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No Party Like a Donner Party

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"In the frozen land of Nador, they were forced to eat Sir Robin's minstrels. And There Was Much Rejoicing." note 

We're out of food. Now what? That guy in the bucket hat is looking pretty tasty. Why don't we Just Eat Gilligan - literally?

This trope is the ugly side of exploration. The characters are out of food and resort to cannibalism not because they like it, but because they have no other choice. It's that or starve to death.

Named for the famous example of the Donner Party, who ate the bodies of their comrades who had died of hunger in order to survive the harsh winter of 1846-47, and for the song "Ain't No Party Like an S Club Party" by S Club 7.

Note that, in a real-life survival situation, this isn't all that helpful. The meat of a starving human, by definition, does not contain the necessary nutrients to support a starving human. (See fat starvation.) Also worth noting is that digesting meat requires certain vitamins that can't be replenished through meat alone, potentially leading to death by malnutrition.

Compare Emergency Food Supply Animal, Reduced to Ratburgers, Too Desperate to Be Picky, Eating Shoes, 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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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 by monster attacks and starving to death. The other two left the room, there was an argument, then a loud struggle, and then only one of them came back, fatally wounded but holding a hunk of meat, saying a monster had attacked them but he managed to kill it. That meat let Senshi survive long enough to be rescued, but it was ambiguous whether the meat he ate came from a monster (a griffin, as the dwarf had claimed) or another dwarf. It is ultimately subverted, however, as Laios deduces that the meat Senshi ate was actually hippogriff.
  • In a very late episode in Digimon Ghost Game, the resident heroine Ruli ate a Quartzmon copy and became infected with some sort of Horror Hunger that basically drives her into eating increasingly large meals only for her to still feel that her belly is empty (the food are all transferred to the Quartzmon copy). It degenerated into her mouth and limbs mutated to resemble the Digimon who caused the incident and her going into a breakdown trying to eat her friends. As horrific and uncomfortable to watch this is, it's brief enough that she fails to do any major harm other than some property damage before she collapses out of malnutrition and is hospitalized.
  • The Draw of Cambyses, a Fujiko Fujio one-shot, has this as the hero Sark's backstory. Originally an Assyrian soldier sent on a campaign across a desert, when they ran out of food in their crusade, the army was forced to draw lots for "volunteers" as food supply. Sark unfortunately drew a short straw and ditches his army before he can be sacrificed.
  • 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.
  • 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 lasted 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 Shaman King, Tokagero states his mother had given him "her own flesh" so he would survive. A little bit later in the story, we find out he really meant it.

  • The Raft of the Medusa: The real-life Méduse survivors resorted to cannibalizing the corpses of their fellow passengers to survive, and elements of this can be seen in the painting, with bodies and blood floating away in the waves.

    Comic Books 
  • The Nameless City in which The Goon is set is located on the edge of Horse-Eater Wood, named for a group of pioneer who became snowed in there in the old days, and despite eating all their horses, only one of them survived, swearing that she never resorted to this trope. That's the official story anyway, but the tortured ghost of another of the settlers tells us that not only did she resort to cannibalism, she did so enthusiastically and without guilt, and even manipulated him into killing his own wife and children so she could have more.
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • In Pocket God issue #23, half of the tribe is trekking through the desert with their provisions running low. Kinsee gets so hungry that she considers eating one of the other pygmies. While they can resurrect from death, they keep her from doing it because they don't want to be cannibals.
  • 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.
  • In Transformers Ongoing, Megatron's defeat at the hands of Optimus Prime results in Starscream taking over. Thanks to his incompetence as a leader, the Decepticons are left stranded on an asteroid with no resources, and quickly are reduced to killing each other for energon and spare parts.
  • 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.
  • The Chronicles of Wormwood one-shot The Last Enemy has a backup story titled "Donna Partie: God Will Forgive Her", the titular character being a woman with a nasty habit of resorting to cannibalism when she gets too hungry. The story ends with her and her friend stuck in a traffic jam after picking up the latter's baby. One can probably guess what they did next.
  • The Walking Dead: During the journey to Washington, Rick and the other main characters are stalked by The Hunters, a group of survivors who resorted to cannibalism after running out of food, starting with their own children, and have been surviving by ambushing lone travellers or smaller groups ever since, keeping them alive as long as possible to keep the meat fresh. Their justification, that they couldn't get a grasp on hunting actual animals and had to eat something to avoid starving to death (leaving their old neighborhood behind and searching for food elsewhere like everyone else apparently never occurred to them), rings especially hollow considering that NO other characters, even the most depraved villains like Negan and The Whisperers, ever resorted to the same. The Governor technically did, but only tasted it once while feeding his zombified daughter. He didn't like it.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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 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.
  • Garfield: One strip has Jon reading a newspaper article about lost explorers who resorted to cannibalism. Garfield reflects that Jon had better keep his supper dish full.
  • 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.
  • In one panel of the Norwegian single-panel comic strip Oppgulp, made by the creator of Eon, a flight attendant informs the passengers that safety information will be given in Norwegian.
    Attendant: (translated) Fellow Norwegians; If the plane crashes, we'll eat the foreigners.

    Fan Works 
  • In one chapter of Pokémon Crossing, a group of explorers got lost in the Route 111 desert. After weeks in the desert and eating all of their Pokémon, they draw straws and eat one of their own.

