S4 E3. DINNER GUESTS – Richard Sugg, Curiosity of a Child & Grave History


Manage episode 346957871 series 2659594
By Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

One historian and six podcasters walk into a bar… This week, we’re chatting corpse medicine, recipe recommendations and penny dreadfuls with academic Richard Sugg, Ric and Anton of the Curiosity of a Child podcast, and Teddy and Catriona of the Grave History podcast.

Did you know Casting Lots now has merch? Find us on Redbubble: https://www.redbubble.com/people/CastingLotsPod/shop


Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis. With guest appearances from Richard Sugg, Curiosity of a Child’s Ric and Anton, and Grave History’s Teddy and Catriona.

Richard Sugg can be found on Twitter as @DrSugg and on Instagram as @drrichardsugg. Read more about corpse medicine in his book Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires, third edition (self published, 2020): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mummies-Cannibals-Vampires-History-Medicine/dp/B08DSZ2ZXX/. Or try Richard’s books for children, Our Week with the Juffle Hunters (self published, 2019): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Week-Juffle-Hunters-Richard-Sugg/dp/1086958969/ and Ride Your Horse Through the Chocolate Sauce (self published, 2020): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ride-Horse-Through-Chocolate-Sauce/dp/B08QRB3DKY/.

The Curiosity of a Child podcast can be found online at curiosityofachild.com, or on Twitter and Instagram as @curichildpod. Not sure where to start? Try their episode on ‘Corpse Medicine: From mummies to brains to mellified man’ (31 October 2020): https://curiosityofachild.com/episodes/halloween-special-corpse-medicine.

The Grave History Podcast can be found on Twitter as @GraveHistoryPod and Instagram as @gravehistorypodcast. For more on penny dreadfuls, try their episode ‘Dreadful and Nasty’ (5 April 2020): https://soundcloud.com/gravehistorypodcast/10-dreadful-and-nasty, or get your gross on with ‘You Know Cholera, John Snow’ (5 September 2020): https://soundcloud.com/gravehistorypodcast/15-you-know-cholera-john-snow.

Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.

Logo by Ashley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.

Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.


Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?

Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.

A: I’m Alix.

C: I’m Carmella.

A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…

[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]

A: Welcome to Episode Three. This time, we are joined by historian Richard Sugg, Ric and Anton from The Curiosity of a Child podcast, and Teddy and Catriona from the Grave History podcast.

[Intro music continues]

C: Thanks for joining us today, Richard.

Richard: Yeah, thanks for the invitation, it’s great to be talking about this disgusting and appalling subject again.

C: Would you like to tell us a little bit about who you are to get us started, please?

R: I’m Richard Sugg. I’ve lectured in English literature and Cultural History at the Universities of Cardiff and Durham between 2001 and 2017. I’ve written 13 books and the most popular, perhaps, are Fairies: A Dangerous History and Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires. I’m also working on a fairly marginal and taboo subject again for a new book, which is perhaps going to be the first of three on disgust. The first one coming up is disgusting entertainment, with everything from people in bars betting they can eat a live rat, through to the the Bullingdon Club and – after the people who made their own disgusting entertainment – consuming disgusting entertainment on television and film, going right up to Fleabag, Succession and anything disgusting that comes out in the next few months.

C: I think ‘disgusting entertainment’ perfectly describes this podcast as well, so amazing. We’d love to start by hearing about some of the incidents of cannibalism that you’ve come across in your work. I know that you specialise in medical cannibalism, and there’s also famine cannibalism. Did you have any good stories that you’d like to start us off with?

A: You don’t really want to say ‘any particular favourites’, given the topic, but considering it’s us… any particular favourites?

R: Yes, I have got hardened to this topic, and I am capable of talking about my favourite instances of famine cannibalism. I was in a car with a parent and a child the other day on a trip away, and had to be reminded that the little one of age eight in the back perhaps didn’t want to listen to the story of the shipwreck in 1826–

[Carmella giggles]

R: When people started eating and drinking each other, so you can get rather over-familiar with your subject. But I’ll start by sketching out the big picture here really, which is Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires I felt had to be written for various reasons, and one was that the cannibals we’d forgotten about, the Christians in Europe were busy eating, drinking, processing, selling, shipping one another for medicine, just as they were denouncing the cannibals of the New World as the scum of the Earth, slaughtering them in the process in many cases, and taking over their land in North and South America.

So what was going on in terms of medicinal cannibalism in the 17th century was going on from the Middle Ages to some degree until the time of Dr Johnson, but it hit its peak probably, late 17th century, Charles II, Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, and into the 18th century. And this is important, because people seem to get the idea that it’s Medieval, in the sense perhaps of Quentin Tarantino that it’s so disgusting it must be Medieval – they’d really only barely got started in the Medieval period! So the 17th century, something we’re not usually taught about the first three Stuart kings is this: James I refused corpse medicine; Charles II made his own corpse medicine; and Charles I was made into corpse medicine at his execution.

So, with this going on, the instances of famine cannibalism that are definitely not my favourite, but ones that are notable: 1316, fairly standard English famine perhaps caused by bad weather, insecurity of some kind, saw people in a jail being thrown into the jail with starving inmates, and the newcomers being eaten half alive by those within the prison. We get down then to the wars of religion in Europe, and 1594 is an interesting one with Paris besieged. Things get so desperate that there’s actually a kind of official famine cannibalism, when the authorities give permission for bread to be made from bones in, I think, it’s the charnel house of the Innocentes. And this is available by some point in the summer, and allegedly people die of eating it.

C: Doesn’t sound like it would make nice bread…

R: It’s surprising what they made bread out of, as we’ll see in a few moments in another context, when we brandish the phrase ‘worse things happen at sea’.

[Carmella snorts]

R: But yeah, in Germany in 1636, one of countless stories we hear of a woman abducting two children, luring them into her house during a famine, caused of course by the wars of religion raging across the continent. And the two children, both quite young, between about six and eleven, are eaten by her and her neighbour after they’ve been killed. The most memorable incident in the catalogue of famine cannibalism that I detailed was a character called Jean de Léry, an interesting anthropologist, I suppose you’d call him, who spent some time out in the New World with the Tupinamba, who were a cannibal tribe, and it seems that, fortunately for de Léry, the cannibals, like academics and the Mafia, only kill their own.

[Alix and Carmella snort]

R: And he survived his time, came back to France, and perhaps started wishing quite quickly that he was back with the cannibals of the New World, because he returned to the devastation after the siege of Siege of Sancerre. It’s referenced in quite a lot of literature from the period as being particularly severe. And there was a case where a couple of parents and the grandparent of a child were now looking at their dead child, who’d simply died of famine dehydration, and the grandmother persuaded the parents to cook the child and eat them. De Léry was actually confronted with this visually, not just the news of it, and his own body made a kind of spontaneous, memorable decision on European ‘civilisation’ and he vomited at the sight, having I think kept his stomach contents in throughout his time with the cannibals in the New World.

