Humanity has a long and documented history of cannibalistic practices. All throughout history, people have eaten each other. Yet today, the practice is socially – and even legally – shunned. So why is it that the idea of a human steak makes most people wretch?
Lets start to answer this question by examining prominent historical examples of cannibalism amongst humans. Cannibalism, it turns out, has been practiced throughout human history, by people of every race, religion, socioeconomic class, and ethnic background! That’s right: it’s not just something that a bunch of savage tribalists did before the white man brought them civilization. In fact, those founding fathers that so many americans are all hot-to-trot on? Well, it doesn’t get more founding-y than the Jamestown settlers. After all, they were the first Europeans to set up a settlement in the “new world.” And guess what? That’s right, they were cannibals!
Of course, examples of indigenous tribal types as cannibals do exist, too. The term cannibalism even originates from the Carib tribe, a group of Pacific islanders. Interestingly enough, though, it wasn’t that much more common amongst them than it was amongst white European types. In fact, one of the most recent examples of non-starvation cannibalism – performed completely legally, mind you, with none of that weird German-snuff-fetish stuff that leads to a homicide charge going on – was a British guy named Rick Gibson. European literature even features the fable of Hansel and Gretel: two children kidnapped by a witch who intended on cannibalizing them. With the practice enshrined in children’s literature, how could we deny that Europeans considered it, at the very least, something they thought about.
So why aren’t we, as modern people, considering the notion that humans might just be the next great addition to our food supply? With a burgeoning population worldwide and good carrion just going to waste – not to mention the tasty tender morsels of finely-marbled flesh we call babies – why isn’t there a public dialogue about moving away from anachronistic prejudices about cannibalism and towards a brighter, tastier future?
In fact, where did the antipathy towards cannibalism even originate? The answer lies primarily in the story of the rise of Catholicism and Christianity. During that time, popes and priests and bishops and cardinals frequently demonized cannibalism as an evil practice, all the whole practicing faux-cannibalism themselves under the guise of the eucharist: the consumption of a wafer which, supposedly, turns into the body of Christ in your mouth. No, really. Catholics advocate the eating of Jesus. Not anyone else, however, as they moved from demonizing cannibalism as a practice to levying charges of cannibalism against non-Christians worldwide in an attempt to turn public sentiment away from tribal religions and towards the church.
That antipathy has stuck with us. In fact, many of the social and cultural taboos present in modern american culture date back to the early years of the Christian church, including much of homophobia. There’s an active movement to fight against homophobia in society, but the movement to restore the reputation of cannibals and cannibalism still doesn’t exist.
Part of the reason for this is how cannibals and cannibalism are portrayed in the media. When most people think of cannibals, they either think of anachronistic examples of tribal savages, as we discussed before, or of the criminally insane, such as Vince Weiguang Li who, in 2008, randomly murdered and consumed portions of a stranger on a Greyhound bus in western Canada. With portrayals such as this, it’s no wonder most people have overwhelmingly negative ideas about cannibalism and cannibals.
It’s also worth considering the intersectionality of negativity and prejudice towards cannibalism and cannibals with overt racism, prejudice towards tribal people as “savages”, and other feelings of fear which many americans have towards cultures vastly different from their own, as well. In a song produced in 1965 entitled “Congo Man”, a black man in Africa consumes the flesh of white Europeans. The song is written in a comical style, but the message is still clear, as is the intersectionality. By associating cannibalism with violence perpetrated against white Europeans by blacks, the author knowingly sought to further the prejudice many white people around the world feel towards cannibalistic ideas in much the same way that the KKK often sought to associate black violence with marijuana use in the former half of the 20th century. Their campaign was successful in both cases: cannibalism is universally viewed as morally wrong, and marijuana is outright banned by most western nations.
Things can get better. If we start today, we can begin a movement towards a free society. A society where the state, and cultural mores do not impede people freely consuming whatever food or beverage they so please, without harming anyone else. Whether the issue is freedom for raw milk lovers, for marijuana smokers, or for cannibals, the issue is the same: who should decide what you put into your body? You, or other people? Cannibalism is the next big issue for libertarians who are truly concerned with advancing the cause of freedom and personal choice.