    Films — Animation 
  • Isle of Dogs: There's a rumour that a Cannibal Clan of dogs resides on the far right side of Trash Island. However, the truth is that they only ate another dog one time, out of desperation driven by starvation, and the dog was their pack's leader, who was already unconscious from hunger. Just recalling this event fills the other dogs with shame and sorrow.
  • 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.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Alive is a Based on a True Story 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 movie takes an extremely sympathetic and nonjudgmental stance in depicting just how far people will go and how much they'll endure in order to survive.
  • Cannibal! The Musical, a musical based on Alferd [sic] Packer's journey brought to you by the creators of South Park with all of their usual good taste.
  • 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.
  • Cyclone (1978): Downplayed and then played straight in a progressing series of incidents.
    • First, one of the survivors kills the only dog on the boat, because it is using up vital food and water and can be used for food and bait.
    • After one survivor dies, there's a heated debate about the morality of cutting off a piece of his flesh for more fishing bait, since the fish will be eating the rest of his body anyway. They take some flesh for bait but only catch a shark, which is too big to reel in.
    • Finally, when Manolo dies of his wounds, his best friend reveals that he requested the others cannibalize his body to survive. This leads to a long and tense debate about the action (such as whether they can survive without it, whether it will provoke a Jumping Off the Slippery Slope action to cannibalize more people, whether it's against the Bible, and whether it's safe). His body is cut up and dried in the sun to make jerky, which is followed by a montage of people eating (often with traumatized looks) or refusing to eat.
  • Deadtime Stories: Volume 2: In "The Gorge", three cavers are trapped by a cave-in. One of them, Gary, has his leg badly mangled in by a falling rock. Nearly a month into their ordeal, they are reduced to eating hibernating bats to stay alive. Gary's leg goes gangrenous and Donna and Craig are forced to amputate it. Donna and Craig then eat the leg. The taste of the flesh drives them crazy with hunger, and they kill Gary and devour him. This keeps them alive long enough for rescue to arrive.
  • Fires on the Plain: Three starving Japanese soldiers are struggling across the island of Leyte in February 1945. One of them takes his rifle, goes hunting, and brings back "monkey meat" for his companions. The third soldier eventually catches his companion hunting a different Japanese soldier and realizes that the "monkey meat" really wasn't monkey. At the end, the hunter kills the other soldier in their three-man party and eats him raw.
  • 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.
  • In Harpoon, three friends get stuck out at sea when their yacht's engine breaks. After three days with barely any food or water, they opt to draw straws and kill and eat the loser.
  • In Hell's Highway, the group watches the last few minutes recorded by the camera, which shows Lucindia shooting all of their friends during a botched séance. Lucindia then turns to the camera and tells the story of a settler couple that became trapped in the valley; to try and save his wife (implied to be Lucindia), the husband killed himself so that she could consume his flesh. Her husband's body was not enough to sustain her, and in her last dying hours, the woman cursed God and prayed to the Devil for salvation, and received it in exchange for a steady stream of victims.
  • In the Heart of the Sea is a dramatization of the ill-fated last voyage of the whaling ship Essex. After a sperm whale rammed the ship and sank it, stranding the crew thousands of miles off the western coast of South America, they were eventually forced to resort to cannibalism to keep themselves alive before the survivors were rescued.
  • The Peter Jackson take on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has a horde of orcs who, after days of cross-country running, powered by moldy bread, start eyeing their Hobbit cargo, whom they were explicitly ordered to not harm in any way. When one of the orcs gets a little too eager despite being reminded of orders ("Just a mouthful. A bit off the flank!") he gets killed by his Uruk-Hai commanding officer (playing up the discipline of the Uruk-Hai in contrast to the "rabble of mindless orcs"). The commander then invites everyone who is hungry to eat the guy he just killed. Most of them go at it with relish, though another orc still tries to go for the Hobbits while they're all eating right up until the Rohirrim show up with their ambush.
    Looks like meat's back on our menu, boys!
  • 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 original Donner family and still practice cannibalism, using her to lure the "holiday meal" back home. It also turns out that they "keep the bloodline pure" by practicing incest, so how they got someone who looks like Donna Dixon in the family is anyone's guess.
  • 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."
  • Mr. Jones (2019): One of the horror scenes witnessed by Gareth in Ukraine. Three emaciated children welcome Gareth into their home and he shares their meal, an unspecified meat. When Gareth asks what kind of meat it is, they answer with the name of their elder brother. And Gareth assumed they said their brother hunted some forest animal, which they then cooked. Later, Gareth leaves the house and finds a frozen, emaciated corpse lying outside, with some flesh carved up from his leg... Cannibalism was Truth in Television during the Holodomor.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Out of Darkness: After the Presence kills Adem, Beyah suggests eating his body, as they have no other food and Ave is particularly weak due to being pregnant. Everyone except Geirr ultimately partakes.
  • 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!"
  • At the beginning, of Pirates, the two pirate leads, Captain Red (Walter Matthau) and Frog (Cris Campion) are drifting on a raft with no land or food in sight, and Frog tries his best to fish. After a while, Captain Red snaps and attempts to kill Frog to eat him, until both of them spot the Spanish galleon on the horizon.
  • Ravenous (1999): Colqhoun claims that this is what happened to the travel group he was a part of as they got stranded in a cave trying to cross the Sierra Nevadas. After running out of food and killing all their work animals (even Colqhoun's dog), he returned from chopping wood to find the others cooking a slave who had died from malnutrition. Then Horror Hunger took over and the group's leader, Colonel Ives, started killing people to sate it, so Colqhoun left to go get help. Later in the film, it turns out Colqhoun was lying and actually is Colonel Ives, and that he killed and ate the rest of the party. Reich only figures this out as Ives is killing the rest of the Fort Spencer rescue team. Much later in the film, Ives reveals to Boyd that he deliberately got the party lost in the mountains so he could eat them, as he was already a Wendigo by that point.
  • Done for laughs at the beginning of Road to Morocco, where Geoffrey (Bing Crosby) and Oliver (Bob Hope) are stranded at sea.
  • 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.
  • Discussed in The Shining, where Jack (already a bit of a ghoul well before going full-on Ax-Crazy), decides to tell his young son Danny the story of the Donner Party while driving the family up to the secluded hotel in the mountains.
  • 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.
  • "Society of the Snow" (2023), retells the story of the survivors of UAF Flight 571 in the Andes mountains, who resorted to eating the remains of crash victims to survive for 72 days.
  • The same incident that inspired Alive and "Society of the Snow" was dramatized earlier in the 1976 Mexican production Survive!.
  • The cast of Temptation Island throws one shortly before rescue. Roast Joshua is the main course. Singing is the entertainment.
  • 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.
  • In Treasure Hunter, this is how Hua-shan, the Sole Survivor of a doomed expedition in the desert, made it out alive: he feasted on his friends to stave off starvation. At the end of the film in the collapsing tomb, Hua's Survivor Guilt had him staying behind in order to Face Death with Dignity.
  • The escaped convicts in Van Diemen's Land resort to cannibalism when starving in the Tasmanian wilderness.
  • 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.
  • Brought up in The Way Back (2010). 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 Welcome to the Jungle, shortly after the team becomes stranded, corrupt executive Phil suggests killing and eating Javier since "he's the fattest one."
  • Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey: In the prologue, it's revealed that Christopher Robin's animal friends (who are depicted here as "abominations" rather than stuffed toys) were left to fend for themselves after he left for college. During the harsh winter, Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, and Owl ended up cannibalizing Eeyore to survive, turning them twisted and feral.

