When people clamored for the ultimate ‘cure-all’ — human flesh
New York Post
5th March 2017
In Europe in the 17th century, epileptics drank human blood as a treatment. “So popular was this practice,” writes Bill Schutt “that public executions routinely found epileptics standing close by, cup in hand, ready to quaff their share of the red stuff. ” The topic of cannibalism is one of endless fascination.
Just last month, the show “Santa Clarita Diet,” starring Drew Barrymore as a American mom, premiered on Netflix. Meanwhile, “Cannibal Cop” Gilberto Valle returned to the news after “” will reveal he still logs onto websites. But historically, Valle’s obsession isn’t as unusual as you think.
As zoologist Schutt writes, the phenomenon “occurs in every class of vertebrates, from fish to mammals,” as well as in many types of invertebrates. And animals are just like us: Cannibalism has pervaded the human species for centuries, especially (and surprisingly) as a medicinal . More than 2, 000 years of Chinese historical accounts “contain detailed descriptions of the preparation and use of body parts as curatives,” Schutt writes.
“By the end of the Ch’ing Dynasty ( ) . . .
Chinese medical treatments included the consumption of gall bladder, bones, hair, toes and fingernails, heart and liver. ” But the Chinese were hardly alone. “From kings to commoners, Europeans routinely consumed human blood, bones, skin, guts and body parts.
They did it without guilt, though it often entailed a healthy dose of gore. They did it for hundreds of years. ” Patients didn’t just drink human blood directly from the source.
They also consumed it as a powder “or mixed into an elixir with other ingredients,” Schutt writes. “English physicians were still prescribing it as late as the century. ” Medical cannibalism became so popular that “public executions rose dramatically in the 17th century,” with body parts often cut from prisoners while they were still breathing.
Over the centuries and throughout societies, sources of human food varied, from criminals to prisoners of war to one’s own living relatives. Around the 1500s, Chinese soldiers would “seize women and children off the street” in order to cook and eat them. Other societies merely helped themselves to parts of their unburied dead.
One bizarre, misguided offshoot of the use of human tissue as medicine was the turn toward pulverized mummies, which were “either consumed or applied topically,” as an antidote to ailments including epilepsy, hemorrhaging and upset stomachs in 17th century Europe. But mummy supply was limited, leading to a market for bootlegged mummies from Egypt that were often of such poor quality that they arrived with a rancid odor. Over the centuries and throughout societies, sources of human food varied, from criminals to prisoners of war to one’s own living relative Today, the consumption of human tissue still happens with the eating of placenta, purportedly to ward off a new mother’s postpartum depression and increase production.
A trend in century Poland and 1960s and ’70s America, the practice has made a comeback here of late with mothers, including actress Alicia Silverstone, eating their own placenta in the form of pills. (“I got to the point that my husband said, ‘Did you have your happy pills today?’ And I was really sad when they were gone. It really helped me,” Silverstone has said.
) According to Schutt, who ate placenta for his research and found it “firm but tender” with a taste resembling that of organ meat, there are no proven benefits from the consumption of placenta and there may even be ill effects. Studies have shown that a placenta can retain “some of the toxic substances and pathogens it had filtered,” he writes. Placenta tasting aside, it’s fair to say that the tradition of cannibalism as a has pretty much disappeared from 21st century human society.
So what changed? “The rise of Enlightenment attitudes toward science author Richard Sugg says in Schutt’s book. Plus, he adds, there’s one more obvious reason: “Disgust. ”.
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