Serving Man

A few months ago I was having breakfast with some friends and we stumbled on the topic of eating other people.  I got pretty interested in the topic of cannibalism – not so much the cultural or criminal aspects, but more the culinary side of it – and decided I would do some research and write about the taste of human flesh and the factors that affect it.  I was long on ideas and good questions, but researching the answers proved difficult because, weirdly, not a lot of people have studied human flesh and experimented with the factors that impact its flavor.  The few who have, it seems, just aren’t coherent enough to write about their experiences.  Despite this setback, below is what I was able to come up with.

First, it is important to note that not all cannibals are Dahmer-esque murderers.  Some people just stumble on a human corpse, and eat itOthers just do it to survive.  Also, I once heard a story about a college kid who accidentally sliced a chunk of his arm and then decided to saute and eat it with his roommates.  So this whole “eating our fellow humans” business need not be so morose.

According to Livestrong.com, the average human body is comprised of about 42% muscle for men and 36% for women.  Fat composition for most people falls between 15% and 25%.  Since we are primarily interested in eating muscle and fat tissue, this means that a 200 lb. man would contain a little over 110 lbs. of edible meat.  From a butchering aspect, though, this figure is high.  Using cows as a reference, most sources I found reported that dress (removing the head, legs and other inedible parts) left about 2/3 of the original animal’s weight; the cutability (butchering) yield – the amount of meat of the carcass that can be removed for eating – is about half of that, or, 1/3 of the original weight.  Considering that humans are not designed in the butchering-friendly shape of cows, we can expect a person to yield considerably less meat than a cow.  So, that 200 lb. man would definitely yield less meat than the 66 lbs. that a 200 lb. cow would.  Guessing this figure to be in the 35 – 45 lb. range, we see that eating a person would give back little for the legal trouble it would cause.

As far as the general flavor of human, I found conflicting reports.  There was, of course, the glib notion that all strange meat just taste “like chicken”.  Then there were whispers that the high level of Iron in human blood made our meat red, like beef.  But the best discussion of the general flavor came from this article in The Guardian, which quoted Armin Meiwes, a German man who was convicted of killing and eating another man a little over a decade ago.  According the Guardian, Meiwes described human as follows. “The flesh tastes like pork, a little bit more bitter, stronger. It tastes quite good.”  The Guardian also provided this, more detailed, account of the taste of human meat, from turn-of-the-century New York Times journalist, William Buehler Seabrook.  It goes as follows:

“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 article then goes on to describe two German serial killers who sold pickled human as pork at their local markets.  Th- wait, I’m sorry, did I just read that?  Yup!  You got it; not one, but two German serial killers, who sold pickled human as pork.  Anyway, since the texture and flavor of veal is not dissimilar from pork, let us agree that we (as human cuts) are somewhere in the pork/veal segment of the meat spectrum.
Now, what factors affect the way a human tastes, and how best to go about eating a person?  Below are some factors that came up during my breakfast discussion and what I have found out about each, as it affects how we taste.  If you find this to be a sickening glance into the sorts of things I think about, I apologize.
Picking your poison:
Which cuts to eat?  As mentioned above, we are looking for muscle areas that are not interrupted by connective tissue, such as ligaments and cartilage, and which are exercised the least.  An average person, who used his or her legs frequently, but engages only in moderate upper body strengthening, would offer the best eating above the waist.  Of the cuts above the waist, the upper back seems like the most continuous stretch of flesh – I specify upper back because no one wants to consume all that stress in the lumbar.  Having said that, it would be a shame to waste all that meat on the thighs and buttocks.  Assuming the individual is not a serious endurance athlete or powerlifter, upper leg cuts would probably be tender enough to enjoy, if cooked correctly.  Roast beef comes from a cow’s ass, so french dip made with sliced human butt could make a delicious lunch, which come with the added bonus of a great line to shut up that annoying colleague who always asks what you brought for lunch.
Boy or girl?  Women carry a higher percentage of body fat than men, so it stands to reason that a woman would be tastier than a man.  This genetic difference in body composition obviously doesn’t mean that women are less fit, but that they are meant, when healthy, to carry more fat.  As such, a healthy woman, with a higher percentage of fat, would be an ideal human for the eating.
Habits your food should avoid:
Smoked smoker, anyone?  Smoking causes lung cancer, turns your teeth yellow, and stinks up your fingers and your breath, but how will it affect the flavor of the person you intend to eat?  From what I could discern, the most gustatorily potent chemical that enters the body through cigarettes is Ammonia, which has a bleach-like flavor.  A google search reveals a slew of people complaining about the smell or flavor of Ammonia in their food, mouth, urine, sweat, etc.  The fact that humans can detect Ammonia in the food they eat, and can also recognize its presence in their bodily secretions, suggests that the increased levels of ammonia in a smoker’s body would indeed add an Ammonia flavor to the meat of a smoker.  So, that chain smoker with the twitchy fingers you’ve been eying for the last few weeks, best not to have them for dinner (get it?).
Does more exercise mean more flavor?  Initially, the working theory I had in my head was that the healthier the human, the better they would be to eat.  Now, while good health is important with regard to diet vis-a-vis the old “you are what you eat” adage, it turns out good health and good flavor are not so directly linked when it comes to exercise.  Using cows as a case study, we know that the most tender meats, which are generally considered the best to eat, come from the parts of cows that get the least exercise and have relatively less connective tissue.  Taking this a step further, we note that Kobe beef, widely considered the tastiest (and creepiest) in the world, comes from cows who are kept from exercising and massaged to reduce muscular stress; from this perspective, we want to eat only the most stagnant people.  A bodybuilder, as counter-example, would be a nightmare to eat, because there would be very few flabby, tender cuts.
Oh yeah, and that German guy who said human tastes like pork – he also ate his victim’s penis.  Peace!
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