  • Two dudes, Bob and Rob, are stranded on a deserted island, and without any food, on the verge of starving to death, they decide to draw lots where the loser will cut away a single part of their body for food.
    Because Bob draws the shorter straw, he'll cut himself for the next meal. Looking through his limb, thigh, chest... every part seems to hurt, until he decides, ah well, since the penis doesn't have any bones in it, he'll slice that off for their next meal.
    When Rob sees Bob holding the knife to his dick, he suddenly said, "Stop! You're cutting your penis, right? Because if you're doing so, why don't you jerk off first?"
    "Are you kidding me?" Bob is horrified. "We're about to Die. Of. Starvation. and you want me to... WHAT?"
    "Well, there are at least three good reasons why you should do that," Rob replies. "Firstly, it'll be your last chance. Secondly, it'll provide more meat. Thirdly and most importantly, it's been a while since I ate anything with sauce!"
  • A rescue team receives a transmission from the survivors of a plane crash. They only manage to relay that six people survived, before the transmitter dies. When the rescuers finally find the crash site, they see a sole survivor surrounded by bones and mutilated corpses of others. Challenged by their horrified and disgusted looks, the man jumps up to defend himself: "Look, I know how it looks. I hate myself for it, believe me. But I was desperate! The prospect of a slow excruciating death from starvation weighed more and more on me until I couldn't take it anymore! Self-preservation kicked in and eventually overwhelmed all concerns of decency. In the end I did what I had to!" One of the rescuers finally finds his words and weekly says: "...but... it's only been three days..."



  • 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 autocannibalism. 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.
  • 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.

Individual works:

