In what must surely rank as one of the strangest articles ever posted by Slate, writer Jesse Bering pulls and info dump on long pig in the name of making "an evolutionary case for cannibalism."
Bering brings up the work of Lewis Petrinovich argues "contrary to critiques arguing that man-eating is a myth conjured up by Westerners to demonize "primitives"—we really have been gobbling each other up for a very, very long time. We're just one of 1,300 species for which "intraspecific predation" has been observed. Among primates, cannibalism can usually be accounted for by nutritional and environmental stress, or it appears as a reproductive strategy in which mothers, for example, consume their unhealthy infants to make way for more viable offspring."
To be honest, I don't know if I'm sold. If one is going to make the case that evolution tricked us out with the ability to eat other humans, then you have to make a similar case that it also tricked us out to make it fairly uncommon. (In the article, Bering attempts to make the case that cannibalism is, in fact, more common then we admit, but I don't buy it; Bering is probably right in the assertion that cannibalism has happened more often then we'd care to think, but the real comparison you'd need to show is that it happens regularly when compared to other eating habits, and compared to how often we eat something other than people, the practice is still statistically negligible.) Furthermore, there's always the possibility that it is simply a side effect of some other, less sensational adaptation. For example, we evolved to eat meat. People happen to be meat. The adaptation wasn't aimed at them, but it opens up the possibility. That said, I can't really do justice to his argument here, so check out the article.
Still, whether or not Bering successfully achieves he goal of evo-devoing up a just so for anthropophagy, there's quite a bit of weird data to found in his article. Here's some choice tidbits, as it were.
One pair of anthropologists, for example, actually crunched the numbers, concluding that the average human adult provides 66 pounds of edible food, including fat, connective tissue, muscle, organs, blood, and skin. Protein-rich blood clots and marrow are said (by the rare connoisseur) to be special treats.
Or this bit on inducing mammalian cannibalism in the lab:
Pinpointing the specific factors that cause cannibalism is a rather difficult affair in the laboratory, mainly because of those pesky university ethics review boards. Still, an intrepid Japanese researcher shrugged off these considerations and induced cannibalism among a captive population of squirrel monkeys by feeding the pregnant females a low-protein diet. This led to a high rate of abortion and the mothers' devouring their aborted fetuses—a much-needed bolus of protein.
The idea that we're all cannibals and that it can be induced by controlled conditions was actually the middling Hunger, reviewed on this blog not too long ago. I was also reminded of philosopher Max Stirner's grim vision of the human condition as metaphorical cannibalism: "For me, you are nothing but my food - even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use."
Oh, and happy new year.