Cannibalism: When Organ Eaters Cross Over to the Dark Side


A pal recently sent me an entry from the blog Zester Daily that concerns some Pasadena residents who decided to eat a human placenta, and supposedly got the hospital to cooperate. The piece is littered with inaccuracies (for example, the gestated egg called balut is Philippine, not Vietnamese) and strange Teutonic capitalizations, but it details how a dinner was assembled when law student Hathanh Nguyen’s sister, Danthanh Fields, an orthodontics resident at USC, gave birth and, “One of the nurses was nice enough to put it [the placenta] in a plastic takeout container, complete with white plastic takeout bag, and told us that it should be refrigerated.”

The sisters and an odd crew of self-described “extreme eaters” decided to prepare a delightful meal, even though they realized most of their friends would disapprove. Here is the menu they prepared:

Crostini with caramelized onions, sliced green apple, and seared placenta

Warm Placenta and Poached Egg Salad

As a member of the Organ Meat Society, I’m somewhat grossed out. To begin with, the taboos against eating human flesh are deep-rooted in nearly all of the world’s cultures. Even though eating placenta represents a sort of passive cannibalism, as opposed to, say, a mass murderer who slices up his victims and eats the flesh like sashimi, it’s still eating human flesh. Despite the naive assurances offered in the article (the blogger proclaims, “Because she [the orthodontist mother] knew she was not in danger of transmitting a blood-borne illness through her placenta, she deemed it safe for her sister and others to eat”), there’s no reason to believe that eating placenta is safe. And the justification that animals do it is spurious: Animals do lots of things you wouldn’t want to be caught doing.

Of course, the best reason I know to not eat human flesh, besides the fact that it’s gross, is that prion-bourne diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are not detectable by prenatal blood tests, and the prions are usually not killed by heat. Thus the flesh the diners were eating may have concealed Mad Cow or some other hideous fatal disease. The cannibals of New Guinea found this out, and the cannibals of Pasadena may find out the same thing–though, admittedly, chances are very, very small.

And how did the placenta taste?

“Comparable flavors turned out to be duck, a burger, a fatty rib eye, and liver. My first impression was how much like steak the texture was, there was a definite grain to it, like beef. It was very good.”

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