  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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 is an obvious bite taken out of his leg, but everyone politely refrains from mentioning it. (They are rescued before things get much worse.)
  • In the Avatar universe tie-in novel, The Rise of Kyoshi, Big Bad Jianzhu contemplates leaving his political rivals Hue and the Earth King on an island together to see which idiot eats the other first.
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Coriolanus remembers people resorting to cannibalism during the worst days of the siege of the Capitol, particularly seeing the father of one of his classmates hack a leg off a corpse in the street and drag it away. Although the classmate has since grown up into quite a pretty young woman, he can't bring himself to be near her.
  • 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 to eat 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 weren't equipped with proper supplies.
  • In The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin; cannibalism as a last resort during the global cataclysms known as "fifth seasons" is an accepted practice. What is not acceptable is cannibalism outside of a season.
    • In the first installment, The Fifth Season, we learn that one group of snobby Sanzed elites earned the bad reputation they have had for over a millennium because they maintained the practice voluntarily after a Season ended.
    • In the third installment, The Stone Sky, a group of captured raiders are offered the chance to join the community of Castrima as the comm makes their way to a refuge across an ash-covered desert with limited supplies. The smart captives promptly agree to take jobs of hard labor. The most-stupid captive mouths off at Castrima's leader. She instantly kills him. That night; Castrima has a rich stew for dinner, which everyone eats because they know they need the protein and calories to survive crossing the desert. "You don't think about the meat."
  • Mark Twain wrote a classic spoof 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.
  • ''Cannibal Reign by Thomas Koloniar (as you can probably guess by the title); civilization is heavily damaged by an asteroid impact and the resulting The Night That Never Ends which will last for several years at least. The main character, his friends, family, and a few others survive in a converted missile silo, the core U.S. government relocates to Hawaii which fares slightly better, but virtually every other survivor on the surface resorts to cannibalism within a year. This ranges from roaming scavengers, to a degenerate Cannibal Tribe holed up in a hospital, to an organized militia consisting of deserters (the closest the novel has to a Big Bad).
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente takes place partially during the Siege of Leningrad. When little black-clad old grannies go around selling meat, nobody asks too closely where exactly they got those cutlets.
  • 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 (a present Byron himself would become well-acquainted with).
  • In Dreams of Joy, the sequel to Shanghai Girls, Joy goes to visit her friends in the commune she lives in 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.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fall of Gondolin: Invoked. After travelling through frozen wastes in the death of winter for nearly one month, Tuor and Vonronwë have almost run out of supplies. When they spot an Orc camp, Tuor is ready to attack them, muttering he would not turn Orc meat down right now. However, he gives up attacking them when Voronwë points out they would alert other Orcish posts.
  • Galaxy of Fear: In 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in the opening chapter of The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, in which Prendick and two others are adrift in a dinghy. 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.
  • Happens to the crew members stranded at sea in Carol Birch's Jamrachs Menagerie. Initially, they only eat the men who have died of illness or starvation, but then...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Martian: When the crew of the Hermes decide to return to Mars to rescue Mark Watney, a probe of supplies is put together to provide the food they'll need. During a video chat with her father, Beth Johanssen admits to him that the crew have come up with a contingency plan if something goes wrong with the probe: they'll all kill themselves to provide Beth, who's the youngest, smallest (so needs the least food), and has the necessary skillset to fly alone, with enough meat to sustain herself on the way back to Earth.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • In the Planet Pirates series, the original heavyworlder colony ended up with virtually no supplies and winter coming. The men impregnated their wives and then went out into the cold, and their wives ate their bodies to survive.
  • 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 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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-persnickety 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...
      Euron Crow's Eye: They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.
    • This was just barely averted during the Siege of Storm's End during Robert's Rebellion. As the siege went on and on, a group of soldiers attempted to desert and surrender to their enemies. Stannis was going to execute them, but his maester advised him to hold onto the men, in case the food shortage became bad enough that they would need to eat them. Only the fact that the smuggler Davos managed to slip through the blockade and bring in a shipment of food not long before the end of the war kept it from happening.
    • In his journey Beyond The Wall, Bran Stark almost starves to death, and, while in the body of his wolf, eats several dead rangers of the Nights Watch. Later, he eats meat which Coldhands claims is pig. There aren't a lot of pigs north of the Wall.
  • The 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.
  • 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".
  • 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 that he wonders if he can bring himself to eat her. Fortunately a wolf that 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.
  • Discussed in The Thin Man, when Nick tells Gilbert a long and rambling story about frontier cannibalism and the Alferd Packer case. Reportedly, Nick's story was the inspiration for the movie Ravenous (1999) (listed above), which it very closely resembles.
  • 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.
  • Richard Olson's historical novel The Ungodly, about (yes) the Donner Party.
  • The Unwomanly Face of War: A female partisan mentions an episode of cannibalism that occurred in a group who escaped from a gulag. The modus operandi was bringing in the group a young, naive boy, who was to be sacrificed when the fugitives would inevitably start to starve. The female narrator did have someone like that in her group but she's grateful beyond speech that they are saved before they seriously start to starve.
  • 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.
  • The fantasy novel The Warriors 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.
  • 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.
  • The Star Diaries:
    • In "The Twenty-eighth Voyage", Ijon Tichy sings the praise of his cousin Arystarch Felix Tichy, a brilliant pioneer of "gastronautics", i.e. the construction of space rockets from edible materials. Ijon Tichy is especially pleased that Arystarch's tasty inventions (such as "macaroni insulation", "cells with alternating currants", or the "semolina noodle drive") have put an end to cannibalism in space, which (he casually mentions) used to be a common occurrence in his youth.
    • Also in "The Twenty-eighth Voyage", Ijon Tichy relates that his ancestor Anonymus Tichy was accused of killing and eating his twin brother while on a one-year voyage in space, undertaken as part of a failed attempt to empirically test the twin paradox (the incriminating evidence was a cookbook discovered in the rocket, with the chapter "Pickling in Outer Space" marked in red).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Occurs in The 100 during the Time Skip between seasons 4 and 5. Trapped in a bunker with no way out and their Hydroponics Garden contaminated with a fungus that will take a year to recover from, the Wonkru survivors are confronted with this. They end up butchering those who were killed in gladiator combat (their method of dealing with lawbreakers). Worse, it gets pointed out that anyone who starves to death will be so nutrient-deprived that they won't be suitable food. Octavia ends up enforcing human consumption under the threat of death to anyone who refuses and even murders a man who doesn't want to eat his own brother. The entire process traumatizes all of Wonkru, and they dub the ordeal "The Dark Year".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Farscape
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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
    Graeme: What? No! ...I'm doing the sauce. (points to Bill, making beheading motion)
  • 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).
  • Island of the Sea Wolves: The summer heat and the lack of food it brings cause River to succumb, and his sister Luna is eventually forced to eat her brother's body for sustenance.
    Narrator: Eagle chicks don't normally resort to such drastic measures... but these are not normal times.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 ("If it's all the same, I'd rather eat Johnson!"), followed by the infamous Undertaker's Sketch ("Look, tell you what, we'll eat her, if you feel a bit guilty about it afterwards, we can dig a grave and you can throw up in it."), 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.
  • Ruth-Anne on Northern Exposure shuns Holling for a while when she finds out his grandfather ate hers.
  • 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.
  • The Netflix version of One Piece maintains the manga version of Sanji's origin story. After a shipwreck, Zeff gave Sanji all the food he salvaged, and ate one of his own legs to survive.
  • 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.
  • Discussed in an episode of Red Dwarf by Rimmer during his rant about Captain Oates.
  • Played for humor in The Red Green Show when Red, Mike, and Harold get snowed in at the lodge. Mike becomes convinced they need to eat Harold in order to survive and makes some thinly veiled attempts to do so.
  • Rome. Vorenus and Pullo are the Sole Survivors when their legion is shipwrecked in a storm. As they're stranded on a sandbar with nothing to eat or drink, Pullo suggests they drink the blood of the bodies that have washed up there, but Vorenus says the blood is salty and the bodies too putrid—fortunately the latter means they can be used as an improvised raft to escape.
  • 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!
  • An opening segment of Seinfeld had George and Jerry discussing who Jerry would eat first if he was stranded with George and Kramer. George is actually offended when Jerry says he'd start with Kramer.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. In "Allegiences", Captain Picard is Kidnapped for Experimentation along with several other aliens, one of whom can only digest live food. Picard suggests his presence is deliberate to set up a Race Against the Clock, as they have to work out a way to escape before he attacks them out of hunger.
  • 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.
  • Snowpiercer: In stark contrast to the movie continuity, this trope did happen but was put a stop to fairly quickly; flashbacks reveal that during the earliest days of The Train, some of the survivors in The Tail formed a cannibal cult and began to feed on the other passengers, only to quickly be dealt with by Layton, who massacred the cult and cut out the leaders heart, which he symbolically ate a piece of alongside the other leaders of the Tail. Cannibalism has remained a taboo ever since, no matter how hungry people got.
  • This trope becomes a pretty big deal in the last few episodes of The Terror's first season, which tells a fictionalized version of the doomed Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage (see below under Real Life for the full history).
  • 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.
  • This trope is the catalyst of the storyline in 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 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."
  • In Yellowjackets, the main cast is stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, and while they didn't initially intend to eat Jackie after her death, inadvertently cooking her during a failed Viking Funeral proves too tempting an opportunity for the starving team.
  • 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.

