, he must be ahead of full pacification by government. He must, in fact, catch a culture trembling on the edge of change, but hopefully not yet altered by the knowledge that change is on the way."[11]

She was well-qualified to give this advice, for the research for her own book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies had been hampered by such "pacification" of the Mundugumor:

"the second chapter is called'The Pace of Life in a Cannibal Tribe' The small print in the footnote informs the reader that the former practice of cannibalism was outlawed by the Australian authorities three years before Mead's arrival."[12]

Likewise, the Danish explorer Jens Bjerre, in 1957, described a small village in the valley of Menyamya in the New Guinea highlands:

"The purpose of the outpost was to serve as a base for surveying and pacifying the district, and from it to contact the natives and endeavor to put down their tribal warfare and cannibal orgies."[13]

William Arens's book, The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology & Anthropophagy asserted that cannibalism -- other than for survival, during such life-threatening situations as famine or shipwreck -- has never existed. However, reports, such as those of Mead and Bjerre, suggest that there must have been some reason for the authorities to enact such laws. Most laws are written in response to something -- if there was no cannibalism among Kukukuku of Menyamya, or among the Mundugumor, why go to the trouble of legislating it out of existence? Arens would have us believe that the charge of cannibalism has usually been made by colonial powers in an attempt to justify their own acquisitive natures. The mere fact that some unscrupulous individuals may have yelled "Fire!" in crowded theaters does not constitute proof that fire has never existed.[14]

The anthropologist's quest exhibits a kind of Heisenbergian elusiveness. Searching through most historical and anthropological accounts of cannibalism for the kind information we seek, provides evidence that is, almost always, ineligible for after-the-fact confirmation. The very fact that we have been able to find out about an incident means that we have altered the situation in which it occurred.

How can we be certain that we know what we think we know? It is clear that such methods of inquiry are insufficient for our purposes. Short of actually eating someone, how can we hope to know anything about this subject?

What we need is a modern individual, preferably someone like us (to avoid possible cultural confusion), a sane, intelligent person who just happens to have eaten human flesh. Ideal sources should have better than average ability to express themselves clearly.

We probably don't want to ask people who were forced, in extremis, to eat their own kind. Their objectivity might, understandably, be compromised by the stress of their situation. The accounts of the Uruguayan rugby team, who survived their plane's crash in the Andes, tell us a great deal about what they felt like when they ate their friends -- but it is unreasonable to expect a detailed gastronomic description of what they ate. For that, we must look elsewhere.

Consider the case of Omeima Nelson. On November 30, 1991, in Costa Mesa, California, she killed, and then ate portions of, her abusive husband. Later, when questioned by psychiatrists, she explained that she had barbecued his ribs.

"I did his ribs just like in a restaurant. It's so sweet, it's so tender and delicious. I like mine tender."[15]

Unfortunately for our quest, Mrs. Nelson lacks one of the more desirable attributes of an expert witness: sanity.

Likewise, someone like Jeffrey Dahmer would have been a poor choice as an interviewee, at least on the subject of the culinary properties of our fellow man. Dahmer would have been unsuitable as an interviewee precisely because he was completely unbridled by social rules. He was not, by definition, like us. If he was that unlike us, we would have had no control, no constant, no standard against which to measure or corroborate his testimony.

With all these limitations, it is obvious that the number of qualified sources of information is going to be small. The number is small, but it is larger than zero.

Tobias Schneebaum, in Keep the River on your Right, described the aftermath of a cannibal raid in which he was a participant. The bodies of the victims of the raid were brought back to the village, where huge fires were built. The warriors, wearing headdresses of macaw feathers and necklaces of bone, danced around the fires while the flesh of the victims was roasting.

