To Serve Man

To Serve Man is a science fiction short story by Damon Knight. In the 1960s it was made into an episode of Twilight Zone. In the story a bunch of highly intelligent, friendly aliens come to earth and teach man how to end wars, famine and pretty much everything else that’s wrong on the planet. They even offer free trips to their own Shangri-La planet, Kanamit. One day one of the aliens leaves behind a book which someone figures out how to translate. It’s called, To Serve Man. Everyone is feeling all warm and fuzzy about their new alien friends until they figure out that To Serve Man is a cookbook.


What does human flesh taste like, you ask? Well, a New York Times journalist,  William Buehler Seabrook, once convinced a medical intern to give him a chunk of human to taste (for research purposes). Seabrook cooked it. (Breaded I think, like a cutlet, with a little seasoning and some spring vegetables). His opinion:

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 consensus among all serial killer cannibals, on the other hand is that human flesh tastes exactly like pork. (And, ergo that pork tastes exactly like human flesh. Yum).

Cannibalism was widespread among communities of people throughout history and even on into the 19th century. Today, there is only one tribe that we know of who still practice cannibalism – the Korowai of Papua, New Guinea. There are only 3,000 of them left. (Time to hit the A&P).


Anthropologist Beth Conklin, spent time with The Wari’ tribe in the Amazon, who practiced cannibalism until the 1960s when missionaries forced them to stop.

They ate people for two separate reasons. One; they ate their enemies (after killing them in battle) as an added expression of anger. And two; they ate members of their own tribe who had died naturally, as an expression of respect and as their way of coping with grief.

In her book, Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society, Conklin says:

I hope that this book will make people think more deeply about the meanings that the body has in human relationships, and to consider that other cultures may have understood those in ways that made the destruction and transformation of the body through cannibalism seem to be the best, most respectful, most loving way to deal with the death of someone you care about.

Today, most Western cultures believe cannibalism to be socially unacceptable. But why? (You can’t just say, “Because…ewww, it’s gross.”)

With over-population in many areas of the world and famine in many more, why waste a nutritious product by burying it in valuable and ever more scarce land?

We can’t kill people for food; that’s a whole other taboo/law. But if healthy people die in accidents is there anything inherently wrong with using them for food?

If the dead person has signed “donor cards” ahead of time saying it’s okay with them if their body is used for food after they die?

Would that be so much worse than cultivating and slaughtering our fellow mammals for food?

With the way we’re laying waste to our environment, could cannibalism one day be our only way to survive? Remember the awesome 1970’s dystopian flim Soylent Green?


Would you find humans more palatable if they were made into little green crackers?

What about in a survival situation? Like Alfred Packer or the Donner party or the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 gang. You’re in a plane crash in the middle of nowhere and have very little chance of being rescued. There is nothing else to eat and some of your fellow passengers have died in the crash. Time goes by. Do you allow yourself to starve to death or would you dig in? kid

54 responses to “To Serve Man

  1. hmm. i can’t help but think of all the crap people put in their bodies (pills, drugs, plastic, processed foods). i just wouldn’t want to eat anything that was filled with that.
    tough to say what i would if i was starving, i’ve never been in such a desperate situation. i like to think i would just say adios cruel world, but who knows what takes over you when you are starving and half crazed.

  2. Interesting post. I’m grossed out by cannibalism not just because of the cultural taboo but because people can carry all sorts of diseases and I don’t think its a good idea to expose oneself to them. (Plus, there is the other stuff that meanie already mentioned)

    BUT if I was stranded somewhere and there was no other food, then I would eat people. Survival trumps everything.

  3. I think a lot of people would find it hard to eat meat if they had to slaughter the animal themselves — or possibly even if they just paid a visit to a slaughterhouse.
    The empathy that comes from seeing the animal killed is automatically there when you know that it’s human meat you are eating; even if you weren’t involved in the preparation, it is too close of a reminder to your own mortality. I’d never be able to get over the mental block of imagining my own self on the plate; it’s too close to home.

    As meanie says, though, who knows what you’d do in a survival situation. I certainly don’t judge the people who resorted to cannibalism in those cases (or those for whom it is a cultural thing). For me, I couldn’t do it because there is plenty of other food available, and I haven’t been raised in that tradition. But for those that do have the ability to get past it…it’s just meat.

