No Party Like a Donner Party
Narrator: In the frozen land of Nador, they were forced to eat Robin's minstrels. And there was much rejoicing.We're out of food. Now what? That guy in the bucket hat is looking pretty tasty. Why don't we Just Eat Gilligan - literally? This trope is the ugly side of exploration. The characters are out of food, and resort to cannibalism not because they like it, but because they have no other choice. It's that or starve to death. Named for the famous example of the Donner Party, who ate the bodies of their comrades who had died of hunger. Compare Eat the Dog, Reduced to Ratburgers and Cold Equation. Contrast I'm a Humanitarian, where the eater truly enjoys eating human.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In Shaman King, Tokagero states his mother had given him "her own flesh" so he would survive. A little bit later on the story, we find out he really meant it.
- During Sanji's flashback in One Piece, he and the pirate Zeff are stranded at sea for over two months. Though Sanji rationed his share of the food they'd washed ashore with, it only lasts him 25 days. 45 days later, young Sanji tries to kill Zeff and take his seemingly large remaining share of food, only to find that it was all treasure, and the pirate chef had been forced to eat his own foot at the beginning of their time stranded, secretly giving Sanji all the food to keep the boy alive. It's a horrifying reveal for the boy and pretty clearly illustrates why he stays with the "old crap-geezer". In the anime adaption, the chef cuts off his foot in his attempt to save Sanji because it was trapped, and spends the whole time eating nothing.
- In one episode of Kino's Journey, Kino encounters some snowed-in traders. Almost starving to death, they had eaten their cargo. Turns out they were slavers. Connect the dots...
- It's heavily implied by a flashback in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 that Allelujah engaged in this as a boy, during an early appearance of his evil split personality, Hallelujah. Allejuah was trapped on a ship with his fellow tykebombs, and they had no food and were starving to death. Cut to a grinning Hallejuah with blood dripping down his shirt.
- Asura. The Kanshō famine forced the titular character's own mother attempted to eat Asura, as a baby. Asura himself perform cannibalism as a mean of survival until he met a monk. Eight years have passed. Eight years of pure human flesh and blood.
- Priscilla from Claymore. After she killed her yoma infected father, she was trapped in their house for a month and is implied to have eaten part of his corpse.
- "Casket Canyon" in Jonah Hex #66. A town cut off by a blizzard resorts to cannibalism. Some of the inhabitants quickly descend into I'm a Humanitarian territory.
- In Pocket God issue #23, half of the tribe is trekking through the desert with their provisions running low. Kinsee gets so hungry, she considers eating one the other pygmies. While they can resurrect from death, they keep her from doing it because they don't want to be cannibals.
- In Invincible, a bunch of evil alternate Invincibles were manipulated by Angstrom Levy, who sent them to a desolate wasteland with nothing in it but sand when he was through. Much later, we see what happened to them: at first, they killed and ate the least popular guy because everyone was starving, but one of them went insane and started killing and eating all the others.
- The Decepticons under Starscream's command have degenerated to this in The Transformers IDW, killing each other for parts and energon. Megatron is not amused when sees his troops in this condition.
- Judge Dredd: During Necropolis, when the entire city was covered in a black fog by the Dark Judges and the Sisters of Death, citizens in the worst areas had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Dredd later runs into two women who had been driven insane and started killing people after their father had offered himself to give his daughters a chance to live through it.
- Ravenous, which was a take on the wendigo where anyone who eats people gains power and life force? Spawning possibly the best closing line of any movie: As the two men are caught in a bear trap, the villain says "If you die first, I am definitely going to eat you. The question is, if I die first... what are YOU going to do?"
- Cannibal The Musical, a musical based on Alfred Packer's journey brought to you by the creators of South Park with all of their usual good taste.
- In the movie Gulag, when the prisoners are planning their escape, it is suggested that they take a 'sandwich' with them; that is, someone weak who will probably die on the ice so they will be able to eat him.
- The Peter Jackson take on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has a horde of Uruk-Hai who, after days of cross-country running, powered by moldy bread, start eyeing their Hobbit cargo. They end up settling for one of their own. This does not suppose that the Uruk-Hai have anything remotely resembling refined tastes in cuisine.
- By this point the warband is composed of both Uruk-Hai and regular orcs, the ones that look more scrawny and hunch over. The orcs want to carve up the Hobbits but the scene plays up the discipline of the Uruk-Hai since Saruman ordered them to bring them back "alive and unspoiled". Of course, an orc being an orc, he draws his blade on the much stronger Uruk-Hai and gets gutted. "Looks like meat's back on our menu, boys!"
- In the original My Bloody Valentine it's revealed Harry Warden ate his companions while trapped in the collapsed mine. The remake downgrades this into killing them to conserve oxygen.
- Alive is a Truth in Television tale about a team of rugby players whose plane crashed high in the Andes. In the bitter cold at altitude, with no vegetation or animals, the survivors eventually resort to eating the remains of the deceased.
- Done for laughs at the beginning of Road to Morocco, where Geoffrey (Bing Crosby) and Oliver (Bob Hope) are stranded at sea.
- Subverted heavily in Wagons East! As the ex-pioneers grow increasingly worried when they think their guide led the historical Donner party, a blizzard hits and the guide prepares a mysterious roast. Then, just as the lead ex-pioneer is in the middle of being horrified that they're eating the missing member of their party, the assumed roast walks up and asks if anyone's seen his cow. Resume feasting.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: There is one animated sequence narrating when King Arthur and his knights were forced to eat Sir Robin's minstrels. There is a sort of Bilingual Bonus here - in the UK, 'Minstrels' are chocolate drops.
"In the frozen land of Nador, they were forced to eat Robin's minstrels, And There Was Much Rejoicing."
