The stigma surrounding the zombie diet has always bothered me. Listen, I get it: they don’t care to wash the grime off their rotting hands before a meal, they hate using utensils, and generally have little regard for the conventional requirements of dining etiquette; but those disgusting acts shouldn’t inform your opinion on the consumption of brains.
Consider the following organisms: the chipmunk, the Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, and the great tit. These are all organisms that have brain-eating tendencies. Yet, no one is prepping an underground bunker for the great tit apocalypse. There are, of course, humans that consume brains as well. The phenomenon is seen in a number of different cultural cuisines: for example, in France, you can treat yourself to a nice helping of cervelle de veau; in Cuba, go ahead and grab yourself a basket of delicious brain fritters; and in Mexico, save room for some tacos de sesos. Animals eat each other’s brains. Humans eat animal brains. Is it that much weirder for zombies to eat humans brains?
Some organisms even consume their own brains. In Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, Verstynen and Voytek cite the sea squirt (tunicate) as one such organism. The sea squirt spends its youth locating a rock surface to perch on; once it plants itself, mouth up, able to consume food, it digests its own brain. It is posited that the brain is only retained for movement early in life, and becomes metabolically expensive to have after settling down (—there is a marriage joke in there somewhere). So the next time you think zombies are gross or scary because they eat brains, remind yourself that there are weirder types of brain consumption out there. At least zombies have the decency to not autocannabalize, right?
In the wild, eating brains, like other internal organs, is just another source of nutrients. Mammalian brains are an especially good source of docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid identified as essential for functional brain development in human infants (Horrocks & Yeo, 1999). According to the NIH, a daily intake of 150 mg and 300 mg of DHA is recommended for young children and pregnant women respectively. These DHA demands can be met by consuming less than three ounces of cooked beef brain. That being said, there are major risks to eating brains! ALTHOUGH BRAINS ARE NUTRIOUS, THEY CAN ALSO KILL YOU. Prion diseases are recognized as the most common and fatal consequence of brain consumption (Collinge, 2001). Prion proteins are characterized by their misfolded shape and exponential replication. The spread of these proteins results in the formation of plaque, which disrupts tissue structure formation and leaves a spongiform configuration (i.e. “holes” in the infected tissue) – in other words, the replication of prion proteins leads to transmissible neurodegenerative conditions (Collinge, 2011). Famous iterations of prion diseases include Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and mad cow disease in cattle. Currently, prion diseases are untreatable and fatal.
The take away message here is that zombies shouldn’t be stigmatized for their brain consumption – if that was the case, you might as well rush the next chipmunk or French guy you see with an ax. With that in mind though, don’t just eat brains willy nilly. There are some dire consequences to brain consumption that a zombie may be better equipped to handle than humans.
Brain (food) [wiki] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_%28food%29
Collinge, John (2001). “Prion diseases of humans and animals: their causes and molecular basis”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 24: 519–50.
DHA Omega 3 – http://www.dhaomega3.org/Overview/DHAEPA-and-the-Omega-3-Nutrition-Gap-Recommended-Intakes
Horrocks, L. A., & Yeo, Y. K. (1999). Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological Research, 40(3), 211-225.
Mental Floss: 5 Animals That Eat Brains – http://mentalfloss.com/article/53277/5-animals-eat-brains
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy [wiki] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmissible_spongiform_encephalopathy