So this really sums up, I think, the hypocrisy of European Christians who are in a routine way producing cannibal medicine for over 200 years, making a good deal of money out of it and doing it in a ‘scientific’ way, and of course arguing, explicitly or implicitly, that it’s okay. They don’t bother to defend it many times, actually, but when you kind of dig a little bit against the grain of what they’re saying, the idea seems to be that there’s raw cannibalism, which is for nasty cannibals who don’t wear many clothes, don’t have books and cities etc., and then there’s the cooked version, and the cooked version is it’s cooked by science so that it’s got this kind of shield of technology if you like, and processing around it, which somehow makes it better. But of course there’s nothing rawer than famine cannibalism. It’s the result of total societal breakdown and utter blinding hatred – the degree of hatred between the Protestants and Catholics probably familiar to any historian of religion of the period, but just to bring it home, we’ve got people who are actually eating each other in actually slightly ritualised ways in one case in Sancerre, or in just horrible spontaneous ways. Roasting someone on a spit during slaughters.

C: Do you think there’s a sense there of, not self-projection, but a self-defence of rationalising your own form of cannibalism by saying ‘oh, our cannibalism is scientific, or we do it in a state of famine. It’s not like those cannibals who are real cannibals and evil because theirs is religious or ritualistic.’ A sort of–

R: A sort of misdirection, I guess?

C: Yeah, exactly.

R: Yeah. Yeah, I think there is. Of course, it’s different for the Protestants and the Catholics. The Catholics are always getting fired up at the charge that they are cannibals.

C: [In agreement] Mmm.

R: Because they eat and drink their God, and it’s pretty hard to avoid that if you insist and keep saying ‘no it’s not a metaphor, we really do it.’ Well, yep, you’re cannibals and vampires. But it’s different for the two of them, but I think both are doing it, and there’s layers and layers really of irrational incredulity, if you like, and irrational hostility toward the New World. One of them being that it simply should not exist, because it’s apparently not in the Bible! This is something very basic and that’s really been forgotten a lot of the time: they spent a tremendous amount of time trying to explain how Noah got all his guys and the animals over there, and all sort of animals that, you know, you don’t have in Europe. So this bothered them to a surprising degree.

But yeah, the hypocrisy is titanic really, and if anything points it up as well – or better than – the case of De Léry, in Sancerre there was another noteworthy moment in Rouen, where they brought back in a sort of well-meaning way, I think, some Tupinamba from the New World, to see [laughing] ‘civilisation’, and the Tupinamba were quickly wishing they were back home, were absolutely thunderstruck at the fact that the place was absolutely devastated again by a recent burst of the wars of religion. The reigning monarch was, I think, only twelve years old. And they also simply couldn’t get their heads around the absolutely radical, habitual social injustice that prevailed there, and stated to their hosts, ‘why do these poor, hungry people not take the rich by their throats and set fire to their houses?’ So this meeting of East and West didn’t go too well.

A: The phrase ‘eat the rich’ has been around a lot longer than we thought!

R: There’s one other, actually, in terms of social injustice again, and it’s not the typical war and famine cannibalism that we’ve been discussing. But it was Hungary in 1514. Hungary seems to have been a particularly oppressive society in Europe, even by the standards of elsewhere in the continent, or Britain, and there’d been an uprising against the nobles and the injustice in the country, in 1514. It was put down savagely, to say the least, and the leader, György Dózsa was executed in this manner: he had his followers jailed near him, they were kept starving, I think without any food, perhaps without any water whatsoever, for maybe two weeks, but a considerable period of time. And Dózsa was then put on a white-hot iron throne with a white-hot iron crown. And after this, with him roasted, his followers fell on him and ate him in desperation.

A: See, this almost ties very nicely in a segue to a question that I’ve had quite a bit when we’ve been focusing not only on survival cannibalism, but the crossover between different types of cannibalism, as in where do the boundaries lie? Thinking that the argument can be made that medical cannibalism is in and of itself a form of survival cannibalism. Social cannibalism, in that instance, while it’s definitely got political and ritualistic leanings, I think it’s fair to say there is an argument that at its heart, a lot of these instances are about survival, even if they’re not all exclusively on the life and death situations that we tend to cover on the podcast.

R: Yeah, well that’s an interesting point which triggers a lot of interesting angles for looking at these questions. I suppose one thing it brings up is that your endo-cannibalism, funerary cannibalism, which survived perhaps into the 1960s in Brazil, is very emotional, very ritualistic, powerful, religious essentially. Important to those who participate in it; important to the person dying who knows they’re gonna be eaten, they want to be eaten when they die. And then you’ve got exo-cannibalism, which is ferocious but is passionate, is emotional, is about identity, and is honourable in a lot of cases. And then you’ve got medicinal cannibalism, which is kind of proto-capitalistic, I suppose really. It’s extremely impersonable, I’d say pretty dishonourable, eating execution victims, and, yeah, it’s hard-headed, it’s pragmatic, it’s profitable, so when you look at it that way, the European Christians don’t come out of it terribly well again.

C: They sort of create a commodity of body parts, with the import of mummies, or, like you said, the creation of mummy out of executed criminals.

R: Absolutely. I mean, that ‘commodity’ is the perfect word for it, because they didn’t talk about ‘mummies’ – which would imply people, or even artefacts – they talked about ‘mummy’. You almost always heard it in the phrase ‘mummy’, in the way you’d hear ‘cheese’ or ‘milk’, you know, it’s some of a commodity, and that was all that mattered to them. The most unforgettable to me, I suppose, moment in a pretty roller-coaster research ride was the question of Ireland and all of the skulls with moss on them from an unburied body, these were rolling into England by ship for a long time, from perhaps the 1560s, but they were still doing so, it seems, around the 1750s, and until about 1780 – so into the era of George III – there was a tax. There was an important tax on human skulls.

C: Wow.

R: You don’t get much more commodified than that.

C: ‘Nothing is certain apart from death and taxes’. And taxes upon dead bodies.

R: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s a new way of looking at the old phrase, yeah.

A: That’s one of the things that comes up quite a lot in all of our research, there’s a lot of focus on what is being consumed isn’t ‘human’ – you have the disregarding of head, hands, fingers, particularly human organs and elements. And then you have, in contrast, these recipes for medicinal cannibalism, that is– It is like you’re ordering something from a shop, because you need some powdered skull, and I don’t know whether that separation between physically handling a body to survive and, one would assume, being able to order. That difference there between how immediate the body is.

R: No fellow Britons, as it were, were more radically dehumanised than the Irish. It’s absolutely extraordinary and really they certainly treated the tribes of the New World sometimes with much more respect and humanity, actually, than they did the Irish. You have Humphrey Gilbert in the field in the 1560s knighted for his pains in war crimes, slaughtering everybody on the basis that no women or children could shelter or feed the supposed rebels, whose country Gilbert was actually in, and anyone who dared supplicate to him in the field, coming up to his tent, would have to walk through a strange kind of rockery path which was made out in parallel two rows of human heads cut off that day. And it goes on and on, I mean it runs down right to the famine, where you’ve simply got a million or more people dying in a country from which England are forcing exports of grain. You have people dying in a condition of just unimaginable suffering and famine.

A: It was actually something that we ended up cutting out of our episode on the Irish famine, because we didn’t actually believe our own research until we double-checked it, but it was only last year that the Irish population returned to pre-famine levels.