  4. I wouldn’t object to my body being cooked up and eaten after I died, though I’d prefer if it went to people who could actually use it rather than, say, becoming a special entree for rich people at some ritzy restaurant

    As for eating other people, I really don’t think I could do it. I’d probably offer myself up as food (on the condition that they make really sure that I’m dead first — it’d suck to still be alive as they were biting into you).

  5. Only you can take a twilight zone episode and turn it into a “would you eat your neighbour” blog post. I love that in you.

    And I wouldn’t hesitate to eat human flesh if it were the way to survive. And have no problem with it.

    Honestly, seeing as everyone is so into recycling these days, it almost seems like the ecological thing to do.

    However, I’d point out to Meanie and Hannah, that looking at what that steak or drumstick was raised on, it’s not any better than what humans eat…

  6. If necessary to survive, you do what you gotta do.

    However, it’s such a taboo that some people would not be able to get past the horror of it and would end up being someone else’s meal.

  7. Meanie – Do you have any idea of the crap they put into the bodies of the chickens, cows and pigs you eat every day? I would think most human flesh is a lot purer. Most of us, at least, get to see sunlight occasionally and consume real food on occasion and our organs are in pretty good working order. Unlike our animal friends who are fed only what will make them grow the fastest and pumped full of drugs so they don’t drop dead completely before they can get to market. Have you seen Meet Your Meat? Check it out on YouTube. It’s interesting that there were actually people in desperate situations in the past who refused to consume human flesh even if it meant dying themselves. I’m not sure I could be that strong and/or finicky.

    Hannah – Well, we wouldn’t be eating diseased people, only the healthier ones. Much in the same way that we don’t eat diseased animals…oh wait, yes we do! An animal apparently has to be really sick before the inspection people decide it’s not fit for human consumption. And ya, one would think survival trumps everything. What if the dead person was a friend or family member? Would that make a difference?

    Lynn – One can only hope that one is never placed in a position to have to make that choice. However, I suspect that if you’re starving to death or your children were starving to death and there was a nice bowl of human stew on the table, you would feed it to your kids; and if you’d feed it to your kids, you’d kind of have to have some yourself, wouldn’t you?

    Louise – That’s very generous of you. I’m glad we have it here in writing, just in case…you know…I’ll personally see to it that only the deserving get a piece of you. And I’ll make sure you’re good and dead first. I promise.

    Jazz – It really does seem like a sensible solution to so many of our problems these days. Over here, we have lots of starving people. Over here we have lots of dead people and no more room to bury them. Really, I think this whole cannibalism taboo is a mass conspiracy by funeral directors.

    Mike – The Soylent Green solution was interesting though. Here was government with a big dilemma. The earth had been destroyed to such an extent that it would no longer sustain any sort of crop or animal life, so there was nothing left for people to eat. At the same time the world was massively over-populated, chaotic, violent with people being killed by the minute and nowhere to dispose of all the bodies. DING! They turned the dead into nutritious biscuits and doled them out to the living. Win win. I can totally see something like that happening in our future if we keep going the way we are.

    Dr. Monkey – If they instigated “body donor cards” that indicated you would agree to be eaten when you die, would you sign one?

  8. Jazz- Organic and free range meat is supposed to be from healthier animals who are fed better. (But I don’t really eat meat, so I couldn’t tell you if its actually better)
    XUP-If I was really starving and there was nothing else, yep I would pretty much eat anyone-Friend, family, etc. It would suck, but do what you gotta do right?

    This post reminded me of this episode. LOL:

  9. Having once claimed to be “The KING Lesbian” I have to agree with Elaine above… Shame you beat me to it by a little over an hour.
    I am in the unique situation (for most people) of having at one point in my life raised a steer for meat. He was a friendly little bull that I named “Dinner”. He walked up to me on his last day and I put a bullet in his head. I then hung him up, drained him of blood and cleaned and quartered him under the supervision of a butcher.
    I tell you this because I have fonder memories of “Dinner” both from the field and from the freezer then I have of people.
    So the answer to the question – Would I eat another human?
    I’m sharpening my carving knives this very moment!

  10. Hannah – Such a ruthless vegetarian!

    Eliane- One of us has been grossly misinformed about Lesbianism.

