Monday, July 21, 2008

But does it taste anything like chicken?

Z wrote a post recently about rumors that the Chinese practiced fetal cannibalism. I won’t really recap what she had to say, as you can read it here, but it made me want to talk about a book I read recently – Dinner With A Cannibal, by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff (Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I read for fun...).

Travis-Henikoff has researched the cannibalistic traditions of various cultures throughout the world, with some fascinating discoveries.

For one, and accept this as the truth, odds are that cannibalism has happened in your bloodline. It has been practiced by so many different cultures for so many different reasons that you probably have a level of flesh eating in your genes.

But getting back to the actual meat of the book (pun intended), when you look at the legends and histories, so many cultures viewed the “taboo” in so many different ways. In some, it was the way to assure loved ones a peaceful rest and allow them to remain with the family at the same time; in others it was considered a way to vanquish and insult enemies as well as to absorb their strength. In some, it was even an honor to be chosen for sacrifice and consumption for one’s religion.

But to back up Z’s post, simply based on this book, there is no mention of the Chinese indulging in fetal remains or serving them at restaurants. There is a history of cannibalism in Chinese culture, but not in this way. The Chinese have a long history, and therefore have been recorded to practice almost every form of cannibalism known, but they also practice one that has never been recorded elsewhere.

It’s called ko ku, or gegu, and it involves a family member cutting off a piece of one’s own flesh, usually from the thigh, and boiling it into a broth to be served to a dying family member.

I don't think it's practiced any more, though; maybe it tasted just like chicken soup, and they later discovered that chicken soup did the same thing?

As much as that may skeeve you out, the symbolism is heavy and kind of beautiful. I have to ask, if it were either part of your religion where you believed it to be 100%, or if science were to prove it to be true, would you cut off a piece of your flesh to save a sibling, child or parent? I think most of us would. And really, I think my parents have sacrificed much more than a hunk of flesh over the years for me my brother and sister.

It’s just what you do when called upon.

At any rate, this is just a theory, but I have a definite idea that once lab-grown cruelty-free meat becomes a reality (and it really is in the works), you’re going to at least find some cutting-edge trendy places serving lab-grown people meat on the menu, and maybe it will spread to all forms of dining. Family dining? Eating at a mom and pop? Kind of creepy.


Jennifer said...

I actually did read up a little bit on cannibalism throughout history before posting, and realized that it's been a part of every culture at one point or another; in fact, settlers of Jamestown very likely would not have survived without eating the already dead. That kind of situation, to me, bespeaks a deep drive for survival implemented in an efficient way, and I don't find the idea of that at all horrifying. I don't believe the flesh of a human is any more or any less sacred than the flesh of a chicken or a cow or a fish, honestly.

I also don't believe it's the duty of Americans to impose their cultural mores on other cultures.

I am rather devoted to honesty and logic, though; and when absence or denial of honesty and logic is used toward judgment, racism, or xenophobia, it ought to be called out.

God bless the Donner party.

I'm sure human flesh is more nutritionally beneficial than anything manufactured by Kraft foods, or served up by Domino's pizza :-)

I was disappointed to read about the growing obesity problem in mainland China; I now have to release my cultural bias that Asians eat more sensibly than Americans do.

Perhaps we humans ought to eat less and be more thankful, each time we eat, no matter what we eat.

Sounds like a good book. Doubt it's available at the Ave Maria library, though :-)

Coyote Bebop said...

I believe the Crow Indians had a "Family Flesh" ceremony for the sick as well, but I could be wrong.

I would eat a planeload of humans, on a twenty minute delay at the airport.

I'm a cold hearted survivalist, with the firm belief that I never have to run faster than the Bear, I just have to run faster than whoever I am with.