Why Cannibalism Is Bad for Your Health

Can cause a pretty awful-sounding disease: Gizmodo

By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 28, 2014 6:44 PM CDT | Updated Aug 2, 2014 7:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Have you ever wondered if would be OK—healthwise, not morally speaking—to feast on a fellow human? If so, Gizmodo has some answers. The strongest case against cannibalism is a version of mad cow disease or Creutzfeld-Jacob disease known as kuru to the Fore people of Papua New Guinea. For 20 years starting in the 1950s, more than 2,500 women and children died from the so-called “shaking death” after eating their relatives’ body parts. This practice was part of a funeral ritual meant to show respect; the Fore believe a person’s soul isn’t free until their flesh is eaten. But because of the ritual, many contracted the fatal prion malady, which prevents brain cells from working and can take up to a year to kill the victim after the symptoms first appear.

If you absolutely must eat a body part, you may want to avoid the brain, spinal cord, bone marrow, and small intestine, which are the ones most likely to be infected. As for the Fore, they mostly stopped the practice known as "transumption" in the mid-1950s; but nowadays, as Mark Griffiths points out in the Independent, "sexual cannibalism" has been in the news quite a bit, particularly thanks to Dale Bolinger, a UK nurse recently convicted of grooming a teenage girl with the ultimate intention of eating her. The gruesome fetish is typically considered a psychosexual disorder. But if you're just curious what human flesh might taste like, 1930s adventurer William Buehler Seabrook once tried it and revealed that it tastes very much like veal, Slate notes. While there's technically no law in the US banning cannibalism, Cornell University Law School notes that it would likely violate laws against corpse desecration—or murder. (If you did eat a human, here's how many calories you'd probably consume.)

Numerous small knife cuts and punctures in the mandible of  Jane of Jamestown are seen during a news conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, May 1, 2013.
Numerous small knife cuts and punctures in the mandible of "Jane of Jamestown" are seen during a news conference at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, May 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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