Placenta tartare, anyone?
American Afterbirth is a documentary that Eddie Lin hopes to successfully Kickstart into fruition. He is an OG food blogger, book author, and part-time food television personality who has dedicated his life to writing about the world's more unusual food offerings (at least to the Western palate). Since 2004, he's documented eating everything from fresh roadkill to just about any bug that you can think of.
His new obsession is on placentology—the study of the placenta. Or, in his case, placentophagy: the act of mammals eating the placenta of their young after childbirth.
Lin is concerned with the facts, fiction, and flavor of perhaps the only human membrane that you can eat and not be considered Hannibal Lecter. Despite humans being among some of the only mammals on the planet who don't regularly consume their placenta after giving birth, there is a large pro-placenta-consuming community, and it's gaining more traction. (From what I could gather, this year's PlacentaCon was the biggest one yet.)
MUNCHIES reached out to Lin to find out what got him started on his afterbirth-eating journey, the flavor of placenta, and why you should never pulverize it into a pill.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Eddie. How are you doing today? Eddie Lin: Good. I just hope Trump doesn't ban placentas.
Has "make a documentary about eating placentas" always been a dream of yours? Ha. It started naturally when I documented the birth of my second child and me eating the placenta on video. So, basically I turned that into a short film, just like a little family movie. And I showed that short film to a producer friend of mine. He decided he wanted to turn it into a feature-length documentary about the subject.
How did you prepare the placenta? My mother helped me prepare the placenta, which we did as a very simple, Chinese-style medicinal broth with fresh slices of ginger, salt, a little bit of sesame oil for flavor, and I think her key ingredient was rice wine. She added alcohol to fool Diane's body, her stomach, into absorbing it quicker.
I was given the placenta at the hospital. I brought it home and prepared it within eight hours, because many believe that you have to do it within eight hours or else it loses its properties. Again, I don't know if this claim is true or not, which is another reason why I'm doing this documentary, because there's a lot of misinformation or old wives' tales out there regarding placenta-consuming and preparing.
When I actually tasted it, what I got right away was that it was very tender, like a piece of tenderized beef. It tasted like it, too.
Was that your first time eating placenta, trying it out? Yes, that was the very first time, but I did propose this placenta-consuming thing for our first child, but my wife was like,"No, that's disgusting, I would never do that." And that was two and a half years before she actually did it. This time, I should add that she requested that I prepare the placenta because she actually had a really difficult pregnancy. And she was willing to try anything to alleviate any discomfort or postpartum depression and anything to help her recover more quickly after giving birth. Eating your own placenta is believed to help with this. She's very into alternative medicine and health and wellness and all that. But she didn't seriously consider this until she was having a difficult pregnancy and then, upon doing research, she decided that she wanted to give it a try.
How would you describe the flavor and texture of placenta? OK, this is another interesting thing. It's an organ that's temporary. It helps to grow the baby by feeding it, and also to dispose of its waste, so it kind of feeds, filters, and flushes. That's how I would quickly sum it up.
When I saw a placenta for the first time, at the hospital, it reminded me of a large beef heart, and the diameter of the placenta was about the size of a whoopee cushion. It was covered in a network of blood vessels and it was also kind of spongy. So, I just imagined that it would taste like liver. I thought it'd be kind of, like, livery in texture and flavor, maybe a little gamey? Definitely thought it was going to be a strong flavor.
However, when I actually tasted it, what I got right away was that it was very tender, like a piece of tenderized beef, at least the part that I used. Because there's a thick membrane that is really difficult to cut through because it is rubbery. You don't use that for the actual eating part. The stuff that you use is inside, that fleshy stuff that is very tender.
The flavor, again, is very delicate. Imagine a faint taste of beef. And again, both times I've had it, it was consistent. The texture was the same and the flavor was like a very faint, delicate beef. I was completely caught off-guard, I was not expecting that at all.
I started to feel like I was doing something really against nature. Cannibalistic.
Could the flavor vary between different human placentas you think? Well, I've only experienced two, but from what I understand from talking to more people and having them, you know, I've been cultivating a network of placenta encapsulators, and midwives and doulas, and from what I understand, what the mother eats will affect the flavor. Sometimes, the placenta is not edible, like if the mother is exposed to a high level of mercury. Let's say that she's eating a lot of tuna for some reason; that could actually make the placenta not usable.
Any Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hannibal moments when you were chopping up human meat in your kitchen for your placenta soup? I felt I was doing something very unnatural was when I was prepping it. There was so much blood that I started to feel queasy. I started to feel like I was doing something really against nature. Cannibalistic. I had to consciously shift my thinking into imagining that I was butchering a part from a cow or something. So I had to literally shift my frame of mind in order not to be overcome by this feeling that I was doing something really wrong. It was pretty intense.
How big is the placenta-consuming community? Oh my God, it's way bigger than we thought. Our assumption was that it was basically upper-middle-class, white, hippie-ish—you know, like liberal hippie communities. Like Bay Area, southern California, Venice Beach, Santa Monica. It's true, they are active there, in Portland. However, I was really surprised to find out that it's really popular in Dallas/Fort Worth, which is a freaking conservative stronghold, right? Really, really popular there. And it's also popular in parts of the midwest, but surprisingly, Texas. You can find placenta-encapsulation businesses all across Texas.
I heard that you made a vegan eat her own placenta in a tartare that you prepared for her? Yeah, I managed to convince her into doing it, and I made a joke that it was, you know, grass-fed placenta from Whole Foods, but I convinced her to do it as a raw preparation. Because she asked me, she really wanted to find out my opinion on how I feel she would get the most benefits out of it. And I was like, "You know, honestly I think encapsulation is something that removes a lot, in my opinion, not that I'm an expert." It's just like having a ribeye steak and pulverizing it into a pill. I don't see how that makes any sense.
What are some of the alleged benefits of eating placenta? The big ones are the energy boost. The second one is the hormonal balancing, which, the hormones that are part of the placenta, like progesterone and oxytocin, help in balancing out any kind of mood swings or postpartum depression. It also supposedly stimulates lactation in women.
Have any of these claims been proven yet? Well there's a big study at the University of Las Vegas on postpartum human consumption of placenta, and that's headed by Dr. Daniel Benyshek, whom I met at PlacentaCon this year. They did a preliminary study and they revealed some of the findings at the PlacentaCon.It was promising, but it's leading to a more massive study because I think the preliminary study only had around 30 subjects. it's not enough to definitively come to a conclusion.
We just honestly don't know at this point. Many people don't take this seriously. They think it's a joke. A lot of the media proceeds to either kind of mock or ridicule the practice, which is why a lot of placenta practitioners are wary of the media.
What do you hope for the viewers of this documentary? The main thing is just for them to be exposed to this community that they may not be aware of. Some people don't even know what a placenta is and what it does, even though we all are made with one. So that's a pretty big one. But really, kind of the sub-takeaway is that there's a lot we don't know that modern medicine really isn't taking seriously about the practice of placentophagy.
Thank you for speaking with us.