Named for the famous example of the Donner Party, who ate the bodies of their comrades who had died of hunger in order to survive the harsh winter of 1846-47.
Compare Eat the Dog, Reduced to Ratburgers, Too Desperate to Be Picky, and Cold Equation. Contrast I'm a Humanitarian, where the character eats their fellow human out of enjoyment. When animals or monsters eat their own kind, thus demonstrating they're ravenous and/or vicious, that's Monstrous Cannibalism.
- 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 to try to eat him when he was just a baby. Asura himself performed cannibalism as a means of survival until he met a monk. Eight years had 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.
- This trope is suggested as part of Senshi's backstory in Delicious in Dungeon. After being stranded in the dungeon for many days, his crew was whittled down to three people and starving to death. His comrades left the room, there was a loud struggle, and then only one of them came back. It was ambiguous whether he butchered a monster or another dwarf. It is ultimately subverted, however, as Laius deduces that the meat Senshi ate was actually hippogriff.
- "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.
- When Vandal Savage discovered that his regenerative immortality was failing him, and all his secret organ banks had been dismantled by Lex Luthor's Society, he briefly attempted to spend the last of his days trying to kill the original Green Lantern. When this failed, and he was left alone in the rubble of his base with only a clone of himself he created as part of the plan, he ended up eating the clone, both for food and to restore his immortality.
- Ravenous (1999) has a group of pioneers who became stranded in the mountains and turned to cannibalism. However, because the film is also a take on the wendigo myth, anyone who eats other people gains that person's strength/life force, a Healing Factor that can overcome virtually all injuries or disease... and a Horror Hunger that compels them to continue eating more people. The film's villain is the last survivor of that pioneer group, and who, after eating everyone else in the group, is superhumanly strong, tough, and absolutely determined to continue devouring others.
- 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.
- The same incident that inspired Alive was earlier dramatized in the 1976 Mexican production Survive!.
- 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 rather 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!"
- See the Alive entry, above, though Servo got the name of the sport wrong.
- In Snowpiercer, back when the train started moving, the tail end was overcrowded and there wasn't any food, so after a month, the strong ate the weak. Eventually, people started offering limbs so that no more people had to die. When the population had been sufficiently reduced, the people up front started giving them "protein bars".
Curtis: Know what I hate most about myself? I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste 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 nametags 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 inferred he had quite a healthy appetite over the years.
- The escaped convicts in Van Diemen's 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.
- In the film Lucky Stiff, Ron Douglass (Joe Alasky) is a dude brought back by Cynthia Mitchell (Donna Dixon) to her family home, up near Donner Pass. Seems they are descended from the Donner family and still practice cannibalism, using her to lure the "holiday meal" back home. BTW, they "keep the bloodline pure" by also practicing incest. (How they got someone who looks like Donna Dixon in the family is anyone's guess.)
- The Severed Arm has a group of trapped miners resort to eating the arm of one of the group's members. Years later, they start being hunted down and killed off by someone who wants revenge.
- In Welcome to the Jungle, shortly after the team becomes stranded, corrupt executive Phil suggests killing and eating Javier since "he's the fattest one."
- Used for a Bait-and-Switch in Screamers: The Hunting. The search team find a few survivors who are a bit vague as to where they get food to eat. So it's no surprise when the team find several people imprisoned alongside a bloody dissection table. Once rescued however, the 'victims' are quickly revealed to be the advanced model cyborg Screamers. Ironically they probably were being used for food and spare parts; the Screamers do the same with human bodies, after all.
- 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.
- Averted in The Shining, though the actual Donner Party is mentioned several times by Wendy, while she's fretting about their winter at the hotel. Once the snow falls, the pass from Sidewinder to the Overlook is completely blocked, and the family is snowed in. However, Hallorann made sure they had enough food for a year for just the three of them.
- 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-committee 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 — some regions of the Kingdom take a dimmer view of it than others do, but almost all despise outright murder for the cookpot. You're either supposed to wait for somebody to die, first... or for them to offer themselves. There's a bit of a grey area around the subsequent disposal of the bodies of people who have been accidentally murdered or killed due to other reasons; but, hey: protein. The Skagosi are said to not wait, like at all (and, in fact, to outright go hunting) — for which they are roundly despised.
Euron Crow's Eye: They refused to eat of their friends flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.
- When Stannis' army is snowed in, several soldiers are said to have killed and eaten another and are therefore executed for it (although most of the Northmen suspect they didn't, in fact, murder the guy they wound up eating, so think the followers of R'hllor are likely being over-pernickety about this whole affair specifically because they want an excuse to burn a few people for Blood Magic rituals: donner vs sacrificial-magic to a god of an unknown nature — donner wins as being more socially acceptable in the North, if rather more risky to defend with the raving fanatics who tend to burn people alive when crossed).