"They danced without tiring, sometimes undulating and swaying, the long plumes blurring from their backs in flight, and when I entered the circle, I was hypnotized by movement always up and down, kaleidoscopic lights that flickered through my iris, a chant that soon became a roar that drained out thoughts that came my way, and hours later when I sat with Michii and with Darinimbiak, the three of us alone at the fire with the others dancing, singing around us, I took a piece of the meat that Michii held out and ate and swallowed and ate some more, and entered the circle again to dance."[16]

As might be expected, publishing his account of this incident made Schneebaum into something of a cult celebrity. "Civilized" people of all sorts, the curious, the horrified, the serious, the frivolous, and the thrill-seekers, wanted to find out more -- just as we do. However, if you ask him our question today, this is the answer you are likely to receive:

" endless numbers of people want to know 'what human flesh tastes like.' It seems to be the first question on their minds. I usually answer in the same way, with the truth: I don't remember. The heat, the excitement of the moment was too much."[17]

Considering the nature of his experience, and the fact that it took place over forty years ago, one could hardly expect any other kind of answer. So, one of our best chances for an answer from someone we can trust is lost, lost partly because he was too close to the experience to record it clearly, or possibly because the actual eating was not so important to him at the time, or maybe because the taste just wasn't sufficiently unusual to stand out among all the other intense events of the day. He seems to have experienced the raid and the victory feast in a kind of trance or dream state, not exactly denial, but not fully conscious participation either. While this is fascinating in itself, it brings us no closer to the answer we seek.

Anthropologist Jack Petrie has done field research among the head hunters of Irian Jaya. Once, unawares, he ate some roasted human flesh. He thought he had been eating monkey.

"The similarity of those chunks to monkey, which he'd eaten earlier in the trip, had proved to him once and for all the accuracy of Darwin's theories about human origins. Indeed, he often used this similarity as an opener when he lectured college students on evolution."[18]

Once again, an expert witness provides very little answer our question. How many of us can draw upon the memory of roasted monkey, to help us conjure an idea of the flavor of human flesh?

Fortunately, there is another source that meets our, admittedly unusual, requirements.

William Bueller Seabrook began his career as a reporter and City Editor of the Augusta, Georgia Chronicle. He later became a partner in an advertising agency in Atlanta. In 1915, at the age of 29, he gave it up to join the French Army in what was to become The Great War. He was gassed at Verdun in 1916, but managed to survive the devastation when half of the battle's two million participants died. Along with his medical discharge, the French honored his courage by awarding him the Croix de Guerre.

The following year he became a reporter for The New York Times. His curiosity and wanderlust soon led him to take up the life of an explorer. In 1924, he went to Arabia and lived with many different tribes of bedouins. He wrote and published (like most explorers) an account of his travels. Adventures in Arabia came out in 1927. It was successful enough to allow him to travel to Haiti, where he became interested in Voodoo and the Culte des Mortes[19] -- which were described in his book Magic Island. Shortly before Christmas, 1933, Seabrook was committed (at his own request and with the help of some of his friends) to Bloomingdale, a mental institution, in Westchester County, just outside of New York City. He was treated for acute alcoholism. He remained inside until the following July. In 1935, he published a chronicle of that experience, treated just as if it were another expedition into uncharted territory. Asylum was another best-seller. The book is clear and objective, witty and introspective, the best-natured assessment of such a stay I've encountered.

He was, by his own account, an adventure writer. In the preface to Asylum, he was careful to point out that his books were not "fiction or embroidery."[20] This is significant, because in 1931 he had published a book about a trip he made to West Africa -- a book that had been clearly intended to provide some answers to nagging questions about cannibalism. About other books, by other authors, he wrote:

"invariably evade the central issue, in the sense that they offer no first-hand observation or experience on the one essential dietetic point that makes the difference between a cannibal and my grandmother. And it seemed impossible, furthermore, for me or anyone to offer anything better unless one actually knew what one was talking about with reference to the precise thing that makes a cannibal a cannibal.[21]

Seabrook had been urged to go to Africa to resolve these questions, once and for all, by the French explorer/author/diplomat Paul Morand. Morand had written the preface for the new French edition of Magic Island, He knew Seabrook had the requisite verbal skills, and suspected that he had the particular kind of courage needed for the task. Morand also knew of tribes that still practiced ritual cannibalism. He was able to smooth the way for Seabrook with equipment, letters of introduction, transportation -- everything he would need. Morand felt that the time for such a trip was fast disappearing, and told Seabrook,