- In Patch Adams the titular character plays with a skeleton, waving its hands around and gives a Shout-Out to this trope along the lines of "Donner! Donner! Party of 15 over here! Donner! Donner!"
- Brought up in The Way Back. Seven men have escaped a gulag, and one asks the group's leader who he thinks will die first. The leader is confused and then horrified when the other guy says he assumed they'd brought so many people so they'd have something to eat. Fortunately it never gets that far.
- In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), there's a Start of Darkness flashback that shows the (already inbred and ratherÖ unconventional) family figuring out how they're going to eat during a time of financial hardship, and eventually - but hesitantly - agreeing it's unavoidable.
- The cast of Temptation Island throws one shortly before rescue. Roast Joshua is the main course. Singing is the entertainment.
- Discussed in The Shining, where Jack (already a bit of a ghoul before going full-on Ax-Crazy), decides to tell his young son the story of the Donner Party while driving the family up to the secluded hotel in the mountains.
- In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of This Island Earth, a beautiful scene of snowcapped mountains leads Tom Servo to quip "Jeez, there's soccer teams all over the place!"
- In Snowpiercer, back when the train started moving, the tail end was overcrowded and there wasn't any food, so they ate each other. Then when the population had been sufficiently reduced the people up front started giving them "protein bars".
Curtis "Know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. And I know that babies taste the best."
- Cube 2: Hypercube: The hypercube itself holds multiple timelines, parallel dimensions, and other traps that will kill you. You could run into a copy of someone you saw shredded into ribbons previously who has actually just woken up. The villain eventually starts to hunt down other occupants and their alternate universe counterparts to ward off starvation by eating them. The heroine later encounters the villain looking grey, bedraggled, and covered in the name tags and watches from two of the other trapped victims. Looking at how much older he looks, coupled with the amount of watches and name tags he has, it's very inferred he had quite a healthy appetite over the years.
- The escaped convicts in Van Diemens Land resort to cannibalism when starving in the Tasmanian wilderness.
- In Penguins of Madagascar, Rico starts trying to eat Kowalski when the penguins find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean. Of course, he doesn't succeed.
- The Areas of My Expertise promises a cash reward to anyone who can find the Donner Party. If you can eat them all by yourself, you get double the prize!
- Count Ugolino, of Inferno, is trapped inside his own tower, and ends up eating his children. Which is why he shows up in the Inferno. The only consolation in this is that he gets to gnaw for eternity on the head of the bastard who put him there, because even Hell has a sense of honor.
- In Monstrous Regiment soldiers of Borogravia are often forced to eat each other's legs when their rations run out during winter warfare. "Well, it's not done to eat your own leg, is it? You'd go blind." A well-worn corporal insists there is a military rule that it doesn't count as cannibalism if you don't eat the whole person. Even their opponents seem to expect to have to practice this rather than giving up until spring, from the attesting of a Zlobenian sergeant nicknamed "Hopalong".
- The John Wyndham short story "Survival" is about a group of people marooned for a year on a space station. As their desperation increases, they resort first to drawing lots, then to cannibalizing the losers' frozen bodies. When rescuers finally arrive, the one demented survivor sees them only as food. The last survivor having escaped the lottery for being eaten by claiming 'there are two people in me' - she was a pregnant woman. The last line is when rescue arrives is nicely chilling — "Look baby, food".
- In The Road by Cormac McCarthy, an unnamed calamity has pretty much blocked out the sun and killed most of the life on Earth. Human survivors resort to eating each other, keeping captives as food stores and amputating their limbs, presumably to keep the rest of the meat fresh. This also brings new meaning to referring to a pregnant woman as having a "bun in the oven".
- Stephen King has a couple of works that feature this:
- The short story "Survivor Type" (in the Skeleton Crew collection) involves a surgeon/drug mule who gets shipwrecked on a small rocky island. After running out of food, he eventually has to resort to cannibalism...on himself. Fortunately, he has plenty of heroin with which to dull the pain when he starts cutting bits off himself to eat...
- In The Stand, Lloyd, who's locked up in jail when the superflu hits, winds up dining on the guy in the next cell before he's rescued.
- Jessika Hendricks in World War Z relates to the interviewer how, encouraged by the mass media, many people attempted to escape the Zombie Apocalypse by traveling north into Canada, where the cold winter weather would freeze and immobilize the undead. Few if any of these refugees had any notion of how to live off the land or survive in severe winter weather, and when supplies ran low, the only remaining source of food came from their own dead.
- In Lord Byron's Narrative Poem Don Juan, the heroes are lost at sea and forced to eat some of their crewmembers, including Juan's beloved teacher and his dog. The grim scene is handled with touches of Black Comedy — one man avoids being eaten because he has a special "present" given to him by some prostitutes.
- The fantasy novel The Warrior's Return averts this in a scene where a group of snowed-in and starving soldiers, faced with their first dead comrade, decide (with a little prompting from their protagonist commanding officer) not to do this because they're all too aware of the possible consequences of starting to think of each other as food and instead give the deceased as decent a funeral as they can manage.
- Hannibal Rising has the title character's little sister getting eaten by Nazis. One of the many reasons that fans of the series pretend this book never happened.
- Succumbing (sort of) to a classic military-mindset trope in Grunts!, the orc leader decrees that they don't leave their wounded behind: they're field rations.
- W. S. Gilbert, of all people, wrote a little poem called "The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'":
And then we murdered the bo'sun tight,
And he much resembled pig;
Then we wittled free, did the cook and me,
On the crew of the captain's gig.
- Mark Twain wrote a classic subversion of the trope, "Cannibalism in the Cars" in which a group of congressmen are snowed in, and naturally establish a sub-commitee to select the juiciest candidates.
- Richard Olson's historical novel The Ungodly, about (yes) the Donner Party.