- In Astapor, even its rulers were accused of it as the city gradually starved as all its economy came to a grinding halt thanks to being besieged. The common folk definitely resorted to it.
- There's also suspicion about exactly what kinds of meat go into the bowls of "brown" (cheap stew) they sell in Flea Bottom in King's Landing. Heck, this (well-founded) suspicion/rumour about the stuff remains alive and well even when the realm is in plenty, but when food becomes short due to war, and especially when the Tyrell blockade on trade from the Reach to the Crownlands starts to bite, it's remarkable that the bowls o' brown just keep coming. Regardless. And, winter has only now just started...
- 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 Jules Verne's works:
- In the 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.
- The Adventures of Captain Hatteras have the heroes stumble upon the remains of their runaway comrades toward the end, and realize from the condition of the corpses that the trope must have taken place.
- 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 (1999) (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...
- In Hammerjack, when the final terraforming effort on Mars failed, some of the SEF soldiers stationed there survived until the evacuation ships arrived by killing and eating the civilians.
- The Golgotha Series has the Donner Party themselves appear in The Shotgun Arcana. Being driven to cannibalism renders them vulnerable to the evil influence of the Skull of the First Murderer.
- Steve Duffy's historical horror story "The Clay Party" follows travelers on the trail to California who get trapped over the winter, with results similar to the original Donner Party. But with added werewolves.
- Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road mentions The Wendigo, an Ojibway legend about a creature that takes over when a person resorts to cannibalism while lost in the woods. Not only does the person develop a taste for human flesh, the Wendigo's appetite is insatiable.
- The Reader (2016) has a story within it called Captain Cat and her Cannibal Crew, in which the titular crew does this after being shipwrecked.
- In The Rook Series by B. Berry, Michael, Silvermin, and Tuesday are shipwrecked, and when they run out of food, they draw lots to see who will be eaten. Tuesday gets the short end of the stick. At the end, though, it's revealed that Michael, whose real name is Zachary, drew the shortest lot, and the narrative is Tuesday trying to cope with it.
- The Fifth Season's setting has periodic "Seasons" where it turns into a barren Death World, so although every walled community has large food caches reserved, it's a fact of life during a Season that "You don't think about the meat." That said, while people tacitly accept it when it's necessary, one group of snobby Sanzed elites have had a bad reputation for over a millennium since they maintained the practice voluntarily after a Season ended.
- Testament, by David Morrell. The protagonist and his daughter have to hide above the snow line in a winter forest from implacable pursuers. The daughter dies, and the father is so desperate for food he wonders if he can bring himself to eat her. Fortunately a wolf which stole some food from their fire earlier returns with an animal it's killed — turns out it liked the taste of the cooked meat and wants the human to make more.
- 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.
- In the "Lost Plane Crash" sketch on Studio C, Matt almost immediately suggests eating the "deceased" pilot of their crashed plane. The joke is that everyone except Jeremy seems oblivious to the fact that the plane went down within a stone's throw of civilization.
Matt: Well, at least now we have food. These peanuts... will make a great garnish.
- An episode of the horror anthology Masters of Horror was "The Washingtonians". During the harsh winter at Valley Forge, George Washington and the colonial troops resorted to cannibalism to survive. Unfortunately, Washington developed a taste for human flesh, quickly degenerating into I'm a Humanitarian, and went out of his way to eat it. He professed a desire to turn America into a nation of cannibals. The Washingtonians are a secret conspiracy that has been hiding Washington's true history, as well as indulging in cannibalism themselves.
- In the Season 3 premiere of Penny Dreadful, the Creature is on a ship trapped in Arctic ice. Some surviving sailors huddled within their blankets argue about turning cannibal, having already scrounged everything even vaguely edible on board.
- '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.
- Not what the song is about, but Sam Roberts' "Brother Down" video features the four bandmembers stranded in a rowboat on the ocean. Then three and they're throwing away the bones.
- 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.
- 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 neighbour to boil and eat their sons. Her problem? The neighbour 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.
- Happens twice in the comedy play The Conquest of the North Pole by Jára Cimrman, which focuses on a fictional Czech Arctic expedition who conquered the North Pole one day before Robert Peary.
- The first time around, they persuade their friend Fritenský to take his clothes off to make him freeze to death, until they discover he's been hiding a goose under his coat the whole timenote .
- After conquering the North pole, they realise they don't have enough supplies for the way back (all calculated perfectly, but forgot to multiply it by two), so they decide to spit-roast a frozen member of a previous expedition, Berannote .
- 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!
- The Oregon Trail series:
- The Oregon Trail II allows you to 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 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.
- They are also discussed in the third version, in which someone in Independence will mention that the person who told them about the shortcut should be charged as a criminal.
- 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. Supposedly, everyone at MECC wanted this to be in the game, but management vetoed it.