    Lebowski – Remember the Simpson’s episode with Homer and his pet lobster, Pinchy, and then he had to eat him at the end? Your story reminds me of that. As he’s digging in, Homer is crying about losing his best friend, “I wish Pinchy were here… he’d really enjoy this.” I imagine much the same thoughts were going through your head every time you bit into a nice juicy Dinner loin steak.

    Cedar – Don’t encourage him.

    Elaine – Again, don’t encourage him.

    Loth – Not necessarily. If you read that book about those Uruguayan soccer players, some of them refused to each their team-mates. They eventually relented, but not until it was almost too late.I think there might actually be people who wouldn’t give in no matter what. But who knows.

  11. Elaine – Ya, ya, I get the entendre… Do you have a blog? I’d love to read it. You seem sort of freakin’ hilarious.

  12. Cedar: Yes, yes I would. And I’d refuse to climb up on her butcher block and I would definitely refuse to lower myself into her hot tub which looked suspiciously like a 64 quart cooking pot. I would not take part in any of that.

  13. HAHAHAH! 😀

    Oh, man…I NEVER know what topic you’re going to write about!

    The other day it was conspiracy theories. Today it’s Cannibalism.

    If I was stuck in an plane crash in the Andes or something, yes….I think I’d eat people to stay alive.

    But only after waiting an appropriate period, to make sure it’s justified….

    (I mean…how good would it look if the rescue party showed up 6 hours later, and you were already munching on your fallen comrades? )

  14. See…hmmmm….I don’t see factory farmed animals as any worse to eat than a human. Especially when we eat omnivores – or force what were insectivores/grain eaters like fowl into being cannibalistic omnivores (factory farmed chickens). Its all revolting to me and I am an omnivore.

    If I was really really hungry I’d get past my revulsion and eat a hotdog. By pretending I didn’t know what it was. I expect I’d do the same in a world famine situation. Nobody wants to know that Soylent Green is people.

  15. I think I’d eat whatever I had to to stay alive. I’m not eating meat at the moment, but if I was starving…on the verge of death, I think I’d eat. My mother would kill herself in that situation just so other’s could eat.

    I’d fry up Lebowski the minute somebody announced we were outta food.

  16. Awesome. I appreciate that, XUP. On the plus side, there’s lots of me to go around (with lots of yummy marbelling) so no one need go hungry. (Makes me think of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe: “Good evening, madame and gentlemen. I am the main dish of the day. May I interest you in parts of my body? May I urge you, sir, to consider my liver? It must be very rich and tender by now. I have been force feeding myself for months.”)

    I’m very serious when I say that I don’t think I would be able to eat another human being. Hell, I doubt I’d even be able to kill and butcher an animal in order to survive. The only situation in which I can envision me actually doing it is if I had to stay alive to keep others alive. I wouldn’t do it for myself. Knowing that upfront, I very likely really would offer myself up if it came down to eat or be eaten.

  17. Louise: would you turn to the crowd, fling out your arms and splutter “Alright, who wants me?”

  18. Hmmm, that’s a toughie. I have self-esteem issues so I’d be worried about rejection if I did that. “What, no one? Seriously? You’d rather starve?”

  19. Cedar/Elaine – Do you two know each other? And you know Lebowski is a guy, right even though he identifies himself as a lesbian?

    Friar – Ya, it’s bad form to start in on the fellow passengers before the engines have even cooled. Although…. it might be a good idea to start cooking them…you know… in case there isn’t another opportunity for a heat source later on. Those soccer players had to eat their people raw and frozen..

    Mudmamma – It’s all a matter of need. Right now in the western world, we don’t need to be killing anything for food. We have way more than enough to eat without having to torture, mutilate and murder another creature in order for us to survive. I agree that consuming factory farmed animals and all that implies is much worse ethically than eating an already dead human being in a situation of need. I’d go even further and say that even if we raise animals organically and treat them humanely, ultimately killing them is still horrible and inhumane. Given a choice between living out their natural life freely in some meadow and having their throats politely cut, I’d venture to guess most of them would choose the former. (PS: I know you’re going to be in town next week – I’d love to meet you if you have some spare time?? Send me an email or Facebook thingy)

    Lola – Such a mother everyone should have! Oy. I’m sure I’d do the same for my child…although perhaps it would be wise to start with just an arm or something and see what happens. (Do you mind if I join you in an all-you-can-eat Lebowski buffet? I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of him for both of us)

    Louise – No probs.I don’t know this Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I shall look it up!