"you must try to get inside it. You must see a sacrifice if you can... you must get yourself invited to dinner with the articulate, literate white man has ever done either."[22]

It made perfect sense to Seabrook.,,,

"I made up my mind before leaving New York that when it came the subject of cannibals I would either write nothing whatever about them, or I would know what I was writing about."[23]

Jungle Ways examined (in greater detail then most of us would admit to wanting to know) the very substance of our subject. Seabrook spoke with members of the Gueṛ tribe, and after disposing of such issues as the source of the human flesh (Seabrook was not entirely comfortable with the idea that the Gueṛ had speared their victims during a raid on another village), asked a basic question: Why should they eat

"the flesh of the mammal Homo sapiens,[?] ...they had returned the question back against [Seabrook], saying 'Why shouldn't we eat it?'"[24]

There was nothing for Seabrook to do but forge ahead in his interview. Rather than asking about the taste directly (perhaps because he had already arrived at some of our conclusions about the inherent problems with such subjective judgments), he asked a Gueṛ warrior

"what parts of the meat were considered the best. He replied that for solid meat the loin cuts, the ribs, and the rump steak were the best. The liver, heart, and brains were tidbits, but tasted identically the same as those of all other animals. [One of them said] that as a matter of personal choice, the palm of the hand was the most tender and delicious morsel of all."[25]

The Gueṛ explained that the meat took a great deal of slow cooking to tenderize it -- but that was because they ate only mature men, other warriors they killed in combat. Convinced that he was really and truly in the company of cannibals, and aware of the rarity of such experiences, he

"...felt in duty bound to make the most of it. [he received] a portion of stew with rice, so highly seasoned with red pepper that fine shades of flavor might be lost to an unaccustomed palate"[26]

However, the Gueṛ were suspicious of their new white friend, and they feared the response of the authorities should word of their cannibal feast get out. Although Seabrook saw the victim killed in battle, the meat he was served was that of an ape, not a man. He left Africa without achieving his goal -- and knowing that he was going to have to write up his experiences as if he had been successful. He went to France to actually write the book, where it turned out that there was an honorable solution to his problem. A friend

"obtained for me from a hospital interne at the Sorbonne a chunk of human meat from the body of the first healthy human carcass killed by accident, that they could dispose of as they chose. I cooked it in Neuilly, at the villa of the Baron Gabriel des Hons, who was my translator. I ate a lot of it in the presence of witnesses"[27]

Here Seabrook parts with virtually every reporter on the cannibal experience. While some have tasted such things, recounting the tale in horror or in expectation of a fascinated audience (or both), Seabrook saw that this experience was limited by its cultural context, specifically the cooking itself.

Writing up the experience, as if it had happened in Africa, he needed to isolate the part of the meal that was truly unique. It required something that would provide a fixed point from which all his observations could be measured.

He knew what he had to do.

His writing hesitated at this point, as if at a threshold to a room from which, once entered, there could be no return. If ignorance is bliss, there can be no return to the Garden of Eden once one steps outside.

He was a gentleman, and he wanted to give his reader one last chance to avoid taking that step. "The raw meat, " he wrote,

" appearance, was firm, slightly coarse-textured rather than smooth. In raw texture, both to the eye and to the touch, it resembled good beef. In color, however, it was slightly less red than beef. But it was reddish. It was not pinkish or grayish like mutton or pork. Through the red lean ran fine whitish fibers, interlacing, seeming to be stringy rather than fatty, suggesting that it might be tough. The solid fat was faintly yellow, as the fat of beef and mutton is. This yellow tinge was very faint, but it was not clear white as pork fat is.

In smell it had what I can only describe as the familiar, characteristic smell of any good fresh meat of the larger domestic animals"[28]<

Preliminary observations completed, Seabrook was ready to continue the experiment. Once again, he tried to limit the variables that could only obscure the facts he sought.

