You Will Taste Man Flesh – A Short History of Cannibalism

Over the past fortnight there has been a lot of hype surrounding the impending Zombie Apocalypse. Some of the discussions and news articles have been quite tongue in cheek, whereas others are convinced that we are all doomed to develop a taste for human liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

The fact of the matter is that the recent spate of cannibalistic violence is nothing new. Humans have been practicing cannibalism for at least 2000 years, and that’s just what we have on record. Whether it be ritualistic or a murderous kink, interest and panic surrounding the practice has gone in and out fashion throughout the centuries. Today I’m going to give you just a small taste of cannibalism throughout history. Although this may not be a topic you expected from a blog about food history, cannibalism absolutely involves both. Besides, did you really expect me not to cash in on a topic that has gone viral? I’m nothing if not shamelessly opportunistic.

My plan for the Zombie Apocalypse – “Hole up, have a cup of tea and wait for this whole thing to blow over”

Evidence of Cannibalism is riddled throughout history, starting in ancient times. For example, archaeologists in 2001 found evidence of Iron Age cannibalism in Gloucestershire. The bones they discovered not only showed signs of murder, but also of having the marrow scraped out. This practice can in no way be accidental and is therefore considered to be reliable evidence of cannibalistic activity.

Because cannibalism is such a broad topic and subject to a great deal of controversy, I’m making the executive decision to stick to one basic area – murder and pleasure. Although I find the history behind ritual and survival cannibalism fascinating, it’s just too big a task to take on and I don’t think I would do it justice. I may revisit these areas in the future if you guys can’t get enough of the human flesh stories.

I will however make two basic observations before moving on:


Survival cannibalism seems to be the most easily forgiven in the minds of Westerners, although it’s happened more commonly than ‘civilized’ society would feel comfortable admitting. This may be because it serves as a reminder that despite our condemnation of ‘less civilized’ societies for utilizing cannibalism, we too are capable of indulging in the practice if our lives depend on it. One example of this was in 1972 when a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes. During their seventy days in the mountains, the surviving members of the team ate the flesh of  those who died in the crash.


From ancient history onwards, tales of ritualistic cannibalism have emerged from every continent on earth. It is my belief that many accounts of cannibalism were documented for a very specific reason – It was an easy and highly convenient tool for exploiting other cultures. For example, Christopher Columbus described Carib Indians as “sub-human eaters of men.” By doing this he effectively placed their culture firmly below that of Europeans. Labeling a culture as cannibalistic dehumanizes it, and in the context of colonization, justifies murder and land-grabbing.

So now that I have passed judgement from the top of my extremely high horse, we can move onto the disturbing main event. Outlined are some of the notorious cases of cannibalism that were committed for the sake of pleasure. Please be advised that I in no way condone these and have purposely omitted many of the grisly details.

Issei Sagawa

Sagawa was a Japanese student completing an English Literature degree in Paris in 1981. It was there that he murdered a fellow female student and spent two days consuming her. Sagawa was eventually arrested by French authorities but was deemed unfit to stand trial due to insanity. The truly disturbing part was that a paperwork error allowed Sagawa to check himself out of his mental institution after little more than a year of confinement. He is now living in Japan as a free man.

Armin Meiwes

Meiwes began practicing cannibalism at a young age. As a teeanger he would break into morgues and cut off pieces of flesh from the expired corpses before taking them home to cook them in his mother’s kitchen. It was in these early years that he discovered the sexual gratification that he received from the act.

In 2001 Meiwes posted an advertisement on the internet asking for a well-built 18 to 30 year old to volunteer to be slaughtered and then consumed. After meeting several young men who inevitably backed out, Meiwes received a serious response from a willing participant. The two men met on Christmas Day and proceeded to commit and videotape the act. The first of these was cutting off the mans penis and proceeding to dine on it together. Police had already caught wind of the incident online and interrupted the couple during the middle of their feast. Meiwes is currently serving a life sentence in a German prison.

This guy loves some man flesh

What I find particularly fascinating about Meiwes is the controversy surrounding his sentence and the crime itself. Unlike the majority of famous cannibals, he wasn’t interested in murder and his partner can’t necessarily be considered to be a victim.  When police arrived on the scene the cannibalized man kept insisting, as he slowly died before their eyes, that this is what he wanted. Furthermore, No harm came to the previous applicants who changed their minds.

Jeffrey Dahmer

Dahmer was an American serial killer and necrophiliac, as well as one of the most infamous modern-day cannibals. Dahmer would lure young men into his apartment where he would sedate them with drugs before strangling and dismembering them. After disposing of his victims he would consume or experiment with their remains. Once caught, he was charged and convicted of 15 murders and given numerous life sentences. On November 28, 1994 Dahmer was beaten to death at the Colombia Correctional Institution in Milwaukee. I cannot say that I am entirely surprised.

So there you have it, just a small sample of the many cases of cannibalism in modern-day society. Although they prove that cannibalism is nothing new, they may not disprove the much feared Zombie Apocalypse. Afterall, these murders were premeditated, whereas some of the accounts from the past fortnight seem to have been spontaneous and somewhat more animalistic. Perhaps we really are all doomed.

I guess we’ll find out if I start obsessively writing about brains and sweet breads in the near future.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

7 thoughts on “You Will Taste Man Flesh – A Short History of Cannibalism

  1. Absolute insanity! I am having a hard time believing these stories happened in modern times. Actually, maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised…

    It’s actually funny timing to read this post as just yesterday I taught my history class a bit about cannibalism in the 2nd century. But today… wow.

    • It’s incredible, isn’t it!

      What’s worse is that I chose those three stories from a disturbingly wide variety that occured in the last century alone.

      What country/continent was your class focused on? It sounds fascinating 🙂


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s