"[And] as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, – sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!"
Life can be hard for the small businessperson. But fiction likes to make things easier for small time purveyors of secondary meat products. It seems that workers in the early industrial food industry must have been very prone to getting caught in the machinery and ending up in the final product.
The one surefire way to boost sales and turn your products into the talk of the market is by adding a certain Mystery Meat. No, not the "love and care" that the packaging promises, but the arms and legs of wage slaves. The adding of long pork, raised free-range on a nearby farm, instantly transforms all of your meat pies and sausages and whatnot into pure delights.
This subtrope of I'm a Humanitarian and Human Resources seem to get off on that same impulse as the reveals of Powered by a Forsaken Child machinery or the connotations of Evil Tastes Good: deep down we suspect that all the wrong and taboo things are actually the tastiest — and perhaps They have banned the peons from indulging in them to keep them for Themselves.
A variation is the Urban Legend that street vendors use stray animals to make meat products such as kabobs. It may be Truth in Television in some parts of the world. Indeed, the phrase "long pork" comes from a euphemism for human flesh in the South Pacific, some areas of which did have cannibalistic traditions. Serial Killers such as Fritz Haarmann, Karl Denke and Robert Pickton have also been accused of doing this with the meat of their victims. There are also rumors that human flesh tastes like pork (pigs are close enough that some organs can be transplanted), except better for some reason.
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In Hack/Slash, Delilah Hack mixed the remains of the children she butchered into the food she served in her job as a school lunch lady.
In The Spider comic "Blazing Lead for the Walking Dead" in Titanic Tales, a wealthy woman runs a restuarant that serves human flesh to New York's upper crust (without them knowing what it is).
In a Spider-Man story where Maggia bosses are turning up dead, we're told the cops who were first on the scene at a butcher's won't talk about what they found ... or why they've stopped eating meat. (It turns out that they all faked their deaths ... but this guy used cloning to do so, so there was human tissue involved.)
Subverted in Transmetropolitan. In a future where eating cloned human meatnote Along with French-speakers and New Zealanders is perfectly legal, fast food chains like Long Pig proudly advertise their practice of serving people to people.
In "Mess Call," in Tales from the Crypt #41 a German butcher kept a shop which - despite rationing - was always curiously well-supplied with meat...
In Motel Hell, Farmer Vincent makes the best smoked meat in the Deep South. It is because he makes them from people.
In Parents, a young boy in a Stepford Smiler Fifties discovers that his folks have been serving human flesh as "leftovers" all along.
The movie Eating Raoul is about a middle-class couple who try to get the money to open their dream restaurant by killing perverts, or at least "perverts" according to their lights. The trope is only played out completely straight once; most of their victims' bodies go to a dog-food company but the ending implies that it may have become a regular occurrence at the restaurant.
James: (taking a second serving of the entree) This is delicious. Is it French?
Mary: It's more ...Spanish.
James: Well, whatever it is, I do hope you'll have it on the menu at your restaurant.
Before he became a killer snowman, Jack Frost baked people into pies.
Consuming Passions starts with accidental cannibalism (three men die by falling in a vat of chocolate), but the "new recipe" of course turns out immensely popular.
One of the heroes in Monster Man finds out to his horror that he is eating chili made of people.
In Microwave Massacre, the main character is a cannibalistic serial killer who at one point shares some of his homemade lunches with his oblivious construction worker buddies. They love them.
The "gin sung" the main characters are served throughout Shriek of the Mutilated turns out to be human flesh.
Delicatessen is about a butcher shop that starts serving human meat because of meat shortages. People flock to it, eager for some of the good stuff.
In the Michael Palin-scripted TV movie Secrets, a brand of chocolate that accidentally becomes contaminated with the mashed-up bodies of a pair of unfortunate humans becomes wildly popular with the public, necessitating drastic action on the part of the factory managers to keep stocks up...
Also mentioned in The Book of Eli. The old couple offering sandwiches of lunch meat that couldn't possibly exist.
There's a story somewhere in the Historia Regum Britanniae of a King wounded and stranded on a deserted island. In desparation, his loyal servant cuts a slice out of his own leg and serves it to the King as pork, and the King finds it to be the most delicious meat he's ever tasted, and totally revitalizing to boot.
The Stanley Ellin story "Specialty of the House" deals with an exclusive restaurant which offers kitchen tours to its (fattened) premier customers, who are never seen again. It's implied but not stated outright that they become food, and that at least some of the meals they formerly enjoyed were also human flesh. Kind of an unusual example in that there is no indication of this trope being in play because of financial difficulties- it's more to the effect that humans taste good.
In Maskerade, cheesemaker Mr Bucket recalls the day two of his workers were having an argument, and one of them "slipped" and fell in the vat, concluding "That was some of the finest Farmhouse Nutty we ever made."