"I had determined to prepare the steak and roast in the simplest manner, as nearly as possible as we prepare meat at home. The small roast was spitted, since an oven was out of the question, and after it had been cooking for a while I set about grilling the steak. I tried to do it exactly as we do at home. It took longer, but that may have been partly because of the difference between gas flame and wood coals."[29]

He did not say how he determined the cooking time -- and his perception of elapsed time might have been altered by the extreme nature of the psychological moment.

His cooking observations continued:

"When the roast began to brown and the steak to turn blackish on the outside, I cut into them to have a look at the partially cooked interior. It had turned quite definitely paler than beef would turn. It was turning grayish as veal or lamb would, rather than dark reddish as a beef-steak turns. The fat was sizzling, becoming tender and yellower. Beyond what I have told, there was nothing special or unusual. It was nearly done and it looked and smelled good to eat."[30]

I suspect that readers at the time were bothered by the very thing that fascinates us: Seabrook's logical and dispassionate exploration and exposition of a subject that most people consider to be the stuff of nightmares. An editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser summed up the general response:

"It is not agreeable to think that an intelligent, educated member of the white race and of the American nation, has voluntarily descended to a scale lower than that observed by these lowly peoples. And not the least repugnant feature of this indescribably sordid affair is the levity, almost the pride, with which Seabrook has recounted to the representatives of the press his adventure in a new 'experience.'"[31]

For all that, this was no monster, devoid of human feelings. Seabrook responded, with justifiable annoyance,

"Those who might have forgiven me for eating a [black man] couldn't forgive me for eating with one. [italics Seabrook's][32]

This was a sensitive, intelligent person who had willingly put himself in one of the most psychologically challenging positions imaginable.

"I sat down to it with my bottle of wine, a bowl of rice, salt and pepper at hand. I had thought about this and planned it for a long time, and now I was going to do it. I was going to do it, furthermore -- I had promised and told myself -- with a completely casual, open, and objective mind. But I was soon to discover that I had bluffed and deceived myself a little in pretending so detached an attitude. It was with, or rather after, the first mouthful, that I discovered there had been an unconscious bravado in me, a small bluff-hidden unconscious dread. For my first despicable reaction -- so strong that it took complete precedence over any satisfaction or any fine points of gastronomic shading -- was simply a feeling of thankful and immense relief. At any rate, it was perfectly good to eat! At any rate, it had no weird, startling, or unholy flavor. It was good to eat, and despite all the intelligent, academic detachment with which I had thought I was approaching the experience, my poor cowardly and prejudiced subconscious real self sighed with relief and patted itself on the back."[33]

So, he did it.

Without any external compunction, no famine, shipwreck, siege or plane crash, he actually became a cannibal. This was almost fifty years before William Arens' assertion that there never was a reliable eyewitness to any act of non-emergency cannibalism. Can a more reliable eye-witness be imagined? It doesn't seem likely. Still, we are left with that nagging question: What does it taste like?

Seabrook was not finished with us, yet:

"I took a big swallow of wine, a helping of rice, and thoughtfully ate half the steak. And as I ate, I knew with increasing certainty what it was like. It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable. As for any other special taste or odor of a sort which would be surprising and make a person who had tasted it not knowing exclaim, 'What is this?' it had absolutely none. And as for the 'long pig' legend, repeated in a thousand stories and recopied in a hundred books, it was totally, completely false.

It gives me great comfort here to be able to write thus categorically. A small helping of the stew might likewise have been veal stew, but the overabundance of red pepper was such that it conveyed no fine shading to a white palate; so I was glad I had tried it in the simpler ways."[34]

Interestingly enough, when word of Seabrook's deception by the Gueṛ leaked out, the press had a field day with the news. He, of course, could not reveal his real supplier of human flesh, so he had to endure the laughter of all France.

Almost all. "Daisy Fellowes" (a prominent socialite of the day), he wrote, "came to see me one day with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and said, 'It was just too bad, you poor credulous little boy -- and with all the trouble you took. I think you deserve to know what human flesh really tastes like, so I am giving you a dinner next week in my garden.