- 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 Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, the Umbrella Security Service run into a group of zombies feasting on each other. Spectre suggests not to judge them before you've survived a Soviet winter.
- Dr. Eisenberg from Alien vs. Predator II 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." This is also the trope behind the travails of one of your officers, the Sigil-Ridden Navigator.
- Happens in the worst ending of Mermaid Swamp, where Rin ends up locked in a room for days with nothing but the fish tanks with the "mermaid" corpses in it. She eventually gives in and bursts open a tank to feed.
- A major plot point in Until Dawn Wendigos are people possessed by the spirit of a dead Wendigo from the act of eating human flesh. During the game's backstory, a group of thirty miners were trapped underground during the winter for the better part of a month, and eventually resorted to eating their dead to survive, becoming the first Wendigos soon after their rescue. This fate also befell Hannah after she was trapped in the mine and was forced to eat her sister's corpse, and it happens to Josh if he survives to the ending.
- At the very end of the game, Six from Little Nightmares has another one of her hunger attacks, and there is nothing in sight to eat but the Lady. The Nome she ate might also count as cannibalism, since they could very well be sentient creatures.
- In Rimworld, it is possible to order your colonists to butcher and skin human corpses for meat and hides. This is generally an absolute last-resort to fend off starvation when there is no other food available, as butchering and eating human meat will severely impact the morale of your colonists unless they have the Cannibal, Bloodlust or Psychopath traits. If you start in an arctic biome (where wildlife is scarce and crops are impossible to grow) then cannibalism may be a requirement for survival.
- Grim Dawn has a series of Apocalyptic Log lore notes in the Asterkarn Road area detailing this. A caravan of migrants seeking to travel south become trapped when the Cult of Ch'thon closes the pass through the mountains and snow keeps them from heading back north. At first the cannibalism is incidental, eating the bodies of people who had died of other causes. Then the narrator and her husband start using their pre-teen daughter as a Honey Trap to bait men and kill them, then they eat the husband when he gets badly wounded. By the end the mother and daughter have gone utterly feral and turned into Wendigos.
- Grisaia no Kajitsu: Amane Suou's route features a high school field trip bus crash in an isolated forest in the mountains. Weeks pass without help and eventually with the food supply having dropped to effectively nothing, the survivor's first eat the dead puppy that a student smuggled with her to a field trip. That doesn't sustain them long enough as eventually some of the students start passing away from malnutrition or their injuries from the crash. The teacher 'conveniently finds' some meat at this point and distributes them to the students (Kazuki Kazami, a student partnered with Amane, refuses to eat it and successfully advises Amane to do likewise.) The meat turns out to be the remains of the dead students which he was supposed to have respectfully buried. Amane and Kazuki attempts to make their escape once it becomes apparent that at some point the teacher and the other students start to mentally degrade out of hunger and desperation to an aggressive ghoul state where they won't even wait for the other students to die on their own before consuming them.
- 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.
- Biter Comics: Three friends, caught in the snow with no food, resort to Drawing Straws to pick a lucky winner for dinner. It's soon revealed, however, that the situation was far less dire than you would be led to believe.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Discussed. When it becomes clear that Reynir is going to be staying with the crew over the duration of the mission, the first thing on everyone's mind, including Reynir's own, is what this is going to mean for their food supply. All Reynir can really do about it is apologize and promise to not eat too much. Mikkel, the man he's apologizing to, happens to like trolling people, so his reply includes (hopefully) joking that in the worse case scenario, they can always eat Reynir.
- In a Team Fortress 2 comic, upon discovering Merasmus lied about being the pizza delivery man, Soldier says that everyone at the Halloween party will starve unless they agree to eat Scout.
- 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 23.5, 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 CollegeHumor 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 Grossery Gang webseries arc "Mount Yuck", has Pizza Face, Doc Broc, and Sparkles stranded on the aforementioned mountain (while Pizza Face is managing an unconscious fear of heights). Pizza Face worries he'll have to resort to this on the others... with the joke being they're all living food, and still living as he imagines eating into them, despite their protests.
- 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.
- A more recent episode has the family trapped on a cruise ship that mistakenly believes there is a pandemic happening back on land (actually a movie Bart tricked them with, wanting to extend the family vacation due to the utter misery he and the others had been going through back home). After about 10 days out to sea, society onboard has devolved into a Lord of the Flies scenario, and one passenger freaks out because she thinks she has eaten people meat. It's never outright stated that this happened, but it's heavily implied.
- 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 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.
- Another episode had the Griffins racing up Mt. Everest against another family, on the way back down they found the frozen corpse of the other family's son, and they'd run out of food, so...
- 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 Donners house.
Brain: Hmm. Somehow the idea of joining the Donner Party is unappealing.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "To Save a Squirrel" parodied this trope. 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) is 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.
