At first no one took it seriously. Harvard was quick to point out that it was not really a Department of Cannibalism, but rather the Department of Non-Western Nutrition. Once the media got hold of the story, though, there was no stopping them. In the public mind, it would forever be the Department of Cannibalism.
The story began when the conservative students of Harvard held a mass meeting on a Saturday night in November. Both decided that since, in their words, “every other damn-fool idea finds flowering expression here, we’ll take lunacy a step further. You know. We’ll be progressives.
They were joking. They thought everyone would understand. They should have known better.
They put together the Ivy League’s first magazine of cannibalism and called it Long Pig, subtitled Serving Your Fellow Man. Actually it wasn’t so much a magazine as a stapled mass spit out on a laser printer. There were only ten copies, left strategically around campus.
It wasn’t high art. Long Pig was pretty much the Mad Magazine of liberated eating. Articles meant to be tongue-in-cheek dealt with urban hunting, fattening prisoners, soy substitutes in time of peace, and various recipes involving Mexicans and hot sauce. There was a piece on making jerky using traditional nature-respecting Inuit techniques, involving a song to the walrus god. The lead editorial argued that cannibalism was merely an advanced form of recycling. It would, said the author, cut down on the methane emitted by beef cattle, and thus prevent global warming. The slogan was “Eat Each Other: Save the Ice Caps.”
An ad showed Eeyore and Pooh comforting a sad-eyed Piglet who was, by implication, pondering a future association with fried eggs. Cannibalism would save him. Green Peace, PETA, and the Sierra Club immediately came on board. The local Four O’clock News picked up the story.
The conservative students were astonished. “It was a joke for God’s sake,” said the bemused publishers to a reporter for Time.”It wasn’t real. We were trying to be funny. Why did this happen?”
It happened because it was the sort of thing that sociologists could take seriously, and did. Dr. Lara Johnstone-Lingamfelter, chairwoman of the Department of Lesbian Chicana and Transsexual Micronesian Studies, found a copy and, seeing the word “progressive,” assumed that she had discovered a new oppressed group. Wanting to get in on the ground floor, she immediately penned an article for the Journal of Appropriate Thought, the de facto trade publication of the Ivy League professoriate, demolishing patriarchal linear-thinking hierarchical discrimination against traditional cuisine.
“Who people eat behind closed doors is their own business,” she said.
Misunderstandings continued, amplifying what amounted to a collegiate prank. A reporter for the Washington Post telephoned Leona Mikoyan-Gurevich, the chief attorney for NOW, to get her opinion. Unfortunately she had called at a bad moment. Mikoyan-Gurevich was defending a woman in California who had poisoned 173 children in a kindergarten, her defense being that she was in a bad mood, which was caused by the stress of living in a society dominated by patriarchal white males. The attorney, “frazzled” as she later put it, was hurriedly skimming papers on cyanide toxicology.
Barely looking up, she said, “What? They eat men? It’s a good idea.”
This put militant feminism behind the new movement. Patricia Ireland was later reported to have said, “This is a little wacky, even for us, but if Mikky likes it, we’ll run with it. Though I’d never eat one of the disgusting creatures.” Disgusting creatures everywhere doubtless felt safer.
Attention from the media grew like kudzu on a Georgia road-cut. Journalists began treating Cannibal Studies as if it actually existed. A tee-shirt emporium near Harvard began peddling shirts to college boys that said, “Can-Stud, Will Travel,” and “Eat Me, I’m A Protein Source.” The shirts created outrage in progressive circles, as they suggested that adolescent males at Harvard might be having sexual thoughts about women. The boys denied it. They said they were merely protesting their demeaning status as a marginalized link in the food chain. They would never, ever think dirty thoughts about girls.
This didn’t mollify feminists among the studentry. The Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual, Pan-gendered and Still-Considering Women’s Coalition Against Hegemonic Colonialism swung into action. They held three Take Back The Night marches, installed blue anti-rape lights all over campus, and told each other comforting stories about how seven out of every three women had been raped at least twice in the last ten minutes. What this had to do with cannibalism wasn’t clear.
Things were getting out of hand.
A riot nearly erupted shortly afterward. The Harvard Union for Liberation of Oppressed Sexual Minorities was holding a support meeting, the topic being, “Snuff: The Difficulty of Finding a Lasting Relationship.” (Their slogan was, “Not Just A Tobacco Product.”) Anyway, several boys in Can-Stud shirts had shown up arguing that the two groups were complementary. They were pursued for six blocks before hiding in a Dempster Dumpster.
Later one of the instigating conservatives, seeking to make as much trouble as possible (adolescent conservatives are nonetheless adolescents) tried to call the US Supreme Court. He wanted to ask about the constitutionality of human sacrifice. He planned to argue that it was a folkway of Native Peoples, such as Aztecs, and therefore heartwarming, which made it constitutional.
Knowing that Sandra Day O’Connor favored partial-birth abortion, he figured she was his best shot. He didn’t reach her. Nonetheless the Justice replied, through a clerk, that she had no objection to human sacrifice, but was worried about the possible religious association.
The adventure might have gone on forever. Then a mob of students showed up at the home of Harvard’s President, Lawrence Summers, to demand a Department. Many of them were not sure what the rally was for, but a rally was a rally. They held hands in a circle and sang Kum Bah Yah with verses interspersed from One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater ? adding that “Purple People” did not indicate disrespect for oppressed people of that color.
Summers was perhaps in a departmental mood. That week he had approved a Department of Left-handed Parsees with Three Thumbs Studies. Possibly he thought cannibalism was a minor stretch.. He said, “Of course you can have a department?..Of what? Not that it matters.”
The Department began hiring. The conservative students went back to their chemistry homework. They had been humbled. When it came to lunacy, they weren’t ready for the Ivy League.