...out on the lawn marched the major-domo followed by lackeys in knee-breeches and white gloves, bearing a charcoal brazier, silver dishes, and a platter of meat cut up to be grilled.

We ate it and liked it. It looked and tasted exactly like fully developed veal or fine young baby beef. In other words, it looked and tasted exactly like human flesh." [italics Seabrook's][35]


[1]Petronius. The Satyricon (Arrowsmith, William, trans.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959, p. 182.

[2]quoted in Ripe, Cherry. Goodbye Culinary Cringe. St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin (A Rathdowne Book), 1993, p. 108.

[3]quoted in Askenasy, Hans. Cannibalism: from Sacrifice to Survival. Amhearst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1994, p. 37.

[4]Sanday, Peggy. Divine Hunger; Cannibalism as a Cultural System. London Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 77.

[5]Portuguese, like English, has but one word for to both kinds of heat, while Spanish distinguishes between "caliente" and "picante". Arabic uses the word "nar" to indicate "hot, spicy"-- and it is repeated at least three times, the hotter the spice, the more repetitions. Chinese has three different words for "hot," making it easy to distinguish between "hot, spicy," "hot, temperture" and "hot, numbing."

[6]Calvino, Italo. Under the Jaguar Sun. (Weaver, William, trans.), San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1976 (reissued 1988), p. 19.

[7]Calvino, p. 20.

[8]Calvino, p. 22.

[9]Visser, Margaret. Much Depends on Dinner. New York: Grove Press, 1986, p. 144.

[10]Calvino, p. 22.

[11]Gardner, Robert and Karl G. Heder. Gardens of War: Life and Death in the New Guinea Stone Age. New York: Random House, 1968, p. xi.

[12]Arens, W. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology & Anthropophagy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. (paper edition, 1980), p. 97.

[13]Bjerre, Jens. The Last Cannibals. (Bannister, Estrid, trans.) New York: William Morrow and Company, 1957, p. 63.

[14]I have discussed the controversy over his assertions in detail elsewhere, and for our purposes we can just accept the fact that cannibalism has, indeed, been practiced -- and witnessed. Allen, Gary. How To Serve Man: on Cannibalism, Sacrifice and the Nature of Eating. unpublished work in progress.

[15]quoted in Askenasy, p. 39.

[16]Schneebaum, Tobias. Keep the River on your Right. New York: Grove Press, 1969. (First Evergreen Edition, 1982), p. 106.

[17]Schneebaum, Tobias. Letter to the author. 28 Feb. 1996.

[18]Millman, Lawrence. An Evening Among the Headhunters and Other Reports from Roads Less Travelled. Cambridge, MA: Lumen Editions (Brookline Books), 1998, p. 222.

[19]His 1928 book about his time in Haiti, The Magic Island, was popular enough to become a main selection of the Literary Guide. The word "zombie" appeared in English for the first time in it.

[20]Seabrook, William Buehler. Asylum. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935, p. v.

[21]Seabrook, William Buehler. Jungle Ways. London, Bombay, Sydney: George G. Harrap and Company, 1931, p. 123.

[22]Seabrook, William Buehler. No Hiding Place, An Autobiography. Philadelphia, London, New York: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1942, p. 287.

[23]Seabrook, 1931, p. 123.

[24]Seabrook, 1931, p. 154.

[25]Seabrook, 1931, p. 151.

[26]Seabrook, 1931, p. 169.

[27]Seabrook, 1942, p. 306.

[28]Seabrook, 1931, p. 170.

[29]Seabrook, 1931, pp. 170-171.

[30]Seabrook, 1931, p. 171.

[31]quoted in Seabrook, 1942, p. 309.

[32]Seabrook, 1942, p. 308.

[33]Seabrook, 1931, pp. 171-172.

[34]Seabrook, 1931, pp. 172-173.

[35]Seabrook, 1942, pp. 311-312.

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