R: That’s fascinating, I didn’t know that. Yeah, of course, with a huge amount of emigration as well as the deaths, yeah.

A: It just seems so unbelievable that we’ve got to have got something wrong, but no those are the genuine numbers. And I think the impact of the English in Ireland is often very understated. This has turned away from cannibalism a little!

R: Enough cannibalism, I think, let’s talk about famine vampirism instead, perhaps?

C: Yes please! We’ve done the mummies, we’ve done the cannibals; onto the vampires, please.

R: Okay, so throughout the 19th century, I don’t know if anyone’s seen or read the drama by Golding, To the Ends of the Earth – it’s a terrific thing if not – and it’s about sailing to Australia, and it really does ram into your skull the actual meaning of what now seems a very loose, idle phrase: ‘worse things happen at sea’. So an immense number of people, of course, were at the mercy of the seas in the 19th century. And a ship called the HMS Blonde, people surviving in desperate conditions in 1826, I think it was the Sandwich Islands or thereabouts, and presently they start to butcher those who die naturally – they’re not killing them as far as we know – and they butcher them, drink the blood, and the vampire ethics of the ship get interesting. At one point, a woman called Anne Saunders is particularly adept at butchering up corpses, particularly fearless, and she has a knife with her all the time. And she gets – a touch of romance here, you’ll be relieved to hear – she gets affianced to a chap called Games Friar during the voyage. I suppose there’s not much to do at sea for all those weeks. And he dies unfortunately, and there is a tussle over his (let’s hope) dead body, between Saunders and I think a mate of the ship called Clarke. And Saunders overcomes Clarke, ceases the cup for the blood as the throat is cut, and drinks two cups of Friar’s blood, to the one allowed to Clarke, on the basis that he was her fiancé, so she has got the greater right to the goods.

C: She gets dibs. So this vampirism at sea, which sounds like – I think is – a YA book series actually, of Vampirates – I was also, when I was reading your book earlier, the Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires, really struck by the case of Pope Innocent VIII.

R: [In recognition] Mmm.

C: Because you don’t think of Popes as being vampires! I wondered if you could quickly go over that story as well, because I don’t think Alix has heard it.

A: I wasn’t allowed to read it.

R: No, with pleasure. So Innocent VIII was dying in 1492, and the story goes – it’s not the securest story in terms of authenticity in the book – but it goes that he had his physician bleed three healthy youths with the promise of a ducat a piece. Presumably they thought they were going to lose a couple of pints of blood, which in the period wouldn’t be such a big deal. And they were bled until they died. Innocent was given this blood to drink. From what we know actually of blood toxicity, iron toxicity, in smaller quantities than that, it could have just finished him off. Whether he should have lived on this vampire diet, of course, only God – and probably a Catholic God – can say. But yeah, some people attributed the story to his detractors, of whom he perhaps rightly had quite a few. But it would not be really the bottom of the league table for papal ethics, if you know anything about the Renaissance papacy; it was far from the worst thing they’d ever done.

A: But the fact that that is coming from the head of the Catholic Church honestly, potentially, allegedly, believing that to drink the blood of children–

R: Yeah. What can you say? I think really there seems to be an unofficial competition to be the biggest bastard in history between various of the Renaissance popes, you know. Alexander is supposed to have committed his first murder before he was twelve. At least one of them was supposed to have caught syphilis, which doesn’t quite go with your strict Catholic ethics. And so on; you could go on all night, really.

C: So in the grand scheme of things, drinking the blood of three people isn’t actually the worst?

R: No, I suppose it shows you how desperate the physician was to try and rescue the Pope. Quite important to do it for your career. But as far as we know, the problem with being a Renaissance pope is if you did anything too decent and too humane, you usually ended up getting murdered.

[Carmella snorts]

R: For your pains. Adrian IV was the ‘accidental Pope’. A kind of comical business where two factions of cardinals got get up with a stalemate and both voted for this guy who no one had ever heard of, who wakes up one morning and finds he’s the damn Pope, and decides to clean up shop and allegedly is poisoned in a matter of a few months from interfering with business.

A: Now that one sounds like a rather strange YA novel.

[Carmella chuckles]

R: [Agreeing] Hmm it’d be a good one, actually. I mean, depends if parents think that twelve-year-olds should read this sort of stuff…

C: Well, thank you so much for joining us, and for that horrific tour through the history of various forms of cannibalism. Did you have any upcoming projects or work that you’d like our audience to know about, before we let you go?

R: One is just that do buy the new edition of Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires if you want it. Don’t buy the old one, because they’re much more expensive and this is up to date, so the black cover, white lettering: you get much more horror for much less money. I have actually also written fiction. It’s probably not the best thing to advertise in this context, but I’ve written two children’s books, which I think are terrific fun, and both are kind of eco parables, so they are timely, I suppose. Our Week with the Juffle Hunters is one, and Ride Your Horse Through the Chocolate Sauce is the more recent one. Lots of adventure, lots of fun, some thrills, but no cannibalism, no vampires. Unless you count the evil Tory that is involved in the second book…

C: I think we do! Wonderful, we’ll put links to those in the show notes for people who want to investigate further.

[Casting Lots theme music plays]

A: When you listen to a podcast, you start to develop a bit of a parasocial relationship with people. You, like, think the people in your podcast recording are actually your friends.

C: And we are obviously the friends of everyone who listens to Casting Lots, that’s true.

A: I mean, that is how it works. And that’s definitely how it works with our next guests, who I just decided one day were my friends, and now they are my friends! So I’d like to welcome, from Curiosity of a Child, Ric and Anton. So if you’d like to tell us a little about yourselves and your feelings on cannibalism?

Ric: Hello! Yes, I’m Ric, and I’m with my son–

Anton: Anton.

R: Who is eleven. Are you eleven?

Anton: No.

R: No, you’re twelve now! That’s embarrassing.

[Carmella laughs]

R: Yeah, so we’re from the Curiosity of a Child podcast, which is a history and science podcast, but we also like to do some recreations and things. And we’re big Casting Lots fans, too. Now, cannibalism’s an interesting one, isn’t it, Anton? Because we did an episode on corpse medicine where we actually recreated some of the traditional recipes, like where they would do a tincture from bone and blood and moss from skulls and things, and human brain and mellified man. So I think that’s probably why we’ve never been invited along today. We’re no experts in cannibalism; I’m sure you’ve had guests on who know more than we do.

C: From the sounds of it… not as many with this kind of practical, scientific level of experience!

R: Well, I think with history, you’ve got to live it. I mean, we may not have used real humans… But I’m gonna leave that for you to decide.


C: That was gonna be my next question, actually: presumably not with human remains?

R: No. [Laughs unconvincingly]

A: There’s an area of doubt there, you know, any legal concerns – can neither confirm nor deny.

R: Exactly. It’s a grey area. We’re based in Guernsey, and I don’t know what the cannibalism laws are here, because I know in Japan, there are no cannibalism laws. Because I’ve got an interesting story, actually, about a Japanese man–

A: I think I know what this might be…

R: Yes, so he’s a Japanese illustrator, Mao Sugiyama, and he’s an illustrator and artist. And in 2012, he put out a Tweet saying that – he’s asexual – so he was claiming that he’d had his genitalia removed, and he put out a Tweet asking people if they would like to come to a banquet where they would get to eat said pieces of removed anatomy. So, six people signed up and they paid about $250 each.