In The Truth, Dibbler is trying to sell sausages to Mr. Tulip, who seems to actually want a bad sausage. So he says "When someone cut their finger off in the abbatoir, they didn't even stop the grinder." Since it's Dibbler, this is probably true, but doesn't actually make his sausages any better, even for Mr. Tulip, who says they're -ing awful.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, inns in the Flea Bottom area of Kings Landing are known for serving a distinctive stew known as "brown", that is rumored to contain people. For instance, when Tyrion has his hired sword Bronn kill an attempted blackmailer in the area, Bronn comments that the man will end up as stew. Tyrion is later squicked out when he meets a mercenary for whom brown is a Trademark Favorite Food. In the prequel novella "The Mystery Knight", Dunk remembers an incident in his childhood in Flea Bottom wherein he and some other kids played with a severed head taken from the site of executions. After a while, the head became very decomposed, so they disposed of it by throwing it in a cooking pot.
Also present in the setting's myths. The Rat Cook, a cook of the Night's Watch, served a king a pie made of bacon and, unbeknownst to him, the king's son in response to having been wronged by the king. The gods punished the cook for slaying a guest beneath his roof and transformed him into a giant rat that was unable to eat anything besides his own young.
In A Dance with Dragons, Wyman Manderly, an incredibly fat lord, is called to Winterfell to attend a wedding, bringing along a large amount of food with him. It is strongly hinted that he had three Freys cooked into pies as revenge for the Red Wedding.He eats a large amount of pie at the wedding feast all while he has his bard sing the tale of the aforementioned Rat Cook.
There just aren't the human resources on Dagobah for anything like a store or restaurant, but in Galaxy of Fear: The Hunger Zak finds that the meat from a dead starving cannibal, offered to him by another starving cannibal, to look and smell disgusting. Later he finds the stew made from a healthier and better fed human to smell amazing, though he does admit that by then it's been over a day since his last meal. ...Of course, he didn't know this meat was people.
In the 1964 Arthur C. Clarke short story "Food of the Gods", we have stopped killing animals for meat and started to grow tissue in vats instead (to help support our even-more-massive population). People actually retch at the thought of eating animal flesh, although the vast majority of the various manufactured foods replicate the characteristics of various meats exactly. Several companies manufacture the stuff and get into a competition about who can make the best. Eventually, one company makes one that apparently tastes delicious and is perfectly tailored to human needs, calling it "Ambrosia Plus". The competition goes before a Senate subcommittee to explain why this might be a problem:
Yes, Triplanitary's chemists have done a superb technical job. Now you have to resolve the moral and philosophical issues. When I began my evidence, I used the archaic word 'carnivore'. Now I must introduce you to another: I'll spell it out the first time: C-A-N-N-I-B-A-L....
In Bill Pronzini's short story "The Same Old Grind", this is how the German deli owner Giftholz is able to get away with charging two dollars for a full course sausage hero sandwich meal.
In Jaume Roig's novel Espill, the protagonist tells the story of how he was eating in a restaurant and found a human finger there. The story came earlier than Sweeny Todd story because Jaume Roig's lived in the Fifteenth century.
The Criminal Minds episode "Lucky" had a cannibal who owned a little BBQ restaurant. You can probably guess how things proceeded.
Tales from the Crypt episode "What's Cookin'". The owners of a failing restaurant find success when they begin to use meat supplied by a drifter.
Although this may appear to be the specialty of the sinister butcher in The League of Gentlemen, Word of God is the "special stuff" is not human flesh. It's much, much worse.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Doublemeat Palace" Buffy suspects that the local fast food outlet's High Turnover Rate is due to it using its employees as the Secret Ingredient in their burgers. Subverted when it turns out a demon is eating the workers because they taste good, and the secret ingredient is that the burgers don't have any meat in them, only a soy product with beef flavouring.
A variation is used in an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode. A fashionable new restaurant serves a delicious and world famous soup which is eventually found out to require human lives to make, but not in the way the protagonists expect. Instead, they investigate the rear areas of the restaurant and see rooms where people are kept prisoner and subject to terrors beyond belief. Their fear is physically collected by the chef into liquid form and used to season the soup.
The Ben Stiller Show has a sketch featuring T.J. O'Pootertoot's, a restaurant serving burgers that taste "oddly familiar." One of the employees learns that the original O'Pootertoot was stuck in a Donner party-esque situation and later turned his newfound taste for human meat into a franchise.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: In "Appendicitement", the owner of a BBQ restuarant was killed by his wife and the cook, who then disposed of the body by cooking it up and serving it to the customers. The flashback implies it was very popular.
Sons of Anarchy has an episode where the cartel attempts to intimidate the gang by pulling a drive-by on the garage and throwing some severed heads into the driveway. When the cops show up soon after, Chucky is left holding the bag on where to stow the heads, and he ends up shoving them into some pots of chili that Gemma had cooking. The cops ask for a few bowls, and love it.
Hannibal's dinner parties are the toast of Baltimore.
The Good Eats episode "Oh My, Meat Pie" has Alton's Identical Ancestor stumbling upon Mrs. Lovett's pie shop and teaching her how to make dishes like shepherd's pie using the..."lamb" provided by her friend, Mr. Todd. The episode ends by revealing that Mrs. Lovett ended up marrying Alton's ancestor, and some time after they arrived in America he disappeared under mysterious circumstances...
