On August 6, 1945, an Allied plane dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, creating a fireball 1,200 feet in diameter. Disaster rained down upon the city, killing an estimated 150,000 people and leveling both the biological and man-made landscape. Little was left standing, but somehow the ginkgo trees were able to weather one of the most destructive moments in human history.
Halloween may be the perfect excuse to explore the dark corners of the human psyche, but let me preface this article with an apology to my actual roommate: Ed, I’m sorry, and I’m not actually going to bake you into a pie.
It’d be too much of a hassle, anyway.
Though cannibalistic behavior has been a part of our species’s M.O. since we first swung down from the treetops, the physical, legal, and social demands it would require of a sane person in 2016 — not to mention the health risks! — are too high to be practical. But if you were really strapped for ideas for a Halloween dinner party menu, human flesh — which one known cannibal has described as pork-like — might be a half-decent option.
The hardest part, of course, would be acquiring the meat. As films like Sweeney Todd and The Silence of the Lambs have demonstrated, gourmet cannibalism is a messy affair, involving knives and chains and a lot of screaming and furtive looks. All the fuss, of course, is meant to ensure the freshness of the meat. In their own bloody ways, Hannibal Lecter and Fleet Street’s demon barber were simply taking it upon themselves to locally source their produce, not unlike the farmer-butchers at your local Whole Foods. When you think about it, if you’re planning to ingest meat that’s a potential vector for some of the planet’s most deadly diseases (more on that later) going hyperlocal and harvesting your own is the most responsible thing to do.
That said, not all of history’s cannibals have been as fussy about their dinner’s provenance, opting instead for pre-killed meat — the Costco burgers of people-eaters — in the form of a corpse. The notoriously hungry Donner party, allegedly forced to cannibalize their dead peers when their trek to California went awry in 1846, were more likely to get sick than Todd or Lecter because already-dead bodies, whose disease-fighting defenses have already shut down, are essentially just warm-ish, lawless caverns for bacteria and viruses to spread.
That’s pretty much how Jamie Lee Curtis’s nasty Dean Munsch got sick in a recent episode of Scream Queens, having contracted kuru disease — a human relative of mad cow disease — during a corpse-eating ritual in New Guinea, where funerary cannibalism is a common practice. It’s highly unlikely that my roommate or your roommate has kuru disease, which occurs only in societies that partake of their dead and kills by eating away at the brain. Besides, if you found a corpse on your living room floor, brainstorming fillings for a savory pie should be the last thing on your mind.
However a would-be cannibal acquires her meat, cooking it safely is the trickiest part. That’s because human flesh, unlike Kobe beef or a nice hunk of Pacific salmon, cannot be served rare. It really shouldn’t even be served well-done, for that matter; the bacteria, viruses, and killer proteins it carries are often heatproof, and even thorough cooking won’t guarantee its safety. The kuru disease that Scream Queens’s Dean Munsch contracted, for example, is spread by specialized proteins living in the brain called prions, which can’t be killed by extreme heat, acid, formalin, or UV radiation, though they can be deactivated by a combination of high heat and high pressure. The closest you can get to creating such an environment at home is to use a pressure cooker or the very au courant sous vide technique, though let me just say now that neither of those options will produce nearly enough heat or pressure to kill a bunch of prions, so proceed at your own risk.
Questions of sanitation aside, there shouldn’t be much of a difference between cooking a pound of flesh and, say, a pound of poultry. As Brit Lab host Greg Foot noted in an attempt to eat a strip of his own leg meat earlier this year, the muscle in a human thigh, broken down into its constituent fibers, is roughly equivalent to half chicken breast combined with various cuts of beef. I’m not going to give you a recipe, but take into account that the chemical analysis of the scent wafting from Greg Foot’s pan-seared leg suggested it would taste like a hearty mélange of lamb and pork, so season accordingly and use a hearty crust.
The last thing you’ll want to take into consideration is, of course, where you would be hosting this Halloween dinner party. The laws surrounding cannibalism vary from nation to nation, and many of them are surprisingly lax. In America, for example, there are no federal laws banning the practice of cooking your roommate into a pie per se, but existing rules about not desecrating corpses and, uh, murder will generally prevent that pie from ever being served up on a plate, at least legally.
So, to my roommate Ed: Rest assured I have too much respect for the legal system and too great a fear of food-borne illness to make an attempt at baking you into a pie. To everyone else: If you’ve made it this far and are still genuinely interested, you need to rethink your life choices.