A: Not very much!

C: That’s cheap…

R: Yeah, but I don’t think you’re getting much meat there.

[Alix laughs]

R: Between six people.

C: That’s true!

R: Only five people turned up, though; there was one no-show.

[Carmella scoffs in disgust]

R: And then he cooked his testicles and his penis. But some of the diners, they described it as rather ‘rubbery’ – the texture – and very bland. And there was another guy, he said that, “The chef didn’t cook it right. What a waste of a perfectly good penis.”

Anton: [Quietly] Disgusting.

R: “Penis is pretty tough, and needs to be slow-cooked.” [Giggles]

A: How does he know?!

R: I don’t know. I’m guessing maybe from other animals.

A: It’s a bit different from the Redditor who had his leg amputated after a motorbike crash, and then had tacos.

R: Yeah, we saw that one as well. I’m not quite sure of if I’d like to do that myself. There’s something about eating people which, I don’t know, it’s a bit of a line to cross.

A: We tend not to be interested when people are just doing it for fun.

C: Yeah, we take a stance here at Casting Lots that wait until it’s your only option. [Laughs]

R: I think that’s probably sensible.

A: And then suddenly it will be much more a banquet than you could ever anticipate.

C: On the subject of ways to cook human flesh, and recipes, I believe Alix has thrown out a challenge to you two?

A: Inspired by your corpse medicine episode–

R: [Following along] Mmhmm.

A: I did want to see what culinary delights you could come up with when it came to the various descriptions of survival cannibalism.

R: Well, we’ve actually gone and cooked a full banquet which we have here with us to recreate this.

[Carmella and Alix laugh]

R: Hopefully you can see the axe, because we need to start with an arm.

Anton: Yep.

R: So Anton, can you do the honours please?

Anton: Ow! That’s my arm.

[Ric laughs]

C: Great sound effects!

R: Yeah, so we’ve got an arm here. It’s difficult to get reliable descriptions actually, I think, of what people taste like, because there’s so many different things. Pork seems to be the most common.

A: Long pig, the classic.

R: Yes. But then some people also say veal. I think with humans, there’s a lot of myoglobin in there, and then that’s what kind of binds the– or helps the blood and the oxygen go into the blood. That’s what gives meat its red colour. And it’s about 2% in human flesh, so beef is only about 0.8%, and then pork is 0.2%. So that’s what’s gonna give the colour. So human is gonna be a really, really red meat, even though people call it ‘the other white meat’ – because I think when you cook it, it goes a little bit greyer. And then maybe if you’ve got a survival cannibalism situation, you’re not gonna be butchering the meat properly, so you’re not gonna be draining the meat out of it either, so it’s going to be even redder and you’re going to get all that blood flavour there. Do you want to try some arm, Anton?

Anton: Yep. It feels weird eating my own arm hair.


A: So what is our human arm made of slash taste like?

Anton: Tastes okay. Like pig. What’s it made of?

R: Made of pancetta. So William Seabrook, he was a journalist for the New York Times, and he gave one of the best accounts, supposedly, of how human flesh tastes. He said: “It was so nearly like good, fully-developed veal, that I think no person with a palette of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. Mild, good meat, with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste, such as for instance goat, high game and pork. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough and stringy, and agreeably edible. The roast from which I cut and ate a central slice was tender in colour and texture, as well as taste.” But there are doubts over whether this is a valid quote or not, because apparently the people who he was with, they didn’t really trust him. So it’s probably that he made it up, and, as I said, most things seem to be pork where the taste is coming from.

C: They just fed him some veal and were like ‘yeah that’s human’.

R: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

A: Though it does seem to be that human can be quite a good base meat, if it has these properties. You know, it can be anything from chicken to veal to– I think my favourite is ‘cream milk’.

[Ric laughs]

A: Which I think we decided was just him being absolutely sick of being asked what human tasted like.

R: [Agreeing] Mmhmm.

A: You’re like, ‘Yeah, it tasted like milk.’

R: I’m not sure about that myself.

C: I think we’ve heard rotten cheese?

A: That’s for brains.

C: That’s brains… Okay.

A: Brains taste like rotten cheese. Like sort of cottage cheese, apparently.

C: Oh, the texture!

A: I don’t like the idea of the texture. For some reason, the texture of brains is more viscerally unpleasant than just the idea of having, like, a human burger.

[Ric and Anton laugh]

R: Yeah.

Anton: What does rotten flesh taste like?

A: Quite sweet.

C: I think that in most of the accounts of survival cannibalism we’ve had – not all of them – but in a large proportion, the flesh has not been at prime freshness by the time it’s been consumed. [Laughs]

R: No. That’s one thing I’ve wondered, as well, is does people’s diet influence how people taste? Because if you think, you go to the supermarket and there’ll be chicken and it’ll be ‘Oh, it’s fed on corn’ or it’s a free-range chicken, and they’re trying to do that as obviously the well-being of the chicken, and also it’s going to be more succulent and tasty. So is that the same with people and our diets? Particularly if people are malnourished before they are cannibalised, then that’s got to influence the flavour too.

Anton: Also in the corpse medicine episode, we had mellified man, which is where they were fed with honey, so that changed the taste of them, apparently.

R: Yeah, so this was– I don’t know if it’s true or not, but this was one of the old Chinese medical books, and one of the recipes, the author, he said it came from Arabia, and he wanted actually any readers to validate whether this was a true recipe or not. So they’d take an old man, coming into, like, the later years of his life, and they would just feed him honey. That’s all he would eat until he died. And then they would seal him up in a stone coffin with more honey, so he’d be infused, and then they would leave him in there for I think it was up to several years, and I guess the honey would crystallise a bit as well, and then they would slice his body. So it’s not exactly survival cannibalism, it’s more of a tasty little snack for the afternoon or something, or the evening.

Anton: You said the honey would crystallise as well there, does that mean you’d have a crunchy snack as well?

C: Candied human…

R: Yeah, it could be quite nice.

[Anton laughs uncomfortable]

A: I mean, I don’t remember Mary Berry doing that one in her latest Christmas recipe book… But surely it was a question of needing someone to confirm if the recipe was real? I’m like, the recipe’s real… Whether or not it was ever, you know, cooked is another matter. But we can make any recipe within, you know–

R: [Agreeing] Mmhmm.

A: The constraints of our imagination. It’s just whether we have the confidence–

[Carmella laughs]

A: And legal defence to put it together and trial it out.

C: When you cook snails to eat, you’re meant to feed them on just garlic milk for a few days to clean out their systems and make them all garlicy, and so I wonder if that might, you know, help with the issue of the meat not being very flavourful, if you fed your victim a lot of garlic beforehand…

R: ‘Your victim’!

[Ric and Anton laugh]

A: See, we are just slowly walking away from the survival aspect here!

R: Yeah, we’ve gotta be careful what ground we go onto here.

C: Yes, I think maybe you don’t care so much what it tastes like when it’s your only option [Laughs].