    Elaine/Louise – Seriously, are these people going to be in a position to be choosy about their dinner?

  20. XUP: Just as I did not know Tom, I don’t know Cedar. And, yeah, Lebowski gives off a strong man vibe. But none of this is for real anyway so what’s it matter?

  21. Elaine – I’m curious as to how you got to my blog that’s why I keep asking you if you know people here. One day you just appeared. And what do you mean none of it’s for real? Aren’t you real? I’m real. I know at least some of the people here are real.

  22. Oh, well why didn’t you just ask? You are on uncouth heathen’s links. How I found her blog, I don’t recall, however.

    What I meant was that I am not actually going over to Lebowski’s so his/her true gender is of no consequence to my joking around.

    I say all this internetty BS is not real b/c when I would become apopleptic about this or that on an online forum, my friend would wave her arms at me and holler IT’S NOT REAL and I found that quite soothing, as you can well imagine.

    I am real but I am also full of shit.

  23. XUP: No, I do not know the woman who calls herself Elaine. Contrary to popular straight beliefs gays do not have a Homo-Directory. We do have the Pink Pages, but they are mostly business advertisements and a few really slutty guys. Speaking of slutty guys, yes I know that Lebowski is a male, but that does not mean I cannot be amazed at what he says. Men can be quite amazing, some in good ways. I do believe my father was a male.

    Elaine, people on the internet are real, some horrifically so.

  24. P.S. I have no idea how I found my way to your Blog. There may have been cheese involved…I am not sure.

  25. Cedar: My cousin’s coworker has a dresser made of cedar. Maybe you know it…?

    And, yes, people on the inter webs are real. But due to them being one-dimensional behind the glowing screen, the actual entities get massively mixed up in our own assumptions and projections, minor things become major and vice versa. The inter webular medium is fraught with communicative peril, which is likely why I love it so.

  26. I can too say “Because…ewww, it’s gross.”
    I read “Alive!” when I was in junior high and if it was “do or die” I would eat it, but I wouldn’t savor it. My favorite joke about lobsters is, “Did you know lobsters are cannibals?….And can you blame them?”

  27. Elaine – I just did ask. And come to think of it, Lebowksi may very well be a woman by now. I know it was on hi “to do” list. (Cedar dresser .. bwah-ha-ha) Do you live in Seattle,tool?

    Cedar – That wasn’t even a gay directory question. I was just asking because you guys seem to have a nice little rapport going here. I thought maybe you were friends/blogmates and that’s how she ended up here. However, if it turns out that you, Uncouth Heathen AND Elaine are all from Seattle, I may revise that question.

    Geewits – Ah lobsters.. they’ll eat just about anything. Including people. And then we eat lobsters. I may have mentioned before, back in the late 1990s there was a plane crash in the ocean on the east coast of Canada. All passengers lost at sea. Lobstermen weren’t allowed to fish there that season because everyone knew the passengers were being consumed by the lobsters. Next spring..mmmmmm…nice fat, juicy lobsters and everyone dug in. People are so retarded sometimes.

  28. I’m so glad I came back here so as not to miss the lobster story… and the cedar dresser, and the homo-directory. I hope this stops soon…I have work to do.

  29. Haven’t you heard? They lifted the Seattle requirement and we now roam free throughout the U.S. It was mostly lifted b/c it was getting impossible to enforce (like trying to keep cockroaches in a coffee tin), not to mention the drama was ruining the city’s infrastructure and there was a severe shortage of wallet chains. It was all too much.

  30. Elaine, no I do not know your friends Cedar dresser…I have had a fondness for a couple Cedar chests.

    XUP: I am Suava Bola with complete strangers…at times.

    Oh and Elaine I have never seen a dyke in Seattle with her wallet on a chain…nor their dogs.

  31. As has been mentioned above a few times, we’re so removed from the slaughter of other animals that it seems to be a whole different category that is somehow acceptable to put into our bodies despite the antibiotics, hormones and other nasty garbage they inject them with before slaughter. Since we’ve been raised on it, we find it completely normal and acceptable. We even make fun of people who don’t eat it because they’re ‘weird’ and don’t conform.