  • "Feast Of Despair" by Abnormality.
  • '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  Dave Barry at least credits the Buoys for having enough taste not to ape Ohio Express and call the song "Yummy Yummy Yummy, I Got Tim in my Tummy."
  • The somewhat obscure band Giant Squid have a song called "Throwing a Donner Party".
  • "The Donner Party", by Rasputina.
  • 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.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray wrote a sea shanty sometimes called "Three Sailors of Bristol City", or "Little Boy Billee", which deals with this: Guzzling Jack, Gorging Jimmy, and Little Boy Billee 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 most famous recording of the song is probably Ralph Steadman's version on the compilation album "Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys".
  • '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 of the group dispatched.
  • GBH's "Passenger on the Menu", reportedly inspired by the Andes disaster (in the Real Life section.).

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • During one siege 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.
    • 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.)
  • Following the incident of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, a posek (a rabbi who answers questions of Jewish law) was asked whether 1) if all other options were exhausted a Jew would be permitted to eat the flesh of a corpse since preserving life supersedes virtually all other commandments, and 2) whether the Jew would have to say the usual blessings before and after eating over "that ghastly meal". The answers were yes and yes.
  • In the Mesopotamian Mythology, before the gods sent The Great Flood, they tried to exterminate people with famines and droughts. A few years in, it is stated parents started eating their kids.
  • Native American Mythology: 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.

  • The Magnus Archives: in episode 58, "Trail Rations", the nameless narrator and her husband Benjamin are convinced to continue on the Oregon Trail, despite the lateness of the season, by a guide called Eustace Wick. However, the weather worsens and the characters are forced to take shelter in a cave, where it soon becomes apparent that Wick was planning to eat them all along. The narrator shoots Wick dead just as he slits Benjamin's throat. Alone with the bodies of the two men, she begins to hear her husband's voice urging her to save herself by eating his body, but she decides she would sooner die, writes her statement, and walks out into the storm.

  • In the John Finnemore's Double Acts episode "The Goliath Window", Mark lost an arm while in the Royal Navy, and is firmly of the opinion that, with supplies running low, the ship's surgeon handed it straight to the cook. He also believes that everyone else on the ship will go to Hell for cannibalism, but he won't, any more than it's cannibalism to bite your fingernails.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • The Chronicles of Darkness sourcebook Asylum has as one of its sample patients a young woman who was found wandering naked at the foot of a mountain. The book gives two possibilities for what happened to her, both starting with her being locked up in a mountain cabin with her sister when her father discovered she was pregnant. In one option, she was called to join a band of cannibal children who are part of a Hive Mind centered on the mountain, only to break out when she grew old enough and wander out in confusion, leaving her baby behind. The second option is this trope: there are no cannibal children, her baby died shortly after birth because she had no idea how to care for him, and she ultimately had to eat her sister when they were trapped in the cabin by an avalanche.

  • Happens twice in the comedy play The Conquest of the North Pole by Jára Cimrman, which focuses on a fictional Czech Arctic expedition that conquered the North Pole one day before Robert Peary.
    • The first time around, they persuade their friend Frištenský 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 .

