- Humans aren’t a very good food source, according to a human evolution researcher.
- Cannibalism as shown in “The Last of Us” would not be a smart survival strategy, he said.
- If you had to eat people to stay alive, however, you’d want to eat the thigh and avoid the brain.
Fans of post-apocalyptic drama “The Last of Us” found themselves faced with the moral dilemma of eating flesh in episode eight, which depicts a group of survivors secretly killing and consuming unwary travelers to keep themselves alive.
But beyond the ethical issues that cannibalism can pose, eating other people, especially after secretly murdering and slaughtering them, just isn’t a very viable eating strategy, said James Cole, senior archeology lecturer. at the University of Brighton and author of a detailed overview of the caloric value of cannibalism.
“There’s nothing particularly nutritious about us,” he told Insider. “Compared to other animals, we are not an efficient food source because we are not a very large animal. You would get a lot more protein and fat from wild game.”
Going after your peers is also much higher risk than stalking animals, as you generally don’t have to worry about deer or boars packing a gun, for example, and they’re less likely to outwit you. .
“A person won’t be a passive victim. They’ll probably fight back,” Cole said.
The archaeological record shows a few examples of early humans (and human relatives like Neanderthals) cannibalizing strangers, though we don’t know if the motives were social, opportunistic, or otherwise.
As a proactive tactic to support a community, cannibalism doesn’t make much sense, according to Cole.
“For a long-term feeding strategy, you’re better off raising pigs or cows. They just give you a bigger calorie return,” he said.
A human body provides approximately 32,000 to 125,000 calories, depending on the parts you eat
Cole’s initial interest in nutritional cannibalism was to help him demonstrate that Paleolithic cannibals may have had diet, reasons for eating each other. To that end, he wanted to show that humans were relatively unattractive food choices when compared to other hunting options like bison or deer. He calculated roughly how many calories a human body could supply using body composition data from four adult men from earlier research from the 1950s, because obtaining new data would be ethically and logistically difficult.
The average muscle mass of an adult male would provide 32,375 calories of protein, Cole calculated. Enough to feed a group of 25 adults for half a day. In comparison, a cow would feed the same group for 3 days and a bison for 10 days.
At this rate, you’ll constantly have to hunt over a dozen people a week to feed everyone.
“It could be an occasional short-term opportunity if someone in your group died and you didn’t need to go hunting that day, but not a regular subsistence vehicle, especially in a post- apocalyptic where the conditions are presumably very harsh and harsh,” Cole said.
But your food options aren’t limited to muscle, and historically cannibals have also taken advantage of organs like the heart, liver and kidneys, fatty tissue, and even bone. According to Cole’s calculations, you could consume up to 125,000 calories per human body this way, and a bit more if you wanted to extract every single nutrient from the human body, including skin and teeth.
Eating from the nose to the tail on a human comes with additional safety concerns, however – neurodegenerative conditions such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (otherwise known as mad cow disease) can be contracted by consuming diseased brains, for example.
The post-apocalyptic environment of the wastelands would also further reduce the potential nutritional benefits of human prey, according to Cole.
“In a scenario where your ability to feed yourself is sporadic and the quality of that food is sporadic, it will impact your fat stores and muscle density,” he said.
If the circumstances are serious enough that cannibalism becomes a matter of life and death, his calculations revealed a clear winner in which body part you should dig into first. Thighs have the most promising stores of fat and muscle tissue, around 13,350 calories combined.
But Cole doesn’t recommend it, overall.
“Probably only engage in this activity if it’s a matter of survival, otherwise leave it alone,” he said.
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