R: No. But then you’d also have– if you’re doing your survival cannibalism, you’re also gonna try and find some things to flavour it. So this was a little bit inspired some of your stories, so maybe we’d have, like, dandelions or something that people had picked, because you kind of want to maybe, if you’re eating people, you wanna–

Anton: Season them.

R: You want to add something else to it.

A: Salad.

C: Balanced meal.

R: Salad, exactly.

Anton: Diverse diet.

R: Looking more at maybe how we could recreate some of these in a modern way, so one of my favourite episodes, and I think yours as well, is the Medusa.

C: [Agreeing] Mmhmm.

R: It is fantastic– I mean, what is it? Three days or something, and they start?

A: [Exasperated] Three days!

C: Three.

R: I mean, that’s incredible. How people get into that kind of state of mess, I don’t know. Because you think about a lot of them, and they’re at least 100 years ago most of them, or longer ago, so back then you’re gonna have very poor communication or very slow communication, navigation is much more basic. And particularly some of the expeditions like the polar ones where, I mean they are going into the unknown, and they are away for years and they know that. So some of it’s expected that they’re going to have difficulties, I mean with the Medusa, for them to go in three days from a working ship to eating each other is insane. So I’ve made a second meal here, where I’ve got just some pork chipolatas, and I’ve done a red wine jus.

A: [Impressed] Oh!

C: [Delighted] Aaah!

A: Perfect.

R: Because they were all drunk.

[Carmella and Alix laugh]

R: And we’ve got some ship’s biscuits. And I thought they might have managed to scrounge some vegetables somewhere, so I’ve got some dandelions from the garden, and I’ve cooked their roots. So maybe going slightly from the Medusa on there, but for general survival cannibalism, you’re finding the local roots. Some carrot – which we’ll call wild carrot – and also just some greens from the garden, which I think may be a way to make an authentic kind of modern recipe.

A: To bring together all those flavours of cannibalism.

R: And also with the ship’s biscuits, I remember they said that they got soggy, didn’t they, when they took them onto the Medusa?

C: Yeah.

R: So I’ve got the ship’s biscuits here, and some seaweed. This is some local seaweed, which is really, really healthy and good for you, but have a smell, Anton…

Anton: That’s disgusting.

[Alix laughs]

R: It smells of the sea. If you could take the sea and condense it down into just its pure essence of smell, this is what it is. So do you want a go, Anton?

Anton: Not really, but…

[Alix and Carmella laugh]

C: Imagine you’re starving.

A: The thing with this podcast is it could always be worse. You could always be eating something worse.

C: What’s the verdict on that one then, guys?

R: [Strained] Oh my word.

Anton: Taste the water, it’s disgusting.

R: That’s not very pleasant. I mean, I apologise to the people who make this seaweed…

[Carmella laughs]

A: Neptune himself.

Anton: [With disgust] Ugh! No.

R: Yes that’s… pretty unpleasant. But when you’re in that survival situation.

A: Our listeners can’t see Ric and Anton’s faces, but we can confirm that they do not look like they’re having a fun time.

[Carmella laughs]

R: No, it’s not that nice. But I think if you haven’t eaten anything, then it’s gonna be– Probably gonna be delicious. Or you’re going to force yourself to eat it.

A: Well, I mean it’s the rule of three, isn’t it, for how long you can survive without? A human can survive without oxygen for three minutes; without shelter for three hours; without water for three days; and without food for three weeks.

C: [Pause] I’ve survived longer than three hours outdoors…

A: No–

[All laugh]

R: I was thinking the same!

A: Shelter from bad conditions.

C: Okay, like if I was in a blizzard.

A: Yeah, not just waiting at a bus stop.

[Carmella laughs]

Anton: Three hours?!

C: I mean, bus stops are quite bad conditions, to be fair.

A: So was that seaweed and ship’s biscuit?

R: That was, yeah. So that’s a nice little side for the main dish.

C: Well, that was you’re starter, because that’s what you eat before you get desperate enough to eat the bodies, and then when that’s out the way…

R: [Laughs] Yes.

Anton: It’s a palette cleanser, I’d say.

R: I do have a palette cleanser of the last course, don’t worry.

Anton: [Nervously] Oh no…

R: Would you like some dandelion root, Anton?

Anton: Not really.

R: You need to add to your diet.

Anton: Also disgusting.

R: Well…

Anton: That’s crunchy as well.

R: That’s roasted. [Pause] I hope it is a dandelion and not something poisonous.

Anton: [Laughing] That just tastes of burnt stuff.

A: Just something from out the garden.

C: [Laughs] Eat the mystery root, find out what happens!

R: This could be our last ever recording.

[Carmella laughs]

A: A lot of explorers did tend to do that, ‘This is definitely a foodstuff.’

C: What’s next on the menu card?

R: Well, just before we go onto our next menu course, have you heard of BiteLabs?

C: No…

R: Now, this is an interesting idea. Well, actually it’s a horrible idea, I think.

[Alix laughs]

R: Where you get to eat celebrity meat.

A: Oh, that was not what I was expecting that to be!

R: I think they’ve struggled to get any celebrities to sign up for it.

A: Can’t think why!

R: And I’m not quite sure why you would want to actually eat somebody, but what they want to do is they’ll take a sample, some cells, from a celebrity, and then they’ll make salami from them.

C: [Unconvinced] Mmmmm….

Anton: I think what they should call it is sala-me, because it’s like them. [Laughs] Really bad name.

R: And they give a couple of examples here, so they’ve got Kanye West. For Kanye West – and you can Tweet him from their website to try and encourage him to sign up: “The Kanye Salami will pull no punches: heavy, and boldly flavoured, pure Kanye West meat will blend with rich, coarse-ground pork. Hungarian paprika and worcestershire give Kanye an underlying smokiness, spiced up with hints of jalapeno. The Kanye Salami is best paired with strong straight bourbon.”

C: This begs the question… which celebrity would you most like to eat salami of?

R: I’m not really a celebrity fan, so I’d struggle there to think who I’d want to…

[Carmella laughs]

R: Nobody comes to mind. I don’t want to eat meat that tastes of somebody.

Anton: [Without hesitation] Dwayne Johnson.

R: [Laughing] Dwayne Johnson? The Rock?

Anton: Yep.

A: [Snorts] Be quite solid.

[Ric giggles]

C: You know it’d be healthy. Lots of protein in there.

R: [Agreeing] Uh huh.

A: That’s the way of finding out whether people fed different diets taste in different ways. You just get a range of celebrity salamis: get a famous vegan, get a famous pescatarian, get a famous bodybuilder, and then you’ll be able to taste the difference.

R: I think this could really work. I don’t know why it hasn’t actually been taken up, because I think they tried to start it in about 2014, and they’re still struggling to find I think their first celebrity, and it’s a mystery why.

C: [Laughing] Well, for all the celebrities listening to Casting Lots podcast, reach out!

A: Does that mean that we have to volunteer? [Laughs] As cannibalism enthusiasts?

[Carmella laughs]

R: They should be sponsoring you.

C: Honestly, let’s get in touch!