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Discussed in Dead In Vinland, but despite it being a survival game where starvation is a likely way to get your party killed, you can't actually do it (as with The Oregon Trail below). The Player Party potentially jokes about it, though Blodeuwedd doesn't find it funny. Villainous henchman Elof also taunts them about this possibility, cracking that if they quarrel they'll soon end up killing and eating each other.
  • 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.
  • Empire Earth II: One of the Egyptian levels has a famine ravaging the country, along with starving people breaking into pyramids to drag out the mummified corpses to eat them. Becomes unintentionally hilarious when you notice the dead bodies are just resources like any other, and in fact, nothing stops you from harvesting those corpses yourself.
  • Fallout 3: The bizarre Cannibal Clan settlement of Andalle, two inbred families that mimic the culture of pre-War America, have their origin in this trope; after the Great War 200 years earlier, the original survivors of the small town resorted to cannibalism to survive after running out of supplies. They coped with their actions by deluding themselves into thinking it was no different than going to a normal job like they had before the apocalypse, "bringing home the bacon" so to speak, which also allowed them to cling to their old lives rather than accepting the fact that America was gone.
  • 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 becomes 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.
  • In Hollow Knight, it is implied to have happened at some point in the City of Tears. In the pleasure house, you can find a kitchen that is littered with the corpses of sentient bugs. You can talk to the ghost of one of the corpses, who calls himself a "big, juicy, fatty oily... scrumptious bug" and wonders if it will be dinner time soon. It is unclear if the bugs started to eat their own before or after the magical plague that turns bugs hostile to life reached the city itself.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Metro: Exodus, the population of Yamantau resorted to cannibalism after running out of food, preying on refugees who tried to take shelter there. At some point, they were infected by a prion disease that spread through the human meat, driving most of them insane.
  • 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...
  • You can find a stranger in Red Dead Redemption 2 who will tell you a story about a fictionalized version of the Donner Party in which he was involved in his youth. His brother who he hadn't from in years wrote and asked him to help his family move out west, he said yes. He ditched the wagon train once things turned south and he later found out that they got stuck and had to resort to eating each other even though there ended up being no survivors.
  • 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.
  • Reverse: 1999 plays this for laughs with APPLe, a sentient, floating, magical apple. When his captain, Regulus, says that she's out of money for food and hungry, APPLe says she could drink "this fresh apple juice" if it comes to that. Regulus quickly realizes what he means, panics, and tells him they're not there yet.
  • 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.
  • Max speaks of his morbid fantasy in the Sam & Max: Freelance Police game The Penal Zone:
    Max: Awwww. I was hoping we'd teleport under a pile of immovable rubble and debris. Trapped for weeks, we'll be forced to resort to cannibalism just to survive.
    Sam: You keep coming up with creepy disaster scenarios that always end up with you eating me, Max. It's getting annoying.
    Max: If you don't like it, then stop looking so damn tasty!
  • In the third chapter of Sanitarium, Dr. Morgan is playing music in the asylum's courtyard to see how his patients react. The first track played is called "Donner Party Waltz", and the one person who likes it is a patient named Vera, who was committed for eating her husband.
    Vera: My name is Vera, I think it sounds nice, I ate my husband with carrots and rice!
  • Averted in SIGNALIS, a late game map has a briefing document for the Gestalt (Human) pilot of the deep space exploration Penrose class ship to use in the case of starvation situations, advising against eating their Replika co-pilot. The debrief points out that the organic components are mildly toxic, and the "blood" is actually anti-oxidant fluid that will cause sickness. The briefing instead suggests that they ask the Replika to euthanize the pilot or enter the cryopod permanently. Despite being averted in the game itself, it's an open question whether this document was drafted with foresight, or whether it was from macabre experience.
  • 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 who 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.
  • 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.
  • In Tekken, Bruce Irvin's backstory includes him being reduced to this as the sole survivor of a plane crash, at least until some of Kazuya's forces find him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Valheim: While you don't actually need food to survive (food determines your maximum stamina, health, and regeneration thereof), you can commit cannibalism of a sort by making sausages (a mid-tier food item), which requires entrails. Entrails being dropped by the rotting zombies known as draugr...

    Visual Novels 
  • Cooking Companions is rather coy about the concept at first; the Companions are trapped in the mountains with dwindling supplies, but it's presented as a Dating Sim with cutesy mascot characters. However, the story is a Psychological Horror at heart, and phrases such as "butter someone up" and "wind up on the chopping block" have obvious double meanings that will inevitably be examined.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: 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 survivors 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 attempt 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 rise, 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.
  • 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.
  • In Off-White, The sledders had to resort to eating the dogs. Considering in this world the dogs are intelligent...
  • 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 worst-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.
  • xkcd: Donner? Party of four?

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • Ask A Mortician:
    • This YouTuber did an excellent video on the real history of the Donner Party, concluding that it was actually much, much more horrifying and tragic a story than all the Black Comedy around it would suggest.
      Cameraman: Would you eat a person?
      Caitlin: Not right now, I wouldn't. But ask me three or four weeks from now... maybe.
    • Also comes up in her video on the tragedy of the whaling ship Essex, entitled "The Real Moby Dick Was So Much Worse". Here, she discusses how choosing who the next person to eat wasn't always a case of drawing straws and leaving it to impartial fate, but how family connections, regional loyalty, and racial division can complicate the matter. Existing inequalities can get a lot worse in a survival situation.
    • She completed the trifecta of infamous historical cases of survival cannibalism with "The Rugby Team That Fell From the Sky", on the famous story of the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (the one that Alive was about). Like the movie, she found the story's high degree of Heroic Sacrifice more inspiring than disturbing:
      The survivors of this 1972 airplane crash were different in how they approached cannibalism. It was thoughtful, rational, dare I say, sacred. Eating human flesh became their normal, allowing them to keep clear heads, and as far as "disaster cannibalism" stories go, this one is almost... uplifting?
  • 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.
  • Critical Role: In Liam's Oneshot, the cast ends up in an apocalyptic time warp as the world falls apart around them. Travis, panicking, suggests that if they are in a The Last of Us-situation, they should eat Taliesin and move on. Taliesin instead suggests contacting Ashley Johnson for help, clarifying that he's not just saying that because he doesn't want to submit to cannibalism.
    Taliesin: I'm still a little upset that we talked about eating me before the dog.
  • 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.
  • Homestar Runner:
    • Referenced in the email "night life", in a cutaway where Homestar is dreaming he is in a Girl Scout troop.
      "Okay, girls. We're stuck in the woods, with no troop leader. It's time to decide who we eat first."
    • Also discussed in the email "island", where Strong Bad imagines what would happen if he and Homestar were stranded on a desert island:
      "I suspect it would be like most cartoons. You know, we'd start to go nuts after a while and I would look at Homestar and he would look like a big steak. And then Homestar would look at me and I'd look like, you know, some kinda brownie sundae. So we'd chase each other around the island, trying to eat each other. And at some point, my foot would look like a sandwich, and I would put salt on it and try to eat it, and it's like 'Oh, it's my foot!'"''
  • The Onion: "In retrospect, I guess we might have resorted to cannibalism a bit early."
  • Rats SMP:
    • Tubbo is first found locked in a cupboard with Shelby, allegedly for 3 years as their food supply ran out in the first ten days. This, alongside the lack of sugar, has apparently caused him to turn a nest of ratlings on the lower shelf into "rat burgers" for survival; but Shelby has no recollection of this and didn't know she ate ratlings until Tubbo told her. This also causes him to trick Bek into engaging in cannibalism without her foreknowledge, to just about everyone else's disgust.
    • When the Janitor enters the attic on the hunt in the finale, the rats flee onto the roof and Oli proposes choosing a rat to eat to survive the winter. Everyone objects to this plan of action.
  • 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."
  • Parodied in an episode of RWBY Chibi. Sun, Jaune, and Ren do an escape room while supervised by Qrow, however Sun proceeds to panic, disregarding the obvious clues and believing they'll never get out, much to Qrow's chagrin. He immediately decides they must eat Jaune to avoid starvation, a proposal Ren actually considers, remarking his teammate is 'tender'. All is resolved when Yang accidentally punches through their wall while trying to do her own escape room challenge.
  • The Shortest Story:
    • Resorted to Cannibalism plays it straight, wondering if maybe they should just embrace cannibalism instead of resorting to it.
    • Does It Count As Cannibalism? wonders if it's really cannibalism if you're hungry enough that you're hallucinating that the other party is food.
  • In When the Wind Blows Alternate Ending, the Bloggs are forced to eat the charred bodies of a family that was killed during the blast.