- In Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, the writers stuck in Mr. Whittier's retreat have to resort to this...but really, it's their own damn fault. Once they realized they were stuck in a building for three months, each writer began sabotaging all the dried food to make the experience more marketable. Sure enough, eventually they ran out. When people began dying they had to resort to cannibalism , although it's implied that in at least one case the process was "sped up." The worst case is the first case.
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel His Last Command, Gaunt discovers that the cooks of Fortis Binary's units have been taking meat from corpses to be used in the cooking.
- The protagonist of Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is a veteran of a squad that ate their commanding officer during the war (He was already dead, and they were dying of starvation). This dark bit of his history jump-starts the plot, then is removed by Time Travel (someone went back in time and hid emergency rations under the body).
- Edgar Allan Poe: In The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the heroes are lost at sea, and after first refusing human meat when they happen upon another ship that has suffered the same fate, they eventually resort to drawing lots and killing and eating one of their own. Fittingly, the victim is the same man who suggested cannibalism in the first place.
- A similar event is subverted in the opening chapter of The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which Prendick and two others are adrift in a dingy. They draw lots to determine who'll be eaten, but the loser fights back and both of the other men fall overboard and sink like stones, leaving Prendick alone.
- In one of the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian, the heroes and some crewmembers are stranded in a lifeboat for an extended period of time. One man dies, and the next morning there has been an obvious bite taken out of his leg, but everyone politely refrains from mentioning it. (They are rescued before things get much worse.)
- The Sten series has the crew of the ill-fated starship Discovery I, which suffered severe damage in an accident. First the survivors ate the dead. When they realized that wouldn't be enough to last them to the nearest inhabited planet, everyone very quickly came up with a reason they were vital to the ship's continued operation. Those who didn't come up with a reason quickly enough ended up in the soup.
- In Dreams Of Joy, Joy goes to visit her friends on the commune she lives on in 1950s China. She returns to see her husband and his family staring at something on the table. It's another woman's baby, which is close to death. She takes the baby back to the other woman's house and finds them at the table staring at her baby. The practice was called Swap Child, Make Food, when families would trade babies (presumably no one wants to eat their own baby) that are close to death and eat them.
- A recurring element in A Song of Ice and Fire when food runs out. When Stannis' army is snowed in, several soldiers kill and eat another and are executed for it, while in Astapor even its rulers were accused of it as the city starved. There's also suspicion about exactly what kinds of meat go into the bowls of "brown" (cheap stew) they sell in King's Landing, short on food due to the war. And winter has only just started.
Euron Crow's Eye: They refused to eat of their friendís flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.
- This was just barely averted during the Siege of Storm's End during Robert's Rebellion. As the siege went on and on, a group of soldiers attempted to desert and surrender to their enemies. Stannis was going to execute them, but his maester advised him to hold onto the men, in case the food shortage became bad enough that they would need to eat them. Only the fact that the smuggler Davos managed to slip through the blockade and bring in a shipment of food not long before the end of the war kept it from happening.
- In his journey Beyond The Wall, Bran Stark almost starves to death, and, while in the body of his wolf, eats several dead rangers of the Nights Watch. Later, he eats meat which Coldhands claims is pig. There aren't a lot of pigs north of the Wall.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe Galaxy of Fear book "The Hunger." The main characters hide out on Dagobah where they encounter a small tribe that calls themselves The Children. The Children take in one of the main party's wounded red shirts for healing and claim they were forced to amputate one of his limbs. Later on, the wounded man is found to have two limbs missing and another red shirt dies mysteriously. One character almost has a bowl of the tasty-smelling stew they're cooking but stops when he notices the ring in it. It turns out that the Children are the last remains of a stranded survey team - when the team members were hit with starvation, the desperate parents fed the toddler kids the flesh of the dead until no adults were left. The children managed to survive by eating fungus and any of their own dead, and still remember the yummy taste their parents used to give them, interpreting it as an act of love. The tribe's later My God, What Have I Done? moment only serves to increase the horror.
- In Lucifer's Hammer, the remnants of a National Guard unit start off only killing and eating people because they have a hard time finding anything to eat. Later, they descend into I'm a Humanitarian territory, and use forced-cannibalism ("You can eat it, or you can be eaten. Your choice.") as a sadistic recruiting tool, since cannibalism "indelibly marks a person, on their soul", making said persons permanently pariah with any "decent" folk.
- Pretty much the exact same thing happens in the first Emberverse novel, Dies the Fire, where the sudden collapse of infrastructure (including the end of guns) leaves most people with no stockpiles of food and no ability to hunt food. Well, most food except for a certain large animal that has two legs and is easily caught... After the "Eaters" descend into active hunting, they are pretty much killed on sight and shown no quarter, even by the titular good factions.
- In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, the titular space tyrant's journey to Jupiter as a refugee from Callisto is chronicled in Refugee, in which the space bubble he and his family are on is attacked multiple times by roving gangs of Space Pirates who seldom leave without murdering or raping anyone (and sometimes they commit rape and murder). It eventually gets to the point where every adult male has been murdered, the only ones left to pilot the bubble are inept women, and their food supplies are running low. Eventually, they decide upon eating the corpses of the men "buried" on the hull for food.
- In Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun, it is heavily implied that the Vironese ate each other on the landers leaving the Whorl since they on weren't equipped with proper supplies.
- In a Jules Verne novel The Survivors Of The Chancellor some of the surviving passengers and crew of the titular ship, wrecked in the mid-Atlantic, resort to eating some of their dead to survive.
- In Life of Pi, this is the nature of the alternate story Pi tells after being found. It also comes up in the narrative proper when he crosses paths with another stranded shipwreck victim, who pretends to be friendly just to get him to come close and then tries to kill and eat him. The tiger's name, Richard Parker, is a reference to the coincidence that multiple people with that name have happened to be involved in real cases of mutiny, shipwrecking and/or cannibalism.