R: Continuing with our menu, so maybe going off to the polar regions now, and I think this is a bit more of a palette cleanser really. So I’m thinking I’d imagine if you had been eating someone, you’d probably want to attempt to wash your mouth out after in some way.

A: Bits stuck in your teeth.

R: And obviously lemons were really important.

Anton: Scurvy, yeah.

R: To stop it. So I’ve got some lemon sorbet here, which has actually melted, unfortunately. But of course it’s still got a little bit of meat in there, so it’s got some salami in there.

[Alix and Carmella laugh in horror]

R: Good combination.

Anton: I’m not eating that one.

[Carmella and Ric laugh]

Anton: No, I’m not having that one, I’m sorry.

R: Well try the yellow stuff, mate.

Anton: The yellow… okay.

R: It’s yellow ice.

C: [Concerned] Hmm!

A: ‘Never eat yellow snow’.

R: [Agreeing] Mmhmm. So the saltiness there…

[Alix laughs]

R: Um, really does not work at all.

[All laugh]

R: In my opinion.

A: That’s why you’re not meant to drink the salt water, because it just dehydrates you. And yet really, you’re embodying more of the survival cannibalism experience by having salty ice lemon mush with salami in it.

R: [Unconvincingly] It’s delicious! I mean, this is fine dining at its best, I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on.

A: Immersive experiences are becoming more and more popular, so I feel like if we could rent out a warehouse, we could combine your menu and our background knowledge, and could have a very bespoke tasting menu.

R: Actually there’s a Swedish vegan meat substitute manufacturer called Oumph!, and for Halloween last year, they made a special human meat burger. Which I did email them the other day asking if there was any still available, because I’d like to get hold of some please, because I’m coming on Casting Lots, and I never heard back from them! For some reason…

A: Oh, that is a marketing opportunity that they are fools not to have taken! We’ll bleep out the name so they don’t get any sponsorship out of not giving you free human burgers.

C: I want to be on the customer services team who receives an email like, ‘For personal reasons, I really need a human meat burger. Do you have any left? It is urgent.’

R: Yeah, ‘Please, please, please, I must know what it tastes of!’

A: I think a lot of places and organisations do start to get a little bit nervous when you start talking about cannibalism. We have some merch. It took a little bit of effort to find somewhere that would in fact print our merch, and I did get a few rather formal emails being like, ‘We will not print something that condones extreme violence and cannibalism’. And I had to write a very professional and polite email including all of our stats and all of our links, like ‘No, we’re an educational podcast. We’re not endorsing murder!’

[Carmella laughs]

A: ‘Please can we have some pens?’

C: We’re not recommending it…

R: [Laughs] No, exactly! Do you worry that some of your listeners are maybe more inclined on the cannibalism side and they may be listening because they’ve got a bit of a fetish?

A: Yes.

C: I hadn’t worried about it until now! [Laughs]

R: Don’t– We’re not, don’t worry!

C: I think that’s more of a them problem than an us problem, to be honest.

A: Oh, it’s definitely a them problem.

R: That’s actually the end of our menu, but we’ve done a few episodes on spices, and one we did was on pepper, so there were so many shipments of pepper going around, and turmeric and cumin, and all sorts, so there could be loads of amazing flavours that you could be adding if you get shipwrecked on a nice, like, spice-carrying ship. Then, I mean you could make some fine meals I think, actually.

A: The opportunities are endless. And, of course, we have to remember that these are just the sort of food-based things that are consumed. We also have leather and coins and that guy who sucked on his pocket watch. So pretty much anything that can fit in a human mouth, at some point, someone will have tried to eat. Whether or not it had any nutritional value or flavour is neither here nor there.

R: Yeah, no, the desperation, you’re gonna go to the extremes first. You’re gonna be, ‘Okay, what can I put in my mouth before I put this person’s arm in my mouth?’

[Carmella laughs]

A: Just chewing on bits of sail, bits of rope, turtleduck.

R: I did try and avoid those on the menu. I was trying to think what I could use for leather, and I don’t think Anton wanted me to use his football boots.

Anton: Nope.

[Carmella laughs]

A: Shoes are always one of the first things to go…

Anton: Too late now!

A: At least you know you’ve saved them, just in case.

C: So what was your favourite on that tasting menu, Ric and Anton: did you have any that were edible?

R: Uh… For me, the dandelion wasn’t particularly tasty. I love dandelion and burdock. And the ship’s biscuit with the seaweed were very unpleasant. My polar salami was very unpleasant. And the human arm wasn’t very tasty either. What about you, Anton?

Anton: I actually enjoyed my own arm.

[Carmella laughs]

Anton: I’m glad that I didn’t try the dessert. And the dandelion wasn’t very nice. So probably just my arm.

C: So you’re gonna stick straight to the cannibalism? No extra flavourings, just meat?

Anton: Probably. Just the fresh, clean stuff.

A: We do do some weird things on this podcast. I suspected that you would be game to have a little play at ‘how can we make cannibalism in the 21st century kitchen?’, and you have more than supplied and entertained. Even if it was through having to eat some rather unpleasant things, which may or may not – for legal purposes – have actually contained any human flesh, but were inspired by Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.

R: It’s a pity that you couldn’t actually join us at the banquet here, which, I’m sure, you’d have really enjoyed it as well.

Anton: For our menu, we didn’t actually think of anything nice-tasting, which was a bit of a shame.

R: I was trying to be slightly authentic to how it would have really been.

C: Thank you so much for sharing your recipe recommendations with us today–

A: Inviting us to dinner!

C: And for the live reactions.

[Ric and Anton laugh]

A: Is there anything that you would like to plug before you go?

R: Yeah, so we’re the Curiosity of a Child podcast. So you can go to curiosityofachild.com, or CuriChildPod on Twitter, to find out all about us. We’ve recorded not just on corpse medicine, but also the history of flight, the first man to photograph the sun.

Anton: We’ve done spices, some Guernsey Greats – which is, like, we look at great people from Guernsey – we’ve done fairies as well.

A: One of my personal favourites was conkers.

R: Yeah, so that’s us, so yeah please listen. And thank you so much for having us.

A: Thank you very much, that looked absolutely disgusting!

[All laugh]

R: [Pained] It was!

[Casting Lots theme music plays]

A: And now to welcome two of our next guests, who you may probably recognise from a certain affiliated podcast. We have Teddy and Catriona from Grave History. If you would like to introduce yourselves?

Catriona: Hi, my name’s Catriona, and I’m one of the co-hosts of Grave History. We do the podcast because we both are interested in, like, dark history, so to speak. I’m actually doing a PhD in dark tourism at the moment, so, you know, this is very academically relevant, and therefore everything I do is technically work. So there we have it. I don’t know loads about survival cannibalism, I kind of know bits and pieces. I did just read The Indifferent Stars Above, which is about the Donner Party, and it’s probably the best, like, non-fiction book I’ve ever read.

Teddy: And I’m Teddy. I am also, you know, a host of Grave History, as we’ve established. I’m currently doing a history degree, but my kind of interest in, you know, macabre history and particularly survival cannibalism kind of comes mostly from getting introduced to the Franklin Expedition, and really just going into the exhibition that they held many, many times. And I really like it as a narrative thing in fiction, as well. It comes up in a podcast I like called The Magnus Archives, which is a lot of fun.

