It is often said that cannibalism is the last taboo, though in recent times this has become increasingly untrue. The act of eating people has become less the fodder for deranged tribesmen in b-movies and more something you'd see Dr Christian Jessen doing on a Channel 4 show called Eating People Live.
Nowadays the most controversial thing about the film Cannibal Holocaust isn't the people being spit-roasted, it's the slicing open of a live tortoise. Even when Armin Meiwes, the German man who ate voluntary victim Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes' penis after he replied to his online advertisement, got his munch on, the reaction was a bit, meh, what else you got?
Some people for whom the novelty of consuming viscera never tires, however, are the zombies. Zombies can't get enough of the stuff, and it's through our shuffling friends that I was able to try some burgers (well, sliders) that were synthesised to taste like the rump of man, woman or child.
The Walking Dead (series five starts again soon), in association with Emma Thomas (she of pig carcass cake fame) and London Mess chef James Tomlinson, who together form a company called Messhead, were out to create some meat that gives you the truest possible experience of chowing down on your fellow man without having to bash their brains in with a rock or an ice pick.
As the TV show enters its fifth season, the marketeers behind it wanted to give people a taste of the unknown, and are setting up a pop up restaurant in east London (where else?) called Terminus Tavern on Tuesday 30th September—the details of which can be found by following a hashtag on Twitter nearer the time, which, to be honest, sounds a bit exhausting.
I was invited to come and try some of these burgers at what appeared to be Thomas's flat in Hoxton. Inside was a reporter from the Daily Star, who was holding five of the burgers to his face while having his photo taken. He was dressed smartly with a tucked-in pink shirt and trouser. I was wearing giant black trackies and a T-shirt from the Icelandic Phallological Museum which says, "This Museum… Is Not For Pussies". Our lives had clearly taken different paths.
I accepted the offer of a clamato Bloody Mary and waited for my burger. Tomlinson had prepared his own sauce to go with the burgers—a rich, smoky bacon tomato ketchup—which were topped with gouda and small romaine lettuce.
The first burger (slider, sorry) was half veal, half pork mince and was infused with bone marrow. The creators used quotes from various people who've tasted the forbidden meat, but were quite adamant that I not reveal exactly who they took their inspiration from. I was fairly impressed and endeared by the effort they'd put into trying so hard to make it taste like people, yet still being conscientious of offending the families of cannibal victims. The inspirations ranged from Jamie Oliver to serial child murderers, so you can understand them being cagey—these monsters are not to be associated with.
Before I went in I thought I would be able to adequately separate my mind from the "It's people!!!" effect of eating the burger, but to my surprise, the gaminess of the marrow, mixed with the fairly unfamiliar taste of the veal made for a strange sensation. The soft meats were melting in my mouth like a glob of fatty white meat from the thigh of an unfortunate Arctic explorer.
The second burger was, again, half veal, half pork, but this time with ground chicken livers. I opted to taste this one sans-bun-and-cheese to get a greater feel for its human likeness. While it was, again, a slight system shock to have these unfamiliar meat flavours swilling between my teeth, it was easier to make the distinction. The chicken liver gave it a more paté like flavour. Even so, I was beginning to feel queasy.
But why? It was stupid. It's clearly not human meat—merely using assorted animals to replicate a flavour that isn't even definitely correct. For all I know it could taste fuck all like human flesh. It was less the eating of it that made me boak, but the things that surrounded eating it. The smell of the preparation, the gizzardy smoke in my lungs, the taste of the belches that came after.
The final burger was a combination of the two that preceded it—veal, pork mince, chicken livers and bone marrow. The people I was with said this one tasted most like what they imagine people to taste like, but I disagree. The marrow and liver, working effectively on their own, cancelled each other out, so it just tasted like a normal (albeit quite nice) piece of meat.
And so I left, burping my way to the bus stop, trying not to gag. I suppose it's quite fitting that the after effects of eating these burgers was more troublesome than the action itself. Find yourself in a desperate time where desperate measures are called for and you'd be momentarily content with feeding yourself off the (literal) back of others. But after the meat had settled in the pit of your stomach it would always be there, haunting your bowels like an intestinal phantom.
And who knows, you may have acquired a taste for it. I'm off to peruse German Gumtree. Don't ask why.