    Western Animation 
  • The All Grown Up! special "Interview with a Campfire" has the families attend a camp that is supposedly cursed by a group of pioneers who disappeared during a harsh winter 100 years before, as detailed in a play they put on. Later, Tommy and his group find out what happened to them: they got trapped in a cave, with nothing to do but play cards, and froze to death. Also, Dil's new friend Bean? Actually the ghost of one of the pioneers.
  • 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 at 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.
  • 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 driver's 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.
  • Archer: During Season 9, Danger Island, Archer and Pam are held captive by a Cannibal Tribe, and Pam wonders if she'd ever eat a person, and dismisses this trope as an example because "it'd go without saying" if it was that or starving to death, instead focusing on what she'd do if human flesh was just served to her like any other meat. Turns out she would, along with most of the rest of the cast, but said meat came from a platoon of Nazis the cast fought alongside the cannibal tribe, so it's less shocking than it would have been.
    Pam: It goes without saying, your ass is pioneer jerky.
  • DuckTales (2017): While circumstances never actually end up getting quite so dire, at the beginning of the episode "The Beagle Birthday Massacre!" the triplets and Webby are preparing for a boating expedition, and Webby reveals that she has prepared "hot dog costumes" for the specific purpose of averting this trope, as she views Louie as the most likely of them to go mad with hunger should they get stranded and he hates hot dogs.
    Huey: Are you saying Louie would rather eat us than hot dogs?
    Louie: I do hate hot dogs...
  • Family Guy
    • 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 The Fishmans, another family they'd become rivals with, but a massive snowstorm hits the mountain, and the Griffins get lost and run out of food due to Peter's poor packing (he thought Lois told him to bring a mix tape rather than trail mix for provisions), only to discover the Fishmans' son Ben dead from exposure. Rather than die from starvation and cold, Brian suggests they eat him, though the whole family is very reluctant...with the exception of Peter, who doesn't even wait for them to stop talking. Stewie later lampshades them resorting to cannibalism instead.
  • 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 a nice Lobster Zoidberg... I mean Lobster Newburgh... I mean Doctor Zoidberg.
  • 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.
  • In The Great North, Season 1 "Feast of Not People Adventure", the origins of Lone Moose, the town where the main characters live, explained. The Feast of Not People festival commemorates how the early settlers of the town (who were actually headed for Florida) resorted to cannibalism to survive the winter, before realizing there was plenty of edible wildlife around. Honeybee finds the whole concept of a festival about cannibalism confusing.
  • In the Johnny Bravo episode "Biosphere Johnny", the scientists Johnny is sealed in with consider eating him (since Johnny ruined every single chance the group had of extending their supplies and salvaging the situation) 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. The scientists decide to eat him again... until the extremely advanced biosphere door is suddenly unlocked by a pizza delivery man that Johnny had managed to signal by blinking a flashlight through a window for the past several days. Johhny promptly takes the pizza and slams the door shut, locking them all in again.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Three Robots: Exit Strategies", the robots find a bunker where the government's top officials tried to wait out the apocalypse, but after their automated hydroponics farms failed due to a fungal blight they resorted to "extreme democracy" to survive. The robots get a laugh out of the fact that the one they elected for cooking was the Secretary of Agriculture.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Pinky and the Brain's Christmas Episode:
    Pinky: Look, Brain. The reindeers are inviting elves to join them for a party at Donner’s house.
    Brain: Hmm. Somehow the idea of joining the Donner Party is unappealing.
  • 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.
    Kirk: Uh...oh.
  • The Simpsons:
    • 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.
      Moe: What, so now we're not eating Homer?!
    • In the "Treehouse of Horror XVI" segment "Survival Of The Fattest", Burns decides to start Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. Homer resorts to cannibalism after being chased for just a few hours, eating Professor Frink offscreen.
      Lenny: And there's bananas in that tree up there!
      Homer: Uh, they look a little green.
    • "A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again" 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 South Park had the residents resorting to cannibalism from being snowed in inside the school gym 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, who was only there because he'd accepted a bit part on America's Most Wanted (for those who might not remember him for his TV work, he was in The Killers "Mr. Brightside" video):
    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.
    Garrison: Eat Eric Roberts!
    • They end up eating both the director and the assistant as well. Keep in mind, they ate three people and were stuck in the school gym for maybe 10 hours. Oh, and Mr. Garrison brought some Eric Roberts home in a doggy bag.
    • During the Black Friday Trilogy, one of the people being interviewed is a father who ate his own 5-year-old while waiting outside the mall for Black Friday.
      News Reporter: Now, some people might say that eating your own child is not very "Christmassy". What would you say to them?
      Rick Tellmore: ... (singing) I ate my son for a Blu-Ray Player! With a ho-ho-ho and a jingle-jangle-jingle! My son got ate and it tasted real good, ho ho jingle-jangle ho-ho!
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "To Save a Squirrel" parodied this trope. Eat or be eaten!

