The Unacceptable Practice Of Eating Monkey Brains

26th December 2010

In Western popular culture, the consumption of monkey brains is repeatedly portrayed and debated, often in the context of portraying exotic cultures as exceptionally cruel, callous and strange.

It is often portrayed as follows:

the brain is eaten cooked
the brain is eaten raw (occasionally directly out of the dead monkey's skull)
the brain is eaten fresh, spooned out of the skull while the monkey is still alive

Consumption

Monkey brain may have been cooked as an ingredient in the dishes of some Chinese imperial cuisine. Paul Burrell, the former butler of Princess Diana, claims he was served monkey brains on banana leaves and coconut palms in one of their visits. However, it is still debated, and difficult to substantiate whether live monkey brains was one of the items in the Qing dynasty Manchu Han Imperial Feast.

The Anyang tribe practices a tradition in which a new tribal chief would consume the brain of a hunted gorilla while another senior member of the tribe would eat the heart.

It is not only sick humans who eat the brains of monkeys. Two species of chimpanzee are known to eat the brains of monkeys which provide fat in their diet.

Risks

Consuming the brain and other nerve tissue of animals may be hazardous to health. Brain consumption can result in contracting fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion diseases in humans .

In popular culture

In the book Born Red, A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution author Gao Yuan describes looking inside restaurant windows of Guangzhou that "offered the famous monkey brains, served at a special table that locked the monkey's head in place; the waiter would open the skull and the diners would eat while the body wriggled under the table."
Maxine Hong Kingston's book The Woman Warrior also contains a description of a monkey feast including the special table; Kingston attributes the description to her mother.

The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord's Son is a 1998 memoir of life in Communist China by Guanlong Cao, in which the author describes the eating of live monkey brains.

In Tama Janowitz's collection of stories; Slaves of New York, a character describes a dinner experience in which his fellow diners ate fresh monkey brains whilst on a business trip.

Click here to see a video of this HORIFFIC practice.

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