5 Guys Who Couldn’t Resist Eating Forbidden Treats
The brain of a living organism is designed to keep that organism alive and reproducing, with the possible exception of cows, who seem to have absolutely nothing going on up there. We’ve got an extensive, ingrained system meant to keep us fucking when possible and filled with the nutrition our body needs in between. I haven’t spent enough money on grad school to know the specifics, but I’m fairly sure that when we see certain items and colorations, our body screams “FUEL FOR THE MACHINE!” and sends us a strong signal that we should chow down.
Of course, the lizard brain developed long before anything like the modern need for laundry detergent to come in fun and flirty colors. So can we blame it when something like a Tide Pod presents itself, looking like a berry stolen from the fruit bowl of the gods themselves, and it reacts with hunger? You made the poison look like a limited edition Gusher and that’s our fault? Of course, if you’re reading this as anything but a ghost, you managed to make it this far without giving in to the deep human desire to bite a big chunk out of some toothsome looking toxin bomb.
But here are five people who couldn’t resist the call of a forbidden treat…
Unless we’re talking about molecular gastronomy, a science-heavy branch of cooking centered around creating very small food with very big prices, chemistry labs should not be treated as a source of cuisine. You’d think that any aspiring chemist who was known for using their mouth as a testing ground would be disciplined, if not banned from touching beakers for their own safety. Yet one of history’s great chemists loved to sip his new discoveries, a habit that likely killed him.
That man was Carl Wilhelm Scheele. As mentioned, he is a serious heavyweight in the field of chemistry. If I had one worth betting, I’d wager my net worth you’re familiar with his most famous discovery: oxygen. Obviously, oxygen, by necessity, existed long before life did, but Scheele was the first to isolate it. One pursuit of his that proved much less successful was his penchant for tasting his work. Can taste be a method of scientific investigation? Yes, but you usually want to make sure your findings aren’t going to be “this is poison.” Scheele spent his life sipping on chemicals including arsenic, lead, and mercury until he died at 43 of renal failure.
The public opinion of Charles Darwin is that of a gentle man, softly sketching tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. A bearded saint of science, who discovered the great lengths gone to over long periods of time by every species in order to survive. Maybe it’s just me, but by default I imagine him in a sort of Snow White-style scenario, surrounded by birds with different shaped beaks, anteaters and other animal freaks.
What much more rarely makes it into accounts of Darwin’s discoveries is the fact that he also ate most of them. Once he’d done his little evolutionary Audubon doodles, apparently the next question on his mind was “I bet that sucker tastes good, huh?” He’d been a fan of unconventional meats his whole life, and he brought that into his study of evolution, unfortunately for his subjects. In college, he was the head of the “Glutton Club,” a club of people with an interest in seeking out “strange flesh,” which absolutely 100 percent sounds like you’re eating humans.
For good reason, I’m mostly avoiding the area of pica sufferers and My Strange Addiction stars. Five entries in a row where the gist is “They ate some weird stuff because they were deeply mentally and/or physically ill” isn’t particularly funny and barely clears the bar of being informative. I will, however, make an exception for famously hungry Frenchman/upsetting human Kirby, Tarrare. Did Tarrare have pica? Probably, yes. But that only explains some of his strange, terrifying appetite and eating ability. The closest description of Tarrare’s particular traits doesn’t come from medicine but from the wendigo of folklore, a creature that suffers from endless, insatiable hunger, no matter how much it eats.
Tarrare first made waves as a soldier, known for eating multiple rations per meal, and then going through the trash to eat more after cleaning his plate, but staying rail-thin the whole time. Now, overeating is a joyful forbidden pursuit all its own, but Tarrare didn’t stop there. In his quest to finally feel full, he took to eating less food-ish items, most notably live cats. It came to a head when claims started to circle that Tarrare had started eating children (probably not) and corpses (I could see it). His autopsy was, unsurprisingly, apparently an upsetting and nauseating nightmare that revealed an oversized stomach that made up a shocking percentage of his total torso.
Now that we’ve waded through that unpleasantness, let’s look at a modern, small, but weirdly understandable decision to chow down on dirt and grass. I don’t have a particular compulsion to taste grass, but if I ever decided to give some a chomp, the grass on tennis courts would be high on my list. The stuff looks like something out of a $16 smoothie that leaves your colon looking like a freshly cleaned waterslide.
The first time tennis star Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon, instead of jumping for joy, he dropped to the ground, and to great consternation, plucked and ate some grass from the court. In the moment, it was probably a combination of emotional overload, adrenaline, and, well, still at least a little bit being a weirdo. Instead of brushing it off as a momentary fugue state, though, he made it a trademark celebration. Credit where credit’s due, I’m definitely now at least a little curious if a great slice of grass is any good. That many dogs can’t all be wrong, right?
Okay, fun’s over. Our final entry is a bit of a conundrum, in that it features maybe the most forbidden treat in history, but was also prescribed by straight-up doctors. That forbidden fruit being, of course, human flesh. For a good portion of history, corpse bits were considered medicinally valuable, and not just for the bad stuff either. All you had to have was a headache and you might end up with your doctor recommending some Dahmer-approved treatment in the form of human bones or fat. Internal bleeding? Toss back some mummy dust. Thank god we’ve got Advil instead of sucking on somebody’s finger bone.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.