- Part of the backstory of Courtship Rite. The inhabitants of the hostile Lost Colony of Geta have been a Donner Party so many times over the centuries that cannibalism has actually become an accepted and normal part of their society.
- Discussed in The Thin Man, when Nick tells Gilbert a long and rambling story about frontier cannibalism. Reportedly, Nick's story was the inspiration for the movie Ravenous (listed above), which it very closely resembles.
- In Brian Evenson's post-apocalyptic short story "An Accounting", a diplomat goes on a trade mission to the Midwest, meets a group of tribesmen, and convinces them that he's Jesus. He does this partly by sharing his dog, which he's already killed to ward off starvation. Since they worship him, they're more than willing to sacrifice one or two of their own for the same purpose.
- Happens to the crew members stranded at sea in Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie. Initially, they only eat the men who have died of illness or starvation, but then...
Live Action TV
- Naturally, Monty Python's Flying Circus approached the topic with its usual levels of taste and restraint — twice in one episode (#26, "The Queen Will Be Watching"): first in the Lifeboat Sketch, followed by the infamous Undertaker's Sketch, which was so outrageous that the execs at the BBC actually demanded a rewrite showing the studio audience storming the stage in disgust, which is honestly a very funny way of ending the scene. On one of the albums, the Lifeboat Sketch is followed by an irate phone call from a Royal Navy officer who objects to the suggestion of cannibalism in the Navy, on the grounds that "the Navy now has the problem relatively under control," and it's now apparently the R.A.F which has a cannibalism-related problem. See also: the Real Life section of this page concerning cannibalism and British sailors.
- In Game of Thrones, Ser Alliser Thorne of the Night's Watch claimed to have been forced to resort to cannibalism when his patrol got stuck beyond the Wall for months in the midst of winter. Given that he's master-at-arms, it's likely that the Night's Watch considers this something of an occupational hazard.
- One episode of Medium opens with two men, one clean and in a suit, the other disheveled, eating in a fancy dining room. The disheveled man keeps asking what the great tasting meat dish is and the other finally says "It's you. More specifically, it's your right leg. Go on, take a look." At this point, the man looks down to see his right leg amputated and Allison wakes up. Later on, it's revealed that both men were part of a group of Vietnam POWs who ate another soldier who was dying so they could survive.
- Played for laughs on The Colbert Report during a story about a food shortage - Colbert predicts that his 2012 presidential campaign will be sponsored by 'Sour Cream And Man' flavored Doritos, sees his stage manager in Meat-O-Vision, and ends the show by apparently eating him (the manager having 'tendered' his resignation).
- One episode had him coming back as a ghost, a la A Christmas Carol. At the end of the show, Stephen Colbert eats his ghost.
- Invoked in this little exchange from Simon and River's playtime flashback during the Firefly episode "Safe." To put things in perspective, they're playing a wargame involving dinosaurs.
Young River: We got outflanked by the Independent squad, and we're never gonna make it back to our platoon. We need to resort to cannibalism.Young Simon: That was fast. Don't we have rations or anything?
- An episode of CSI: Miami had three guys trapped on a raft after escaping a ship attacked by pirates. One of them kills another (who was already dying) via salt water so he and his friend can eat him.
- When the house of The Young Ones is isolated by a flood, Butt Monkey Neil is very nearly eaten by the other three. When Mr. Bulowski turns into an ax-wielding homicidal maniac and busts into the room, Neil quickly suggests that the others eat him instead.
- Invoked in season 2 of Lost when Sawyer, Jin, and Michael are captured by the survivors from the tail of the plane, who are discussing what to do with them:
Sawyer: I think they're talking about whether or not they should eat us.
- In The Goodies episode "The End", after the Goodies are sealed inside their office building, Tim and Graeme plan to kill and eat Bill. The plan is abandoned after Bill suggests eating the furniture.
Graeme: There isn't enough food here for three of us to survive for long. But there might be enough...for two.Tim: Graeme! You don't mean —Graeme: Yes...!Tim: To eat...you?Graeme: What? No! ...I'm doing the sauce. (points to Bill, making beheading motion)
- Ruth-Anne on Northern Exposure shuns Holling for a while when she finds out his grandfather ate hers.
- Flight of the Conchords have the song "Petrov, Yelyena and Me." It goes:
"Petrov, Yelyena and me, lost but happy at sea
Petrov and Yelyena say to me "Shouldn't we have something to eat?"
I say there are plenty of fish in the sea,
But all they can see is me".
- Discussed in an episode of Red Dwarf by Rimmer during his rant about Captain Oates.
- This trope is the catalyst of the storyline on the Hong Kong drama When Heaven Burns, when four young men are lost on a mountaineering trip and forced to murder one of their own to survive. The drama then explores the implications and trauma that the incident had on them.
- Parodied in a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch about Antarctic explorers, where they're on the brink of starvation, but the idea of starting on the hamper of Christmas food before it's actually Christmas is treated like this trope. "We are Englishmen, not animals!" Eventually the captain gives in to despair after it transpires that his men have already eaten the advent calendar and the carrot he was saving for the nose of his snowman.
- A two-part "The Slobs" sketch from Henry Enfield And Chums features the titular characters winning the lottery, getting on a plane, and bringing it down after eating way too much food. A short while later, the two of them have eaten the entirety of the passengers and crew, then start eating each other (At the same time).
- Not the Nine O'Clock News had a sketch where two shamefaced survivors of a plane crash similar to the famous Andes case (see below) are interviewed about it, gradually being led to describe how they decided to go into the plane... and retrieve the airline food, because they'd already eaten all the corpses.