- In a Robot Chicken skit, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and a Red Shirt are stranded on a planet and decide to resort to cannibalism (Uhura outright calling it "a Donner party situation"). They tell the Red Shirt to sacrifice himself, to which he replies:
Red Shirt: On behalf of all the red shirts that fell before me, it makes me very, very proud to speak the following sentence: I'm the only one that brought a gun.
- Kaeloo: In the episode "Let's Play Trap-Trap", Kaeloo forces Quack Quack to stop eating yogurt for an hour. He starts visualizing everyone else as a yogurt container and then tries to eat them. By the end of the episode, he manages to eat half of Kaeloo's brain, but the Reset Button makes sure she's fine by the next episode.
- In Episode 61, Stumpy also attempts to eat Kaeloo when the two of them are stranded on an island.
- In the Johnny Bravo episode "Biosphere Johnny", the scientists Johnny is sealed in with consider eating him until Carl intervenes and asks that they eat him instead. When the scientists come to their senses, it cuts back to Johnny after he's prepared Carl like a suckling pig.
- My Little Pony Tales: One Imagine Spot in "Ponies in Paradise" involves rumors that tropical ponies, in the middle of a famine, turn into horses of Diomedes, complete with Captured by Cannibals imagery.
- Played with a few times in Gravity Falls:
- In the episode "Northwest Mansion Mystery", Preston Northwest says that they're keeping a butler in the family's panic room so they can eat him if they run out of food.
- In the episode "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls", Stan says that after the supplies run out, the plan is to eat the gnomes. Jeff, a gnome who is right next to him, objects.
- The Trope Namer is the Donner Party, a group of US pioneers trying to settle in California. In May 1846, they 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. By October 1846, they were Snowed-In high up in the Sierras, atop what later was named Donner Pass. When the food ran out (which didn't take long), many of the party resorted to eating their dead (there were allegations that some members didn't wait for people to die of natural causes). 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 separate rescue parties to evacuate the remaining survivors, the last of whom did not reach shelter until April 1847.
- In 1845 a British Naval expedition through Antarctica in an attempt to find the fabled "Northwest Passage" under the command of Captain John Franklin ended in disaster, with the loss of both ships and all 129 men. While the exact circumstances of their fate are unknown, various search expeditions in the following years found scattered clues left behind from the voyage. In 1992, a modern expedition found a mass grave of the crew on King's Island containing over 400 bones. Forensic testing of the bones showed conclusive evidence that the at least some of the crew had resorted to cannibalism in their final days.
- A more modern well known case is the story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571note often referred to in pop culture, incorrectly, as "that soccer team that crashed in the mountains". Basically a rugby team chartered a flight from Uruguay to Chile and as a result of the pilots miscalculating their position, they crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains. Because the pilots had given their position incorrectly, search and rescue planes were unable to find them. With no food available, they were forced to eat the dead (their friends and family) to survive. A few were unable to bring themselves to do this and died of starvation. Luckily they were able to hike out and get rescued. Only 16 of the 45 crew and passengers survived, they spent a total of 72 days in the mountains. Popularly dramatized in the film Alive!
- 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 homicidenote 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 the boats from the whale-hunter Essex (which was rammed and sunk by a whale on November 20, 1820; Melville didn't make that up). Though the crew was able to pack some provisions prior to leaving their sinking ship in three small whaleboats, their food soon ran out. Following a brief stop at the unoccupied Henderson Island, the boats headed out to sea again in hope of finding rescue, where the crew were forced to resort to cannibalism as the men began dying off. On one boat, containing 4 men (one of them the ship's Captain, George Pollard), the situation was so dire that the men decided they couldn't wait for someone to die in order to avoid universal starvation. They chose to draw lots to determine who would die, and then drew lots again to determine who the executioner would be. Only 2 of the 3 whaleboats were found by passing ships, containing 5 survivors. Another 3 men who had chosen to stay on Henderson Island were later picked up as well, for a total of 8 survivors out of the 20-man crew. 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.
- Ironically, the boats took a longer way to the land (southwards and then eastwards to South America instead of Marquesas Islands lying to the west) because the sailors feared that the islands might be inhabited by cannibal tribes.
- 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."
- 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".
- An urban legend said this was commonplace in the mid to late forties in Germany (Both East and West). Multiple versions exist, some detail people willingly choosing to sacrifice themselves or their relatives, while others detail cannibal gangs roaming the streets at night preying on homeless people, drunks, or schoolchildren who stayed out too late. This hasn't been confirmed or denied.
- 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.
- The Siege of Leningrad, 1941-44, but especially during the first winter. The mass chaos caused by the outbreak of the war, and the speed of the German advance, resulted in the city facing a severe lack of food stores when the Germans arrived and closed off land access. The NKVD made 2015 arrests. Students of boarding 'Trade Schools' and single-parent families disproportionately affected. Rations had been reduced 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."
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.