That crunching noise that's pervading the air?
It's man devouring man, my dear—
And who are we to deny it in here?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Cannibalism is considered one of the greatest taboos, so, naturally, it's become a trope. One idea which stands out is that human flesh is superficially similar to swine flesh, hence the nickname "long pig" and the phrase "eating the long pork". note A robot designed to taste wine corroborates this idea. Thus, it should be delicious, which is reflected both in Hannibal Lecter's gourmet tastes, and in the idea in Sweeney Todd that pies with this ingredient would sell like hotcakes. Or hot pies.
A mostly Discredited Trope (see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for an exception) is a variation that portrays members of non-European societies as cannibalistic, often attempting to cook visiting Europeans in a pot. See Cannibal Film for the Exploitation subgenre based on this.
In Speculative Fiction, cannibalism is generally extended to include eating all sapient or humanoid creatures, even if they aren't technically eating their own species. Any species that includes humans (or other humanoids) in its diet is usually portrayed as villainous, as is any species that routinely eats members of its own social group. Likewise, humans treating other sapient species as food are rarely treated sympathetically (unless What Measure Is a Non-Human? is in effect). If an alien or monster race make a practice of eating their own (as well as or instead of humans), then we have a case of Monstrous Cannibalism.
If the cannibal systematically hunts down people on a regular basis so they can eat them, they'll be a Serial Killer as well.
Because cannibalism is such a heavy taboo in most cultures, someone who willingly engages in the practice will usually be treated as having crossed the Moral Event Horizon.
As an interesting side note, whether you can be criminally charged with cannibalism (in the United States at least). Only 16 of the 50 states have laws that explicitly make eating other people illegal. The other 34 tend to handle such cases under the purview of laws dealing with desecration or molestation of dead bodies.
A subtrope of I Ate WHAT?! and Human Resources. Can also involve Carnivore Confusion without furries (or maybe with furries - see the paragraph on Speculative Fiction above.) See To Serve Man for when aliens and monsters find us tasty. Picky People Eater and Brain Food is for those not interested in mere muscles. See also Let's Meet the Meat. Compare No Party Like a Donner Party, in which persons are forced into cannibalism due to starvation, or The Secret of Long Pork Pies, for when someone is unknowingly tricked into it. And when you get down to the bitter dregs, there's Autocannibalism. Also see Fattening the Victim, where people are fattened before being eaten.
Note that this trope applies to non-humans who are sentient or otherwise capable of independent thought or communication even if they only eat their own kind. Likewise, this trope is not about anyone eating humans. It's about cannibalism.
Interesting note: In many cultures this is actually the primary method of funerary rites, done either under the logic that the dead will be able to live on in their loved ones, or simply to make use of a perfectly good hunk of meat that no longer happens to be a person with rights, depending on the culture in question.
Truth in Television (including Nature red in tooth and claw according to The Other Wiki, more than 1500 species are known eaters of their own), and often so disturbing we ask No Real Life Examples, Please!
- Artificial Cannibalism: The act of eating synthetic or simulated human meat, e.g. vegan zombies or cartoon predators going vegetarian.
- Autocannibalism: The act of eating yourself.
- Black Comedy Cannibalism: When the horrific act of cannibalism is treated as a sick joke.
- Brain Food: Eating brains. This is often a walking corpse's favorite body part.
- Cannibal Clan: A family of cannibals, e.g. the Beane clan.
- Cannibalism Superpower: Someone takes on someone else's superpowers by eating them, e.g. Kirby.
- Cannibal Larder: Where a cannibal keeps their "leftovers". For example, the remains of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmers victims were kept in his fridge.
- Cannibal Tribe: A group of people who eat other people. Unlike Cannibal Clan, they dont have to be related.
- Captured by Cannibals: When primitive tribesmen kidnap foreigners, they are in danger of being eaten by them.
- Child Eater: Someone who eats young children.
- Consuming Passion: Devouring someone is treated as sexual or arousing, either by a character or implied by the work, such as vore art.
- Devoured by the Horde: Someone is eaten by a group of people. This is common in zombie movies.
- Eat Brain for Memories: Memories are transferred through the consumption of brain tissue.
- Eaten Alive: Someone gets devoured while still alive.
- Eating the Enemy: If you can't beat them, just eat them!
- Eat Me: Someone wants to be swallowed (whole) by a monster, so they can kill the beast from inside their belly.
- Eats Babies: They have a specific preference for infants.
- Eat the Rich: When starving peasants eat wealthy people.
- Familial Cannibalism Surprise: Tricking people into eating their own family members.
- Fattening the Victim: Force feeding someone or something until they've gotten plump enough to be cooked and eaten.
- Fed to Pigs: Feeding a (usually dead) human body to domestic pigs.
- Fed to the Beast: Serving up your enemies as a feast for a hungry animal or monster.
- Flesh-Eating Zombie: A walking corpse or corpse-like human that eats the flesh of the living.
- Food Chain of Evil: Monsters who eat other types of monsters.
- Food Eats You: When anthropomorphic food decide to turn the tables on humans by trying to eat them.
- God-Eating: When a mortal or god eats a divine being.
- Horror Hunger: A character who's been possessed by (or transformed into) a monster begins to feel hungry for other people.
- Human Resources: Getting resources from a person's body.
- Hungry Menace: Someone who eats people or eats from them.
- Invited as Dinner: A character is invited to dinner, and they end up being dinner.
- Kill the Poor: If one decides to take Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal way too literally.
- Let's Meet the Meat: When livestock animals actually demand to have their own kind eaten by people.
- Life Drinker: When the predator drains life energy from the prey.
- Literal Maneater: A female monster who seduces unwitting human men before eating them.
- Mantis Mating Meal: Sexual cannibalism by female praying mantises.
- Monstrous Cannibalism: When monstrous creatures eat their own kind.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: Cannibalism as a desperate measure against starvation.
- No Zombie Cannibals: Alternatively, predatory monsters (usually) have no desire to eat each other, only preying upon humans.
- Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Cannibalistic monsters that feast on the flesh of corpses.
- Ouroboros: A symbol of a serpent eating itself.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Blood-drinkers of all sorts.
- Picky People Eater: A cannibal is picky over what part of the human to eat.
- Sapient Eat Sapient: Two individuals of sapient (though not necessarily human) species are smart enough to be considered people. But one person wants to eat the other anyways.
- The Secret of Long Pork Pies: Someone cooks human meat as a secret ingredient in their food, and then serves it to unwitting guests.
- Soul Eating: Consuming people's souls rather than their physical bodies.
- Stewed Alive: A character gets put into a cooking soup while still alive, e.g. in the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
- To Serve Man: Predatory non-human creatures that prey on people.
- Vampiric Draining: Certain kinds of monsters prefer to consume blood instead of flesh.
- Voluntary Vampire Victim: Someone willingly acts as a living food source to regularly satisfy a monster's appetite.
- Wendigo: According to Algonquin legends, eating human flesh will cause you to turn into a man-eating monster.
- You Are Who You Eat: Eating a person in order to shapeshift into them.
- Your Brain Won't Be Much of a Meal: Zombies want to eat someone's brain, but it's unfit for them as that person is too stupid.
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