- Parodied in Wings, Fay's bus crashes during a Murder Mystery tour. "And I don't even want to talk about what happened when we ran out of food, it was like a soccer game in the Andes."
- Saturday Night Live: One of the "Delicious Dish" sketches about a fictional NPR cooking show featured host Kelsey Grammer playing nature expert Graham Stanslerthere to share tips on finding food in the wilderness. He first recommends "GORP" (granola, oatmeal, raisins and peanuts) and bark, moss and grubs when that runs out.
Graham Stansler: Now, if you work your way a little higher on the mountain, pickings get a little slimmer. Maybe some lichens, some wet soil. But soon, that's gone, too, and to make matters worse, you realize you're lost, and you're starting to suffer from severe hypothermia... And then night sets in, and you're huddling in a snow cave drinking your own urine!... After a couple of days, you're dehydrated! You've eaten your boot leather, and you're going blind from hunger! That's when you get desperate! You have to find something to eat! So, you and your buddies draw straws to see which one of you guys isn't coming down the mountain!... Then, in perhaps your lowest moment, you cheat to make sure it's not going to be you. And it turns out to be... Carl! The godfather of your children!... You know, it's really amazing how... how easy it is... how easy it is to turn your back on God! How easy it is to steal a little extra Carl while the others aren't looking! And then a chopper comes and rescues everyone! But for the rest of your life, everything you eat... tastes a little like Carl. Gamey, a little stringy.Teri Rialto: Okay... well, thank you very much for coming, Graham.Graham Stansler: Oh, sure. And thanks for having me, ladies. Remember: GORP stands for granola, oatmeal... shoe leather, urine... and Carl!
- Referenced in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. When Mac and Frank end up on a raft out of sight of land, Frank starts planning for this eventuality immediately.
Frank: The time may come when one of us has to make a difficult decision, and when that happens... I'd rather be the one with the knife.
- A Cold Open sketch from The Kids in the Hall shows a man on trial for eating (well, sampling) each of the other 112 passengers on his plane, even though they never left the runway. "You are the sole survivor of a thirty-five-minute delay!"
- On the L.A. Law episode "Cold Cuts," Eli Levinson defends one of two mountaineers on trial for cannibalizing the third member of their stranded climbing party.
Barkwell: I didn't enjoy what I did. I didn't derive some ghoulish pleasure from ingesting human flesh. It was a gruesome, sickening ordeal. But had we not done it, there is no doubt in my mind but that we would have died. I am sorry that it happened the way it happened. But I do not apologize for surviving.
- 'Timothy' by The Buoys is a song about three miners trapped in a cave-in, and only two of them are eventually rescued. The third miner, the eponymous 'Timothy' is missing. In the second verse, the narrator says that he's 'hungry as hell, no food to eat' and that his colleague Joe said he'd 'sell his soul for just a piece of meat'. The third verse describes how the narrator blacks out, and awakens when he's rescued, saying that his 'stomach was full as it could be and nobody ever got around to finding Timothy'. It's implied that the narrator and Joe ate Timothy before they were rescued. note
- Little Boy Billee, by Ralph Steadman, deals with this: Guzzling Jack, Gorging Jimmy, and the title character all go sailing, but Jack and Jimmy eat all the food, and then decide to eat Billee. He just barely manages to dodge this fate because Big Damn Lord Nelson shows up at the last minute, hangs Jack and Jimmy, and makes Billee an admiral.
- The somewhat obscure band Giant Squid have a song called Throwing a Donner Party.
- 'A Tale They Won't Believe' by Weddings Parties Anything is based on Alexander Pearce (in the Real Life section.) Every second verse or so sees another member in the group dispatched.
- "The Donner Party", by Rasputina.
- "Feast Of Despair" by Abnormality.
- Parodied in Dilbert. The incompetent pilot of Dilbert's flight crashes into a mountain — the same one that he previously crashed into three times. In order to avoid frostbite, the pilot tells the passengers to beat themselves with meat tenderizers and to apply liberal amounts of Worcestershire sauce. The one person who realizes what's going on (Dogbert of course) saves them all by sending the pilot to get help from the village at the base of the mountain, via a snowball to the face. It's strongly implied since the first time, the Pilot got addicted to human flesh.
- Parodied in Pearls Before Swine, when Pig thinks the Donner Party was an actual party. Goat tries to explain it to him:
Goat: Pig...they ate each other.Pig: I would not re-hire that caterer.
- Parodied in The Far Side. A group of men stranded at sea on a small boat have drawn straws to see who gets eaten. One of them is telling the man who drew the short straw that fair is fair and he must submit to his fate. This is despite the fact that one of their party is a dog.
Religion and Mythology
- During one of the Biblical sieges of Israel, King Ahaziah was asked for help by a distressed woman who had made a pact with their neighbor to boil and eat their sons. Her problem? The neighbor had hidden her son away.
- In the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are warned that if they turn away from their God and don't adhere to the laws and rules that were given to them, that this (among other chaos and tragedy) will happen. (On the flip side, they are also told that if they keep the faith and play by the rules, they will have prosperity and stability.)
- Another really old example on tabooification of cannibalism, the Algonquian myth of the Wendigo, says that a human being that commits cannibalism can become a human-eating monster.
- Forms part of the origin story for the villain Cannibal in the Dark Champions sourcebook Murderer's Row. After being rescued, he discovers he has become addicted to human flesh and can no longer eat normal food.
- In his Twisted Metal: Black backstory, Mr. Grimm was forced to eat a fellow soldier while in Vietnam. He then kept the man's skull and wore it as a mask. If he wins the tournament however, Calypso offers him a mano-a-mano with the officer who put him in the situation to begin with... and Grimm realizes he acquired a taste for long pork. No explanation needed for what comes next.
