As the number of words written on New Zealand’s culinary history mount, a conspicuous silence on our history’s most famous food becomes more and more obvious. Eating human flesh was once at the cultural heart of New Zealand, was one of the aspects of life here that attracted global attention, but it continues to be absent from our food infatuated lifestyle. Which begs the question; is there a place for cannibalism in our contemporary cuisine?
It is fair to point out that Christianity has put a dampener on the practice for 200 years, and that current laws do prevent the killing of humans and consumption of their flesh and other body parts. So a revival of actual cannibalism is out of the question, but there are a number of aspects of its history that make it an ideal subject for modern culinary development and innovation.
The first of these is global impact and image building. The more New Zealand’s developing economy depends on tourism, the more it matters that we evolve a distinct and attention-grabbing cuisine.
The Japanese have the advantage of eating raw flesh, and the Spanish have made a feature of cooking in laboratories to ease their way to the top of the culinary world. More recently Scandinavians have used cooking the most unlikely raw material into acceptable food as the key to success, so imagine the media advantage of developing a modern version of eating people.
The tradition of not eating salty meat could also give a neo cannibalism an aspect of political correctness that is generally missing from the leading edge of contemporary cuisine. Indeed, the celebration of cannibalism could also become an extension of respect for the Treaty of Waitangi by highlighting the fact that Maori rarely ate Pakeha. Apparently they were too salty.
However, this was not the case for Pakeha, for those who “went native” in the early days of cross-cultural experience did participate. It is from the comments of individuals like Jackie Marmon that we have information on which to base a non-human neo cannibalism suited to fine dining menus.
Finally there is the beleaguered pork industry, which struggles to secure even half of its home market. Given that humans are supposed to taste most like pork of all animal flesh, and that the obesity epidemic has made sure that fat layered human skin is ideal material for crackling, pigs could be the key.
Initially some breeding work would need to be done on developing an animal that would deliver a best approximation to “long pork” as connoisseurs once termed human flesh. Pigs, as omnivores like us, would also be perfect subjects with which to develop a human-like diet that would deliver the right flavours.
This also provides an immediate opportunity for further market development in types of long pork. This could include such potential market sectors as “not fed on junk food”, “dairy free”, even “100% vegetarian meat”.
It could also be the perfect tool for reviving the market for New Zealand chardonnay, which has been languishing in the wake of sauvignon blanc in recent years. A future where gourmets would insist on Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay with the best “human diet certified” Aotearoa long pork would have enormous benefits for the economy.
Of course there will be usual suspects complaining loudly about the immoral nature of neo-cannibalism, its influence on the violent crime rate and the psychological effects on pigs of feeding them roast mutton and potatoes with minted peas.
But this would only increase the frisson gained when eating a genuine long pork dish, an experience that could put it alongside fugu as the most exhilarating of culinary experiences.
Welcome to New Zealand, traditional home of cannibalism.