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Cannibals and Hannibal

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JULY 28, 2014

Is it really okay to eat people? Is it really okay to turn people into gorgeous dishes of French food? If presented with a delicious-looking roast of human flesh, would you eat it?

You see, I’ve just finished watching both seasons of NBC’s “Hannibal,” and it’s a little hard to stop thinking about the whole premise of the show while watching it. I’m having mixed feelings about the justification of cannibalism. Is it good? Is it bad? The people being butchered onscreen in high definition and stunningly beautiful cinematography are excellent visual cues for reminding the viewer that Hannibal Lecter kills and then casually eats people who are rude.

The show raises questions about cannibalism actually being evil; there are a lot of not-so-subtle rationalizations that Hannibal Lecter thinks up to justify his decision to murder and then eat people like it’s no big deal. Eat the rude. Why? Because they’re pigs, apparently, and the best way to deal with the rude is to turn them into filet mignon or chateaubriand or whatever other near-unpronounceable dish that Hannibal feels the need to eat, because he’s clearly incapable of preparing anything that can’t be categorized as high-class food porn.

Generally, cannibalism is classified firmly on the dark side of things. Although there certainly are recorded instances of cannibalism as a cultural practice, the need to eat your fellow man is usually reserved for a large-scale famine or similarly drastic situations. Scientifically speaking, it’s supposed to be psychologically abhorrent to actually butcher and prepare the body as food, because it’s ingrained in our species’ collective psyche that skulls, bones and gore are bad. Dead people are scary because being dead is pretty bad.

But the big question is, what does human meat taste like? It’s kind of tempting to find out, in a severely morbid sort of way. In the 1930s, a reporter for the New York Times named William Buehler Seabrook gave an account with a slightly questionable credibility credibility but by far one of the most detailed descriptions. According to Seabrook, the meat of humans tastes like veal, turns gray like mutton when cooked and smells of roasting beef. Are you somewhat nauseated yet? I am — but again, there’s the morbid curiosity. That morbid curiosity is probably what makes Hannibal Lecter such a popular fictional figure. Sophisticated serial killers are a dime a dozen now (see: Dexter). But Hannibal is more or less unique, because murdering and eating people is a pretty singular pastime.

Technically, there’s no law in the United States forbidding cannibalism. Hypothetically speaking, if you wanted to try a pound of flesh for yourself, you could probably could do it. You can’t get arrested for the act of cannibalism, but you could get arrested for the manner in which you obtained your piece of human steak and charged with premeditated murder in every degree, abduction, desecration of corpses and so on.

I don’t think I’ll be rewatching “Hannibal” in its entirety any time soon, no matter how good the cinematography is or how nicely tailored Mads Mikkelsen’s plaid suits are. My mixed feelings on the justification of cannibalism are heavily leaning towards the side that says eating people meat is bad, because now that I’ve actually done my research on the subject, it’s not even remotely appealing. At all.


Don’t eat people, kids. That’s rude.

Contact Helen Wong at @hwongdailycal.org .

JULY 27, 2014