- An early level in The Suffering: Ties That Bind features a small Great Depression-era soup kitchen. According to the backstory and various hallucinations, the priest that ran the kitchen was so desperate to feed his starving congregation that he resorted to cooking up human corpses. Even worse, the always-hungry monsters inspired by the event now roam the area in the present.
- Max speaks of his morbid fantasy in the Sam & Max: Freelance Police game The Penal Zone:
Max: Awwww. I was hoping we'd teleport under a pile of immovable rubble and debris. Trapped for weeks, we'll be forced to resort to cannibalism just to survive.Sam: You keep coming up with creepy disaster scenarios that always end up with you eating me, Max. It's getting annoying.Max: If you don't like it, then stop looking so damn tasty!
- In The Oregon Trail II, if you take the California Trail (and more specifically the Hastings Cut-Off if you're playing on higher difficulties) in 1846, you encounter the same snowstorm that the Donner Party got stuck in. The game also allows you to butcher a draft animal if you run out of food, although you don't get to cannibalize your wagonmates. The Dev Team Thinks of Everything!
- The Donner Party is actually discussed in the 5th version. Talking about everything that happened to them except what they're most infamous for. When it gets to that part the narrator simply says "They did things to survive that I don't want to talk about." One of the kids says "I heard that they —" before being told to be quiet. They are mentioned briefly in the second version also.
- In the iPod version of the game the leader of the Donner Party shows up in a town and gives your party food, insisting that they've got more than enough to spare. ...Yeah
- Originally, if a member of a player's wagon train died while the train had reached starvation, the player's food supply was to increase slightly. One can guess where said food would have come from.
- One that did make it to the final cut of a game was the "save person from drowning" event. You don't get a new party member, but you get food instead. It also has the same icon as hunting and fishing events...
- In Tekken, Bruce Irvin's backstory includes him being reduced to this as the sole survivor as a plane crash, at least until some of Kazuya's forces find him.
- At one point in Operation Raccoon City, the Umbrella Security Service run into a group of zombies feasting on each other. Spectre suggest not to judge them before you've survived a Soviet winter.
- Dr. Eisenberg from Alien vs. Predator 2 (game) is implied to have eaten several of the group he was with when stuck on an alien infected world.
- Sufficiently-desperate player characters in Dwarf Fortress's Adventure Mode will be able to butcher sapient creatures for food, even if their species normally frowns on cannibalism.
- In The Last of Us, Ellie and Joel encounter a group of raiders who are shown to eat people they kill. Their leader claims that it's been a harsh winter and they simply do whatever they have to in order to survive, but neither he nor his cronies show the slightest hesitation or remorse in their actions, suggesting it has become routine to them.
- If you run out of supplies in Sunless Sea and can't get back to a port to restock in time, you and your crew have the option of resorting to this. It's even referenced in the game's tagline: "Lose your mind. Eat your crew."
- In Drowtales, this happens all the time in the commoner classes. When food gets scarce, as it so often does in the drow's underground home and food costs raise, eventually slaves start costing less than food, causing many drow to resort rather quickly to eating their slaves. These slaves can be a wide range of species, from human, to elves and other drow.
- Donner? Party of four? 
- In Off-White, The sledders had to resort to eating the dogs. Considering in this world the dogs are intelligent...
- Kate Craig's Heart of Ice, in which the sole survivor of a plane crash in a desolate, frozen landscape is repeatedly visited by a zombie-like creature that eats the corpses of the other travelers. Then you reach the final panels, in which the survivor is covered in blood that clearly isn't his.
- The Onion: "In retrospect, I guess we might have resorted to cannibalism a bit early."
- The unfortunate fate of the crew of the O-Warp Fortune in AJCO. The only survivor was the mission's commander, the Ward R_V. Worse yet: he enjoyed it.
- Referenced in Homestar Runner in a cutaway where Homestar is dreaming he is in a Girl Scout troop
- Discussed on The Ricky Gervais Show, when the trio talk about a shipwreck and the necessary cannibalism. Ricky naturally starts goading Karl by asking him, if Steve were killed, would Karl eat his penis to feed him for a few days - to which Steve interrupts "I should be so lucky."
- Played for horror in the creepypasta Axis Powers Hetalia Episode 235, which is about a supposed Lost Episode of the anime in which the Axis characters are stranded on a Deserted Island and Italy is killed and eaten by a desperate Germany and Japan.
- Jokingly referenced in the College Humor video about airplane safety instructions when the captain assures the passengers that if they crash in the mountains, there's no need to resort to cannibalism for at least one winter. However, if they do run out of food, they're going to start with the third-class passengers and gradually move up to the first class.
- The Simpsons:
Lenny: And there's bananas in that tree up there!Homer: Uh, they look a little green.
- In "King of the Hill", Homer is climbing a mountain. He finds the frozen corpse of Abe's mountaineer partner, whom Abe had tried to eat when they were snowed in back when he tried to climb the mountain.
- In "Simpsons Tall Tales" the story of Johnny Appleseed is retold starring Lisa as "Connie" Appleseed. The settlers decide to eat Homer once they run out of buffalo but luckily, Connie saves the day by bringing them nutritious apples to eat—although Moe had already taken a bite out of him.
- Used again in a Treehouse of Horror episode, where Burns decides to start Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Homer resorts to cannibalism after being chased for just a few hours.
- An episode of Mutant League had the players stranded in the mountains after a plane crash, as Bones set off to find help, the other players started to turn on the reptilian Razor Kid as, apparently, lizards are high in protein. Thanks to his agent, however, Razor only has to give up his tail (which can grow back).
