If you could taste human flesh in an ethical way, would you? It’s the kind of question you ask after watching Silence of the Lambs stoned. No matter how you respond, you never expect anyone to hold you to your answer. But in a recent Reddit post, user IncrediblyShinyShart shared the story of a motorcycle crash that put him face-to-face with the macabre hypothetical. When a car hit his bike and sent him careening into a nearby forest, his foot was shattered to the point that he would never walk on it again. When the doctor asked if he wanted to amputate, his one question was, “Can I keep it?”
The doctor said yes. On Sunday, July 10, 2016, three weeks after the accident, Shiny, who prefers to remain anonymous, invited 10 of his most open-minded friends to a special brunch. They ate apple strudel, quiche puff pastries, fruit tarts, and chocolate cake. They drank gin lemonade punches and mimosas. And then the main course came out: fajita tacos made from Shiny's severed human limb.
The United States doesn’t have a federal law banning cannibalism. Idaho is the only state in which the simple act of eating human flesh can land you in prison. Laws against murder, buying and selling human meat, and corpse desecration make cannibalism difficult, but technically legal in the other 49 states. It's rare someone able to consent to being eaten meets someone interested in eating them, but even that scenario raises a ton of ethical questions. A Belgian man named Detlev Gunzel was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for butchering and eating a Polish businessman with his consent.
Shiny's is the rare case where cannibalism was not only legal but ethical. He documented the entire process, but due to the graphic nature of the photos, we have omitted several from this post. View the full set here.
We asked the 38-year-old why he decided to feed himself to his friends, what he tasted like, and how the experience changed him. The following interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
VICE: Why did you do this?
Shiny: Originally I wanted to have it taxidermied or freeze-dried. How cool would it be to have my freeze-dried or taxidermied foot standing around the house as a lamp or a doorstop or something? All of this came out of the idea that it’s my foot. It’s not going to be cremated and chucked into a landfill. It’s a part of me, and I want it back.
How did you convince the doctor to give you your leg?
Most hospitals have policies where they will release your body parts to you because of some religions where you have to be buried whole, so I just signed the paperwork. My mom, who was helping me get back on my feet, so to speak, drove me back to pick it up. She doesn’t know I ate it, though. I went inside and the hospital gave me my foot in a red plastic biowaste bag. I brought it to the car and immediately put it in a cooler. It was pretty bizarre.
How did you preserve it before the meal?
I got back to my place and I froze it. I couldn’t find a taxidermist who would take me seriously and freeze-drying was too expensive. It would have been $1,200 to freeze dry the thing. If I had the money I would have done it. Eventually, I decided to cast it in plaster to use as a doorstop, then capture a 3D rendering so I can make little keychains.
When we got back to my house, I took the foot out, and it was so gross, man. It was covered in blood and had iodine all over it. After I cleaned it off, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-preserved it was. It’s not like they preserved it in formaldehyde or anything. But when you think about beef, which can be dry-aged for months, I suppose it makes sense.
I had four friends with me at the time, and it was all surreal. We picked it up and were playing with it. It didn’t seem like it was a foot. It just seemed like an object, not a piece of a person. There was no emotional connection. I could think, “Yep, that’s my foot right there,” but there wasn’t some deep part of me that felt weirded out by it. In fact, that was the weirdest part, was that it wasn’t weird.
How did you prepare the foot to be eaten?
Before we cast it, I quickly took a knife from my kitchen and cut a chunk off the top of my shin. The skin was already kind of off from the surgery, leaving a big chunk of muscle exposed. I just took the muscle. I put it in a plastic bag and put it in my freezer.
You know that scene in National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where Chevy Chase is just saying, “This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy ”? That’s how I felt. I thought, “This is probably the peak weirdness of my life. I hope it doesn’t get weirder than this.”
After we cast the leg, I took a bunch of pictures, put it in a box of flowers, and cremated it.
How did you convince 10 friends to eat the foot with you?
I invited 11 people. I said something like, “Remember how we always talked about how, if we ever had the chance to ethically eat human meat, would you do it? Well, I’m calling you on that. We doing this or what?” Ten said yes. I guess we’re a weird group.
There were several different friend groups involved. I approached one group with the idea and they were like, “Totally.” Because how often are you going to get this chance? One friend said she’d ask her boyfriend, a chef, if he would do the cooking. Perfect.
The final tally was the chef and his girlfriend, my ex-girlfriend, one friend from college, two friends I’d had for a couple of years, two I’d known for over 10 years, and one of their daughters, who had also helped me cast the foot. It was a close group.
How did the actual cooking of the foot go down?
I told the chef my idea and after thinking about it for a couple days he said, “OK, let’s do this. I’m going to prepare it, and you guys just come over tomorrow.”
