Thanksgiving’s over, your bowels are weeping to grief counselors and Weird Things is celebrating gastronomy, Epicureanism and indiscriminate face-stuffing with the last installment of a three-part look at the most delicious meat of them all. It’s a Cultural Tribute to Cannibalism (sans recipes). Monday we looked at the Wendigo, Wednesday we explored the deleted human eating element of fairy tales.
Today: Hard, Cold Facts and Soft, Chili Fingers – Modern Cannibalism Terror
A few lingering, neo-primitive cultures still employ cannibalism as a means of honoring the dead and dominating enemies. Meanwhile, the civilized world has spent centuries building cannibalism up into one of the cardinal cultural taboos (along with incest – another primal form of indulging in one’s kin), a mission that’s been so effectively carried out that even accidental cannibalism has become an object of fear. In America alone, a bevy of urban legends and contemporary folktales hinge on the hair-raising premise that soylent green has already arrived.
A classic: The body in the wine (or beer
, soda, etc.) vat. Usually set in a impoverished country where an American vintner has outsourced production of cheap wine, the story goes that several shipments of wine have just left the facility when a man’s pickled corpse, complete with a knife sticking out of its back, is found lulling in the dregs at the bottom of the storage vat. The company decides it would be too expensive to recall the product, so, well, you’re the one who just wanted to buy the cheap stuff.
In this story, as well as many others, the incident is the result of low safety and cleanliness standards in the food production industry. These stories are cut from the same cloth as all the “KFC comes from headless mutants” and “chocolate milk is regular milk with too much cow blood” legends. It’s all paranoia and distrust of a modern culture to which we’ve ceded control in exchange for convenience (and the illusion of civility – people are so concerned with supposed modern sophistication, they’re no longer comfortable with meat looking like meat; hence, the nuggefication of chicken and the fingerizing of fish).
The worst food fear, then, combines our ancient aversion to people meat and our modern fear of corporate malfeasance. Just look at the woman who planted a human finger in her Wendy’s chili. She could have scammed the restaurant just as hard (and more believably) with a rat’s foot or a roach’s head, but, in her mind, the finger was the most disgusting of all readily available food contaminates. There are also cases in which minor production anomalies result in wild accusations – in 1987, a beef ligament in a can of tripe was mistaken for a finger, and in 2001, a mold growth in improperly sealed fruit punch was initially reported as a human penis. Clearly, cannibalism is as prevalent a nightmare to the modern subconscious as it was among the snowed-in Algonquians.
Now, enjoy your leftovers.