- An episode of South Park had the residents resorting to cannibalism from being locked in a building and eating an entire film crew... Though it had only been four hours, they were just hungry. No one but the mayor feels guilty over it. They started with Eric Roberts:
Jimbo: We have to have the energy to make it through the night. We have to eat.Greenfield: How can we? How could we live with ourselves?Jimbo: There's only one answer: eat Eric Roberts.Mayor: [thoughtfully] Yes, uh-of course. Nobody gives a shit about Eric Roberts.
- Family Guy
Peter: That's crazy! They're just gonna be hungry again in an hour.
- One seafaring episode features Peter, Cleveland, Quagmire, and Joe clinging to a makeshift life raft made from inflatable sex dolls. (No prize for guessing the identity of their owner.) While one of the others complains of hunger, Peter covertly munches on something with his back turned. The paraplegic Joe notices this and wrests the food away, only to discover that Peter has devoured his (Joe's) useless and unfelt legs, leaving bloody stumps. Joe freaks out, of course.
- And in the Y2K-bug apocalypse episode, Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons eat their news-crew colleague, Tricia Takanawa.
- On an episode of American Dad!, the family and a tour guide are shipwrecked on an island inhabited by a bunch of guys who want to hunt them for sport. While fleeing from the hunters, the tour guide is crushed in a cave in, trapping the family within. Francine, Steve, and Haley all decide that they should eat her since she has died, but Stan holds out on moral grounds until he finds out she is an organ donor on her drivers license. After they get through eating her, the hunters dig them out, and it is revealed that it was just a "Most Dangerous Game Theme Park", and they weren't in any danger. The Smiths agree to never speak of this again.
- Pinky and the Brain's Christmas Episode:
Pinky: Look, Brain. The reindeers are inviting elves to join them for a party at Donnerís house.
Brain: Hmm. Somehow the idea of joining the Donner Party is unappealing.
- Played with in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "To Save a Squirrel."
"Eat or be eaten."
- Played with on Kick Buttowski where all the school children on the bus got caught in a snow storm, they all had food with them... but when Jackie eats it all in one sitting, they start going for the seats - of course class President Kendall will not have them ruin school property, so they go for her instead... even Jackie, who seemed more adamant about eating Kendall than anyone else, despite not starving.
- Played with in the Futurama episode "The Deep South", where after the ship is stuck at the bottom of the sea, Hermes holds up a brochure titled Code of Conduct for Cannibalism and attempts to suggest they eat Zoidberg.
- In the Adventure Time episode "Mystery Dungeon", a motley band of Ooo citizens (Ice King, the Earl of Lemongrab, NEPTR, Tree Trunks, and Shelby the worm) are trapped in a dungeon. When it looks like the group is stuck in a dead end, Lemongrab is quick to ask the Ice King how he tastes, and tries to order him to "make yourself into food, immediately!" Fortunately, NEPTR points out an oven and some baking supplies in a corner of the room.
- The Trope Namer is the Donner Party, a group of 1840s US pioneers trying to settle the west of their country who took a shortcut that turned out to be a longcut, which left them in the position of trying to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range during a very harsh winter: they got snowed in by October. While most everybody chose to wait it out, a party of messengers set out to seek help; they reached civilization in January. It took four rescue parties to evacuate the remaining survivors, the last of whom did not reach shelter until nearly May.
- The case of R v. Dudley and Stephens, where three shipwrecked sailors in a lifeboat murdered a fourth, started eating him and were rescued less than a week later. It's often taught in law-related classes, both because it established the important historical precedent that necessity is not grounds for justifiable homicide and because the teachers probably figure that at least it's one case the students are sure to remember.
- The other well-known case of cannibalism at sea occurred in one of the boats from the whale-hunter Essex (which was rammed and sunk by a whale; Melville didn't make that up!). After the survivors were rescued, the officers in charge of the boat went back to sea and had little difficulty filling their crews, which is usually taken as a sign that their actions were accepted as necessary.
- Survivors of the Dutch ship Rooseboom, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine while carrying troops and civilians being evacuated from Singapore in February, 1942, may have resorted to cannibalism as they drifted for nearly 1,000 miles in an overcrowded lifeboat.
- In fact resorting to cannibalism was prevalent enough that in England it was given the Unusual Euphemism of "The Custom of the Sea."
- The members of a rugby team stranded in the Andes were forced to eat their dead while awaiting rescue. Their plight was later made into a movie, Alive!
- In Russia after Red October. During the Russian Civil War, there were many reports of starving villages (their crops having been taken by the Red and White armies) eating their dead or even selling salted body parts.
- It happened in the Ukraine during the Holodomor, a horrific famine from 1932-1933, caused by Stalin's forced collectivization policy. By some accounts it was so common that signs were posted reading, "Eating Dead Children Is Barbaric".
- Under Tsarist Russia, the Famine of 1601-1603 (partially caused by a volcanic eruption in Peru), and the Famine of 1891-1892 (caused by weather and Alexander III's incompentant and oppressive government), had this effect in some areas.
- 2015 arrests by NKVD (acting in their capacity as the police) during The (900-day) Siege of Leningrad. Students of boarding 'Trade Schools', single-parent families disproportionately affected. Main catalyst reduction of rations to 1000 calories daily for children and workers in 'non-essential' industries - versus 1500 calories daily for soldiers and workers in essential industries (survival ration 2000 calories daily). Those arrested 64% female, 44% unemployed, 90% illiterate or ill-educated, 2% with (previous) criminal record - in other words, ordinary housewives. Majority merely 'corpse-eaters', consumers of flesh of those dead of starvation or natural causes - of 300 arrested in March 1942, only 44 arrested for crime of 'person-eating' (i.e. murder and consumption of another). No official distinction in sentencing between 'corpse-eaters' and 'person-eaters', but in practice 'person-eaters' almost certainly all executed.
