Ryan F. Mandelbaum in Scientific American:
Looking for a cutting-edge foodie read, some vicarious cultural adventure or a glimpse into the shadows of a fundamental taboo? Bill Schutt’s Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is scheduled to come out this February, and is the perfect literary entrée for those willing to contemplate mummy umami or Tex-Mex placenta while touring the history of animals and people eating their own kind.
What do you think was one of the biggest surprises of your research?
I think the big surprises can be broken into two. The first was how common medicinal cannibalism was throughout Europe, right up into the early part of the 20th century. Mummia, or powdered mummy, was found in the Merck Index [of chemicals, drugs and biologicals] until the early 1900s. The second was how common it was across the animal kingdom in every major group—mostly in invertebrates but also in fish and amphibians—less common in reptiles and mammals but still there. It’s a natural behavior that exists for any number of functions.
Medicinal cannibalism is around today, right?
I guess you’re talking about placentaphagy—eating placenta.
…When I was reading the book, I couldn’t believe it—I thought, “he’s really going to go down there and eat part of another person.” What does it taste like?
You know, I’m not sure I want to give it away. But they asked me how I wanted it prepared—either Tex-Mex or osso bucco. Being half Italian, I went with placenta Italiana. A lot of people have claimed that it tastes like pork or veal, and everything tastes like chicken, I guess. To me, it didn’t taste like any of those. And I’ll tell you, I cleaned my plate. It’s something I’ll never forget.