A: Catriona, one of the things I did want to ask was we are on a bit of a mission here at Casting Lots to try and get ourselves cited as some sort of expert text. So we were just wondering, if cannibalism does come up in the PhD, would we be your first port of call?

Catriona: Oh yeah, totally! So my PhD focuses specifically on, like, gender and dark tourism. Specifically, like, murder, gender and dark tourism. So, you know, if there’s like– I don’t know, are there any cases that you think have an interesting, like, gender angle to them?

A: My head immediately goes to raising up and talking about the Donner Party picnic site. I feel if you’re after dark tourism…

Catriona: Yeah! You know, that’s actually a place I really want to visit.

A: Morbid Audio holiday, I’m hearing here?

T: Yeah!

Catriona: Oh yeah!

T: I’m down.

A: Probably not a cruise. I think our overall luck…

C: You know, if it’s how we go, re-tracing the route of the Donner Party as a group of under-prepared Brits…

[Teddy laughs]

Catriona: This time it’s gonna work out, I can feel it.

T: We won’t take the advice of a random guy.

A: You can feel it in your bones, can you?

[Teddy groans in disgust]

Catriona: That story though is, like, way more harrowing than I thought it was going to be, if that makes sense? Like, because I knew it from pop culture, but then actually read the book and I was like ‘Oh this is awful! This is really, really grim.’

C: There are children.

Catriona: Lots of children, yeah! And just the idea of, like, not just the cannibalism, but you know the being trapped in the snow is just awful, and obviously in those times it was all those people had, you know, to just pack their entire lives into a wagon and just– [Makes a whooshing noise] across the country. So [shudders].

A: And also how long it took.

T: [Agreeing] Mmmm!

A: We’re quite used to, with the funny fun on boats ones, it being a case of you go, you sink, everything’s over within a couple of months.

C: Sometimes less.

A: [Agreeing] Sometimes less. But standard is ten days between you’re emaciated, you’re running out of food, and you start cannibalising or you die. The Donner Party, I’m like, they are going on and on and on for months, just trying to, you know, see through to the next day. It is an odd topic to make a comedy podcast about, but hey, we’ve done alright.

[Teddy laughs]

Catriona: And they really got to know each other as well, you know, within that time.

A: That’s just an opening for me to say ‘gastronomic incest’.

T: [Appreciative] Aw!

A: And I don’t want to rise to it.

T: My life is complete, I’ve been in an episode where I heard Alix say ‘gastronomic incest’.

C: You can hear Alix say that literally any time [Laughs].

A: I wonder if anyone has spliced all of the times I’ve said ‘gastronomic incest’ together into a ringtone.

T: I mean, I’m going to now!


A: Now, I know it was mentioned that in Grave History, while you’ve had a couple of survival cannibal-esque episodes – I’m thinking most obviously of Franklin.

T: Yes.

A: But also – this is stretching the definition of survival, but we do like to do that – you have talked about penny dreadfuls before.

T: That was one of your favourites, wasn’t it?

Catriona: That was a passion project of mine.

A: So I’m sort of thinking, if we’re stretching ‘survival cannibalism’– If we’re taking ‘survival’ to ‘the means to survive and live a normal-ish life’…

Catriona: [Laughing] Sure?

A: Sweeney Todd?

T: [Uncertain] Yeah?

Catriona: Yeah! Well, I mean, Sweeney Todd’s fascinating to me because a lot of people think it’s a real story. If you go to the London dungeon, they’ve got a Sweeney Todd bit, obviously, but they’ve also got, you know, their Jack the Ripper bit, and there’s like basically no effort to show one of these is fictional, and one of these is not.

C: What has been interesting in some of the cases we’ve looked at is, in real life, there have been Sweeney Todd-esque things happening–

A: People 100% have been baked into food products. Not necessarily pies, but human meat has been sold in food markets.

Catriona: I think I remember reading about a kebab…

T: [Horrified] Oh God…

C: So this is one of my childhood fears, which presumably came about from hearing about Sweeney Todd, is that one day I will eat human meat without realising it’s human meat. And that’s the bit that bothers me. Like, if you’re in a survival situation, it’s on your own terms and you’re conscious that you’re doing it. But I really hate the idea of being tricked into eating human meat, and only afterwards it being revealed – ‘Ha ha!’

Catriona: What if you never found out?

T: Yeah!

C: This is the other thing that bothers me! What if I’ve already eaten human meat?!

[Teddy laughs]

Catriona: If you’ve ever eaten a cinema hot dog, then you’ve definitely eaten something that you probably shouldn’t have.

A: That was always my take on the horse meat scandal. Because – full disclosure – the uni supermarket was a horse meat one, so I’m like, the timings add up: I was a student, I will have got through a lot of dodgy pasta and lasagne. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I probably got caught up in the horse meat somewhere. And it’s like, do you know what, I don’t actually object to having eaten horse? It’s the not knowing and not having the right to choose what you consume.

Catriona: Yeah, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I ate horse’ and I’m like, ‘well you eat a lot of other meat, man, what’s the difference really?’ I kind of feel the same way about offal. It’s just– meat’s meat. That’s just my personal opinion, that it’s a bit weird to be really precious about what type of meat you eat, unless you just don’t like the flavour or whatever. You’re absolutely right, though: not knowing… You should consent to what you eat.

C: And preferably what you eat – when it’s a human – will consent to being eaten. [Laughs] To bring it back to the subject of cannibalism.

Catriona: Do you have a hot take on that? You know, like, remember 20 years ago there was a whole thing about the German guy who wanted to be eaten. Do you have a hot take on that?

C: I mean, that one wasn’t a survival situation… [Laughs]

Catriona: No, sorry, I know I’m kind of springing it on you a bit there!

A: No kink-shaming here at Casting Lots.

Catriona: Of course not.

C: I suppose that we have, as a society, collectively agreed that legally a person can’t consent to GBH or being murdered.

Catriona: Right, yeah.

C: On that logic alone… still wrong, even with consent?

A: I think it will change if and when the laws about organ donation changes, because currently you have to opt in to organ donation, because currently your body – even after death – is viewed as some sort of connection to personhood. If they ever change those laws…

Catriona: They have changed them in Scotland!

A: So basically what we’re saying is in Scotland, cannibalism is fine…

[Carmella laughs]

Catriona: Yep!

A: But currently under this goddamn Tory government…


A: They’re not letting us engage in our consensual cannibalism practices!

Catriona: And that’s the worst thing they’ve done!

A: Indie Ref 2: this time it’s cannibalism.

Catriona: I’m gonna create a new party and that’s the platform I’m gonna run on.

T: I’d vote for you.

C: As well as Sweeney Todd, another one that’s come up in your podcast. Isn’t really by any stretch of the imagination survival cannibalism, but maybe of interest to our listeners, is Sawney Bean.

Catriona: Yes, now that’s an interesting story, because it’s probably fake, but it’s probably got basis in something. It’s kind of a bit like an exaggerated story, because I don’t think there’s any compelling historical evidence that literally thousands of people were murdered by this guy.