    Real Life 
  • 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. Interestingly, it turns out that one of the Washoe tribes in the region actually encountered the Donners after they were snowed in and attempted to aid them with gifts of food, but were driven off by gunfire. Between this and observations of acts of cannibalism among the Party, the Washoes simply avoided them.
  • In 1845, a British Naval expedition attempting to find the fabled "Northwest Passage" through the Arctic, 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 over a century later found scattered clues left behind from the voyage. In 1992, a modern expedition found a mass grave of the crew on King's Island, Canada, containing over 400 bones. Forensic testing of the bones showed conclusive evidence that 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. The ordeal finally ended when two of the men were eventually able to make the trek back to civilization and send a rescue party to the right place to pick up the remaining survivors. Only 16 of the 45 crew and passengers survived, having 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 in English law 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 hopes of finding rescue, where the crew were forced to resort to cannibalism as the men began dying off. On one boat, containing four 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 two of the three whaleboats were found by passing ships, containing five survivors. Another three men who had chosen to stay on Henderson Island were later picked up as well, for a total of eight survivors out of the 20-man crew. After the rescues, 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 during or after a maritime incident was prevalent enough that in England it was given the Unusual Euphemism of "The Custom of the Sea".
  • This is said to have happened 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 Ukraine during The Holodomor, a horrific famine from 1932-1933, caused or at least made worse 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 incompetent 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; students in boarding 'Trade Schools' and single-parent families were disproportionately affected. Rations were reduced to 1000 calories daily for children and workers in 'non-essential' industries - versus 1500 calories daily for soldiers and workers in essential industriesnote . The NKVD made 2015 arrests, many of whom had no previous criminal records. The majority of the arrests were merely 'corpse-eaters', those who consumed the bodies of the already dead, with only a few being charged with 'person-eating' (murdering for the purpose of cannibalism).
    • 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 Packer always maintained that it was a partymate who murdered the others and tried to kill Packer himself 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.
  • 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 upper-class 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 fifteen people survived to be rescued. This horrific incident was immortalized by Theodore Gericault in his 1818-19 mural The Raft of the Medusa.
  • 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 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 country over the last several decades.
  • Chroniclers reported many, many incidents of cannibalism during Europe's Great Famine of 1315-1317.
  • 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 eaten 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. Unearthed remains from the colony site in 2013 were that of a 14-year-old girl whose body was butchered with knives and cleavers after her death, revealing that the Jamestown colonists did indeed resort to cannibalism.
  • When the Chinese city of Suiyang (now part of Shangqiu) was besieged during the An Lushan Rebellion, the city's garrison and inhabitants resorted to eating their dead to survive, later moving to eating the living. Allegedly, no one rebelled against their grim fates and odds. The commanding general Zhang Xun was commemorated for withstanding siege for a whole two years, despite the mass cannibalism, and the length of the siege is believed to have been key for the Tang dynasty's eventual victory over the Yan state.
  • During the Taiping Rebellion, the Taiping-controlled city of Anqing was besieged by Hunan Army forces loyal to the Qing Dynasty for around a year. As the siege continued, starvation ensued for the city's people and some turned 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 prisoners of war, 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 were convicted. It has also been alleged that instead of being killed straight away, some were kept alive - to keep the meat fresh.
    • Not all Japanese garrisons took this route. Those who were stranded at Rabaul did something remarkable. They managed to re-organize themselves into a farming community and grew their own food. By the end of the war, Rabaul had been turned into a self-sufficient colony and, by all accounts, were better fed than most Japanese troops.
  • According to medieval chronicles, the knights participating in the First Crusade were so hungry and undersupplied at the Siege of Ma'arra that they resorted to eating meat from the backsides of slain Saracen warriors, and even "when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it". Some sources even claim that the knights roasted and ate babies!
  • This was the "Modest Proposal" suggested in Jonathan Swift's essay of the same name.
  • If multiple chickens are put in a very small space and not fed regularly enough, they will sometimes rip apart and eat each other. Sometimes you don't even have to starve them - a hen with a bleeding injury should be kept away from other hens, who might suddenly decide she looks like food.
    • A malnourished mother cat might eat some of the recently born kittens to recover the nutrients so she can breastfeed the rest. She will also eat the unhealthy and the stillborn which if left on their own might spread diseases. Stress from labor and insecurity have also been known to trigger this behavior.
  • According to some accounts, cannibalism was rampant in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as some inmates resorted to taking the most extreme measures to survive.
  • When the Ugandan city of Masaka was put under siege by rebels during the Ugandan Bush War, some of the soldiers in the city's garrison turned to cannibalism to sate their gnawing hunger.
  • During 946 Siege of Baghdad, several women within the city were executed for eating human flesh in a desperate attempt to survive.


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Alternative Title(s): No Party Like The Donner Party


One Hit Wonderland: "Timothy"

In Todd in the Shadows' series One Hit Wonderland, he covers The Buoys' only hit, "Timothy". The song is about three guys trapped in a mine, but only two of them get rescued, as the Jim and the narrator get hungry and eat Timothy beforehand.

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