He marinated it overnight and sauteed it with onions, peppers, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Then he served it on corn tortillas with a tomatillo sauce. [Read the full recipe, transcribed by the chef, here.]
Here’s the most obvious but necessary question: how did it taste?
People think it tastes like pork because in movies we hear it called “long pig.” But that term originated in places like Papua New Guinea, where they eat wild boar. They’re not eating our big, fat, domesticated pigs that have white meat. Boars don’t have white meat. They just don’t. I remember eating a heritage pig and it was some of the reddest, most flavourful meat I’d ever had. It was almost like venison. And I think it’s more akin to that.
This particular cut was super beefy. It had a very pronounced, beefy flavour to it. The muscle I cut was tough and chewy. It tasted good, but the experience wasn’t the best.
You said on Reddit, “One friend had to spit me into a napkin.” What was the rest of that meal like?
There was this queasy anticipation. We all looked at each other like, “We doing this, right? We’re doing this.”
There was very dark humor, which we all already have in spades. I think that’s why this went so well. We were cracking jokes the whole time. I said at one point, “Well, today was the day I was inside 10 of my friends at once.” I got a phone call the next day from a friend saying, “Hey, just so you know, I pooped you out. Sorry.”
There was a sense that this was a bonding experience. We could share this really unique experience together. And it was a way for me to close a lid on this part of my life.
You wrote that this meal helped give you closure on the accident. What do you mean by that?
It sucked the whole time. I remember flying through the air. I remember getting hit. I remember sitting in the forest and taking off my helmet and feeling this burning pain. I looked down and my foot was hanging off. The picture of the foot all broken and mangled and dirty was on the ambulance.
But I was very lucky to be in a place where people were around. I was very lucky that a young woman who is just now graduating high school, showed up and put a tourniquet on my leg. She had just taken a first aid course. I was lucky to have an off-duty paramedic show up within 15 minutes.
There are so many things that happened in the best way possible. I didn’t have any other injuries. It was just my leg, and a little cut on the back of my neck. Other than that, I was unharmed, man! I went back to look at the place, and I flew through trees that are only a foot-and-a-half apart. I was going 45 miles per hour when I flipped. So I don’t know how I got out of there with just that injury. I could have very easily died that day.
I remember waking up in the hospital many times and just crying, wondering what my life was going to be. I talked with the doctor about what we could do, what was salvageable. But there were bones missing and everything else was garbage. I would never be able to walk on it again. Around a week in I decided to let them cut it off.
I went through this whole experience. This was a pivotal transition time. I’m a middle class white boy. I had never had to struggle for anything in my life. I had never been tested properly. I didn’t go into the military, I’ve never been poor or had to struggle for food or housing. I’ve had it easy and I recognize that. Before the accident, I didn’t properly appreciate my life or the people around me.
The outpouring of compassion and empathy I received from my friends and my loved ones really helped me take on the challenge of this big change in my life. So I was taking care of this body part that took care of me for so long. I was paying homage to it and giving it a proper send-off.
I have the ashes sitting in a jar on my girlfriend’s altar in her living room, and I’ll take it to my grave. It’s part of me, and this experience is a part of me, too.
Things worked out so damn well afterward. My life has gotten so much better. I left the town I was in and a job of 10 years that was killing me emotionally. I moved to another state. I have a way better job that I enjoy the hell out of. I’ve met a woman who I’ve been with for over a year and a half now and she’s the best thing in my life. I’m so much happier now than I could conceive of being before. And it’s because of this time where my life was threatened and I persevered through it. Eating my foot was a funny and weird and interesting way to move forward.
This happened two years ago. Why did you decide to tell the story now?
It’s a story that’s great to tell someone who already knows you, but it weirds a lot of people out. It’s taken me time to get comfortable with it. It’s pretty out there. I put it out on Reddit because it’s pretty much anonymous. I like the really outrageous stuff that some people post there, and I felt this was a way I could properly contribute to this community. What I did was technically not illegal. I didn’t sell it. I didn’t give it to people without their consent. It was mine. We couldn’t find any real laws against weird stuff like this.
So I’m not worried about legal stuff. I just don’t want to be known as that weird cannibal guy. It doesn’t really represent who I am.
How has this ordeal changed the way you feel about cannibalism?
It has a stigma. It’s associated with cultures that aren’t perceived as civilized, or situations where people are forced into it to survive. They see it as barbaric, so they wonder why I would go out and do it on a whim. But people eat the placenta after a child is born. That’s cannibalism, I don’t see any way around it.
I think you can ethically be a cannibal in certain situations. I don’t have some hunger to go hunt people down and gnaw off their faces. This was one experience where I had the chance to do something unique in a healthy and ethical manner. I did it and it was fun and cool, and I have a great story.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.