T: Seems like a big task.

Catriona: But if you come to the Edinburgh dungeon, there is a Sawney Bean pit.

T: Ah, so similar approach to London dungeons going ‘here’s real historical stuff, and here’s fake?’

Catriona: Yep. It’s right next to the Burke & Hare thing, which absolutely was a real story.

A: I’ve taken a quick look at Sawney Bean, and there’s just a wonderful little section – full disclosure, Wikipedia – which is the broadside from 1750, being “the Scottish traditional story of Sandy Bane”, who was a murderer who had been eating live cats.

C: [Mock outrage] How dare he!

T: Not the cats!

Catriona: Live!

A: So it’s almost like we start with cats, then we build up to children, and then maybe horses, and then a thousand people consumed by one man.

T: Ah, so this guy is Renfield, I see.

Catriona: It would be insanely difficult to eat a live cat.

C: Yeah, why not deal with that problem first?

[Teddy laughs]

A: It’s like it’s some sort of bastardised Pied Piper of Hamlin situation.

[Carmella laughs]

T: You use the cats to round up the children, who round up the adults, and now you’re great.

Catriona: It’s a great story, but you said it first appeared in a broadside? Broadsides are kind of the precursor to the penny dreadful in some ways.

A: Is one of those ways the perhaps lack of authenticity of some of those stories?

Catriona: Yeah, I mean, a broadside is kind of the information that would be given out to the public around like, you know, a hanging or another execution, and they normally like have some song lyrics and then some lurid descriptions of the crime in them. So a lot of it they did just make stuff up, just to, you know, because it made it more interesting. Because you could just do that back then.

A: And it rhymed better in the song. ‘Oh he ate 28 men doesn’t sound as good as he ate a thousand men.’

Catriona: Yeah.

A: I’m sure everyone, including us, wants to know what the future coming up for Grave History is?

T: So I’m currently working on my dissertation, which is to do with Victorian burial reform and garden cemeteries, so most likely we will see probably several episodes, or at least a couple, on that, so that it counts as, you know, academic work. And I know that you have several part twos planned?

Catriona: Yes, I have a few part twos sort of in the pipeline. I did, like, a part one about water and sea related mysteries incidents. So we did, like, the Flannan Isles mystery, which is fascinating, and I was working on a part two that looked at unusual kinds of ghosts that lived near water, as well as I was also looking at sunken villages, because that’s also a topic that I find fascinating. So hopefully that will pop up. I also want to do a part two on the Cold War, that looks a bit more at, like, some of the stories of espionage and assassination that happened, because I mean it’s a huge topic, and I was originally going to make it all one episode, but then I was like ‘no, I’ve got too much.’ And that episode will hopefully be less of a bummer than the first one.

T: I’ve just remembered a topic that I want to cover, which is appropriate for the podcast we’re currently on. I would at some point like to do an episode on Egyptomania, particularly the use of putting, you know, mummies in paint and also consuming them, thus leading to the deficit in mummies.

A: Which, in looking at alternative ways of ‘survival cannibalism’, can be considered survival cannibalism.

C: Medical cannibalism is a form of surviving through cannibalism…

Catriona: I’ve never heard of medical cannibalism.

C: I would recommend to you the book Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires by Richard Sugg, who has previously appeared on this podcast. And that’s all about medical cannibalism and the use of mummy in that sort of context.

Catriona: I just looked it up and it said ‘medical cannibalism’ also means cannibalism in, like, the sense of exploitation, illegal organ transplants, and like organ trafficking. Which is something I know a little bit about.

A: Ah, because the laws are different in Scotland?

[Teddy laughs]

Catriona: I partake in it frequently. We actually hit on that a bit in our body snatching episode, right? We were talking about the sort of modern body snatching, which is, you know, illegal organ trading and trafficking of human remains. Which doesn’t involve eating, I will say, or rather the cases we looked at didn’t, but you know.

C: You’re still metaphorically cannibalising the bodies. Just because the organs aren’t being taken in via the mouth, doesn’t mean they’re not being incorporated into someone else’s body… [Laughing] I was really trying not to say ‘being taken in orally’ there.


T: Steady!

Catriona: Steady now!

[Carmella laughs]

A: Before we let both of you go, I think it’s time for the obvious question: would you eat a dead body if you had to?

C: Would you eat each other’s dead bodies if you had to?

T: Yeah, I would have to be a slow-cooking option, because I feel like I would render down very nicely.

Catriona: No, I mean I’m fine with that, I’m just– What’s the situation? You know, because I’m gonna say yes if I need it to survive, because–

T: Yeah, I’m not just gonna do it for fun.

A: It’s us: it’s a survival situation.

C: You’re both on a lifeboat in the sea, it’s been months, there’s no hope of rescue, you’ve run out of your rations.

T: Why not.

Catriona: I’m fine with being eaten. I’d rather, like, die naturally. But if you have to kill me then so be it.

A: Can I point out that this is in fact the wrong answer.

Catriona: Oh no!

A: The correct answer is please use each other’s dead bodies to fish with.

C: [Laughs] Trick question!

Catriona: Oh!

T: Here I am, gnawing on Catriona’s leg.

Catriona: Oh, goddammit. I wish I’d known that.

T: I could have been fishing!

Catriona: I don’t want to put extra work in, I can’t be bothered at this point. Come on!

[Alix laughs]

Catriona: I would like to be eaten by octopuses.

[Teddy laughs]

Catriona: I think that would be nice.

A: If I can’t be cannibalised to save someone else, I sort of feel like I would like to be fed to sharks.

T: I am here for death positive advocacy, okay? If you tell me that’s what you want done with your remains, that is what I will do for you.

Catriona: But also the situation you brought up is very dependent on there being fish. What if it was a different scenario, like a kind of Andes?

A: Oh, in which case, going straight to the cannibalism is the sensible option.

Catriona: I’d last about 45 minutes, I think, before I would go for the cannibalism.

C: Well, I think on that note– [Laughs]

Catriona: Yeah! [Laughs]

C: Thank you so much, Teddy and Catriona, for joining us today.

T: It’s been lovely to be here.

Catriona: No problem!

A: Before you go, is there anything that either of you two want to plug, any upcoming projects, or even just a favourite episode of Grave History you want everyone to go back to and listen to now?

Catriona: So favourite episode, I’d say the moral panic episode, so penny dreadfuls and video nasties, is my baby and I love her. And bits of it are increasingly relevant still, unfortunately.

T: I would have to go for the one that’s prescient to my dissertation, which is ‘You Know Cholera, John Snow’. It’s a very weak pun, and I apologise for it daily, but it had to be done and I really enjoyed making it.

Catriona: It’s a great episode.

C: Amazing, we’ll pop a link in the show notes to go and check out the Grave History podcast, if you haven’t already, dear listeners.

A: Hint hint. You should have already. And with that, we will let you go!

Catriona: Byeee!

[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]

C: Thank you for listening to today’s episode, featuring Richard Sugg, the Curiosity of a Child podcast, and the Grave History podcast. Join us next time to sit down with two authors of historical fiction.

[Outro music continues]

A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.

C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.

A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Ashley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.

[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]

57 episodes