- First cases on 13/12/1941: Mother smothered 18-month-old daughter to feed self and three older children; 26 y.o. man, fired from tyre-factory, murdered and ate 18 y.o. room-mate; metalworker (and Party member) and son killed two female refugees with a hammer, hid body parts in shed; unemployed plumber killed wife to feed teenage son and nieces, hiding remains in toilets of Lenenergo workers' hostel.
- Senior supply officer Vasili Yershov of 56th Rifle Division, 55th Army, (stationed in Leningrad district): "In early January 1942, the divisional commander started getting urgent calls from regimental and battalion commanders, saying that this or that group of soldiers hadn't been fed, that the [divisional] carrier hadn't appeared with his canteen [containing the soup-ration], having apparently been killed by German snipers. Thorough checks revealed that [...] soldiers were leaving their trenches early in the morning to meet the carriers, stabbing them to death, and taking the food [...] cutting off pieces of human flesh and eating those too. To give you some idea of the numbers I can tell you that in my division [Soviet combat unit with average of 7000 men, total Soviet combat forces in Leningrad district c.300,000 men] in the winter of 1941-2, on the front line alone - taking no account of units in the rear - there were about twenty such cases."
- Allegedly happens during prison breaks. Hardened criminals, who intend to escape, would entice a green one to join them. There's a reason such tagalongs are called "porker".
- Alferd (or Alfred) Packer was an incompetent mountain guide who ate the rest of his party when they became snowbound in the Rockies due to his bad organization. At his trial, the Judge lamented: "There were only seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them!" The student canteen at the University of Colorado (Boulder) is the Alfred Packer Grill; motto: "Have a friend for lunch."
- Accounts vary regarding the exact circumstances of the event (not surprising, as Packer was the sole survivor). Authorities believed he murdered them all himself, while Packed always maintained that it was a partymate who murdered the others and tried to kill Packer before he was able to kill him in self-defense, with the cannibalism a simple matter of survival. Amusingly, after serving a 40 year sentence for manslaughter note , Packer was said to have been a vegetarian for the rest of his life.
- Believed to have been done by the doomed members of the Franklin Expedition, who got lost in the North. Borne out by the saw marks on the recovered bones.
- Alexander Pearce, an Irish convict, was hanged in 1824 for cannibalism and murder, having eaten his comrades after they escaped from a Penal Colony in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Twice.
- When the French frigate Medusa ran aground in 1816, the upperclass passengers were loaded into the lifeboats, while the remaining 150 sailors, traders and labourers were forced onto a makeshift raft. Fearful that the desperate survivors would slow them down, the lifeboat passengers soon cut the tow ropes and set the raft adrift in the open ocean. Violence, mayhem and cannibalism soon overran the helpless raft, and only 15 people survived to be rescued.
- There's widespread evidence that cannibalism against the wealthy and educated was practiced in China's Guangxi province during the Cultural Revolution. It's vehemently denied by the Chinese government (naturally), but cheerfully acknowledged by (some) residents of the province.
- Defectors from North Korea have said that cannibalism was practiced during a 1996 famine. It's also been alleged to have happened during other periods of famine in the last several decades.
- Believed to have happened to the native inhabitants of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
- In one famous shipwreck (name forgotten) several boats of survivors got away. The boat crew in best condition when they landed after several weeks without food didn't eat their dead comrade but cut him up and used him as bait to catch fresh fish. Those who ate them arrived much nearer death than the fish-eaters (who also gained by the fresh water contained in the fish flesh.)
- Related in contemporary documents from the late phase of the Thirty Years' War, when famine affected wide regions of Germany. As described in C. V. Wedgwood's The Thirty Years' War:
"In Alsace the bodies of criminals were torn from the gallows and devoured; in the whole Rhineland they watched the graveyards against marauders who sold the flesh of the newly buried for food; at Zweibrucken a woman confessed to having eater her child. In Fulda and Coburg and near Frankfurt and the great refugee camp, men went in terror of being killed and eaten by those maddened by hunger."
- There are many accounts of cannibalism in the Jamestown colony in Virginia during the "starving time" of 1609-10. Recently unearthed remains from the colony site of a 14-year-old girl whose body was butchered with knives and cleavers after her death reveal that the Jamestown colonists did indeed resort to cannibalism.
- Canadian Thanksgiving is in celebration of the Frobisher Expedition coming back without having to resort to cannibalism.
- Ref. Monty Python sketch where an irate Royal Navy officer insists that "we're dealing with it - it's the bloody RAF who have got the problem!" (See above). In 1942, Fleet Air Arm officer Lieut. Charles Lamb was in a prisoner-of-war camp run by the Vichy French. As camp provost (in charge of discipline among prisoners) he interviewed a newly-arrived Royal Air Force crew, who the French had discovered drifting in the Med for over a month after being shot down. Lamb remarked that their make of plane normally has a four man crew but only three had arrived as prisoners. The three survivors looked at each other, and confessed to Lamb there had indeed been a wounded fourth crew member. At least at first...
- During the island hopping campaigns of World War II (see War In Asia And The Pacific for more details), Japanese soldiers were known to resort to this. Their supply lines were typically poor, especially with any Japanese attempt to reinforce them by sea or air being frequently frustrated by US Air Force and Naval blockades. As a result, deceased comrades would be eaten. To make it more horrific, however, this was a fate that befell some unfortunate POW's, some of whom were still alive when subjected to this treatment. One infamous case was when the Japanese garrison on the island of Chichi Jima executed and ate Navy fliers who were shot down. (Freakishly enough, the one pilot who was rescued by the US Navy was George H.W. Bush). 30 of the Japanese garrison were tried, and five convicted. It has also been alleged that instead of being killed straight away, some were kept alive - to keep the meat fresh.