    From a scientific point of view your argument makes perfect sense. Burying or burning every human corpse is such a waste in many ways. Finding a way to use it makes a lot more sense. I would still feel weird eating Uncle Frank, though. But, then again, I would feel weird eating Fido or any other furry family member. Thankfully I’m a vegetarian these days, so I don’t feel hypocritical in my choices. I don’t eat any meat, whether I knew it or not.

  32. Well, the comments were as entertaining as the post. You and Cedar crack me up!
    I can barely eat animal products if I actually identify them in my mind as anything close to their original form. I buy my fish and chicken in frozen squares just as god intended. I seriously think I could eat human if I HAD to as long as I had nothing to do with the preparation. I don’t even stuff my own Thanksgiving turkey. Sticking my hand up a turkey’s ass is not my idea of fun. The story about “dinner” made me throw up a little in my mouth.

  33. Lola -It will never stop. I hope.

    Elaine – No, I hadn’t heard. America is so interesting.

    Cedar – You really are — life of the party!!

    Maven – Exactly! You and me? We’re soooo evolved. I reckon things are going to end up going one of two ways – either everyone wises up and stops eating meat (and puts an end to all the environmental damage that goes along with that) OR, we really will have to start using humans as food sources somewhere down the line. Neither scenario are impossible.

    Linda – Chances are pretty slim that most of us will ever have to do that. (Shudder)

    Charlene – Who is forcing you to eat animal products? You don’t sound like you enjoy it. Why not just stop? There are sooooo many wonderful things to eat out there that don’t involve killing something.

  34. This is one of the few times in my life that a blog article actually significantly changed my philosophy on something. Essentially I’ve gone in the complete opposite direction of The Maven.

    I’ve always felt that it’s massively hypocritical (and called people on it) that we in North America would squirm or shriek in horror at some of the animals that other cultures would eat. This is different, mind you, from cruelly killing or keeping animals for food.

    So I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, if eating someone doesn’t involve deliberate homicide or suffering in the meat-gathering process, there isn’t anything wrong with that. If I’m going to defend the seal hunt, dog stew, and horse steaks, then I haven’t much of a moral high horse (‘cuz I ate it?) when it comes to cannibalism.

    Now let’s eat!

  35. Kelvin – Thanks for visiting the blog and for leaving such an excellent comment. I think you me and Maven are all basically saying the same thing — let’s not be hypocrites about what we eat when it comes to our carnivorous side. If you’re going to eat meat then you can’t make a yukky face because someone else chooses to eat meat, too — even though it might not be exactly the same kind of meat that you prefer. Of course me and the Maven can act all superior because we don’t eat any kind of meat. But for me, it’s because there is so much other stuff to eat, I don’t feel I need it. If I were in a situation where meat needed to be a huge percentage of my diet (the Arctic, for instance), I’d have no problem with eating it then.

  36. why do you vegetarians insist on trying to ruin pork for the rest of us, anyway? is it because you miss bacon? tell the truth now. i know bacon converts more veggie-heads back to omnivory than any other temptation.

  37. Hallie – No, I was never a big fan of pork. I liked bacon okay, but I’d never convert for bacon — slowly simmered beef ribs in BBQ sauce, maybe, but not bacon. I’m pretty happy with my veggie bacon. They can’t duplicate the chewy meaty goodness of beef ribs, though.

  38. I remember exactly two episodes of the Twilight Zone, and “To Serve Man” is one of them. The other was about a person born horribly disfigured. The punch line was that he looks just like we do and everyone else does not.

    Frankly, if I am dead and anyone needs a meal, help yourself. Better to serve a purpose than just decomp.

  39. such witty banter i’ve missed! i love lola’s comment about eating lebowski and her momma not eating.

    i was having this conversation with someone recently about cannibalism, probably with my son b/c he asks bizarre questions.

    i do not believe i could eat human flesh, if things were that bad i hope that either your or lola would just shoot me dead. deal?

  40. what a freaky, Frankenstein society we’ve became!? even reading people’s comments made me wonder….

    the people who put a comment is a sample of a larger picture in which made me a bit alert of how people can have sick minds.

    i read the papers about killings, sexual crimes, abuse…….ect and i always wondered of the mentality that made that.

    now, honestly, i stopped wonder! looks like if there was no police or law we would have been living in a real hell…