The druggist's mother-in-law in Tom Lehrer's "My Hometown" ends up as ice cream topping.
In the folk song "Johnny Verbeck/Trebek/Quebec", the eponymous character, a butcher, makes a sausage machine and feeds the neighborhood animals into it until it breaks, and he climbs inside for repairs. His sleepwalking wife pulls the crank and "Johnny Trebek was meat".
In Call of Cthulhu, many of the tcho-tcho (a race of cannibal pygmies from southeast Asia from some of August Derleth's Cthulhu mythos stories) have immigrated to the United States, where some run restaurants that serve "bak bon dzhow"—human nerve-cell paste—which induces dreams of cannibalism in people who eat it. They do this for no apparent reason other than to be evil. It feels uncomfortably like racist urban legends about Chinese restaurants serving cat and dog meat to unsuspecting white people.
Top Secret adventure "Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle''. Anyone who dies in "Sanctuary" (a local hospital) is ground up and sold to the public.
In the ShadowrunGermany sourcebook, one bit of shadowtalk appended to the description of Berlin refers to a restaurant that reputedly plays this trope straight. Another shadowtalker immediately posts to deny the place even exists, however.
One of the sample cults from Hunter: The Vigil is a Cannibal Cult hidden behind the front of a celebrity chef's gourmet restaurant. The pate is apparently to die for... and made at a farm on the city's outskirts, where children are force-fed like geese to produce a rich and fatty liver.
This is the second guaranteed fixture of Sweeney Todd tellings after "throat slashing barber" - the bodies are then used to make Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, initially just for body disposal but often it then turns out that this just increases the flavour.
Done for vengeance, rather than savings, in Titus Andronicus, when Titus murders the two brothers who raped and disfigured his daughter, bakes them into a pie, and feeds them to their unknowing mother.
In Fallout: New Vegas, a former Hooker with a Heart of Gold talks about how back when he was a butcher, his family's business was beat out by a competitor. He stated that people who ate said meat got "the shakes", which he knew you could only get from eating human flesh. Sure enough, when the person died, they uncovered corpses hidden underneath his home.
The EVE Online chronicle Lost Stars has it that a beverage once in development by the Quafe company owed its addictive properties to human biomass.
In Drowtales Vaelia, a human living among a society of drow that not only use her kind as slaves, but often view them as a food source, is jokingly told the meat she is being served is human meat. Despite it being a joke, the fact it could be human meat anyway is enough to make Vaelia eat a loaf of bread instead.
In HomestuckGamzee shows up out of the blue in Act 6 to sell "potions" to Jane that suspiciously have the same (blood) color and promised properties as each of the dead trolls whose bodies he had hidden away. You can try to turn him down, But Thou Mustbuy them from him either way.
A mind controlled/corrupted Jane continues the tradition by reselling the "potions" to Kanaya. They don't even bother hiding what they are since the the buyer is a a vampire and thus wouldn't mind (and in fact killed one of them). She seems to lack any control and buys THOUSANDS of bottles.
Another "Treehouse of Terror" episode had a segment sending up Sweeney Todd. Homer falls in Moe's microbrewery still and the beer gets infused with his blood. Moe serves the pink brew to Marge, which reminds her of her husband for some reason. Moe keeps the truth secret in an attempt to get Marge all to himself.
In the first episode of Bob's Burgers, Bob has to fight allegations that his burgers have human meat.
Animaniacs has a variant in the Rita & Runt parody of Les Misérables, where Rita's owner's meat pies are not selling, so he starts secretly using the cats he shelters for the pies. Since the protagonist is a cat, it has the same effect.
In the Futurama episode "Fun on a Bun", Fry is helping Bender make sausage from frozen mammoth meat when he gets caught in the grinder. When Leela bites into a link and finds shraps of Fry's hair and clothes, she assumes the worst. Turns out Fry escaped being ground up, but fell into a hole in the ice and discovered a Lost World of Neanderthals. While the sausage was just good because it was "aged" for 30,000 years.
Also from Futurama is the following dialogue (roughly):
Fry: What's the secret of Slurm? Maybe, it's people?
Leela: No, that's Soylent Cola.
Fry: Oh... how's it taste?
Leela: It varies from person to person.
Further alluded to in "My Three Suns", when the gang visits a Neptunian market.
Fry: Wow! They've got every kind of meat here except human. Neptunian Butcher: What, you want human?
Played with in Sponge Bob Square Pants where Plankton (with the help of his entire family) seemingly finally discovers the secret recipe for the Krabby Patty, only to learn that the main ingredient is four heaping pounds of freshly ground plankton. Turns out it was a fake recipe Mr. Krabs had to dupe him.
Teen Titans: This is apparently the secret ingredient in Mother May Eye's pies (and not love) as she she attempts to bake Robin, Raven and Starfire into pies in "Pie Bros".