- The arrest of suspects accused of making meat pies out of human flesh proves that cannibalism still occurs.
- Although "corpse medicine" (a form of cannibalism) was once acceptable, it started to grow out of favor in the 16th century.
- Cannibalism can facilitate the spread of deadly prion diseases.
The recent arrest of three people in Brazil suspected of making empanadas out of human flesh (and then selling them) reminds us that though human cannibalism is rare in the modern world, it still persists.
Brazil, in particular, has been linked to cannibalism in recent years. The Lancet journal reported in 1994 "that eating human remains" was common among 250 people who lived in an Olinda slum. "Poverty and a lack of compliance with laws" were blamed, since the starving individuals were eating human body parts that they found in the Brazilian city's garbage dump.
"Cannibalism is an ethologic behavior widespread among human primates and non-human primates," Isabel Cáceres, a paleoecologist at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, told Discovery News. Cáceres has studied the phenomenon -- going back up to 780,000 years ago in our ancestors.
"Probably, the practice of cannibalism in the genus Homo appears due to lack of resources and competition for territory in critical moments," she added.
The recent case was apparently a cruel twist on that strategy. The suspects confessed to murdering at least two women, eating parts of their bodies, and using the rest to make meat pies sold in the town of Garanhuns near Sao Paulo.
One quote from one of the suspects also points to other factors. Fifty-one-year old Jorge Beltrao Negroponte told SBT Television, "I did certain things for purification, to protect people and deliver them to God."
"Up until the late 18th century, the human body was a widely accepted therapeutic agent," said Richard Sugg, a member of the Centre for Seventeenth-Century Studies at Durham University. "The most popular treatments involved flesh, bone, or blood, along with a variety of moss sometimes found on human skulls."