Why do people want to eat babies? The Christian Science Monitor explains
September 24, 2013 8:09 PM   Subscribe

UPDATE: The headline, subhead, and lead to this story are not meant be taken seriously. Together they are, in the parlance of journalism, "the thing that gets people to read the article." The Christian Science Monitor website published a brief article summarizing a study that examined the effects of newborn baby smell on women's brains. Its lead sentence: "If you're like most normal people, you've briefly considered eating a baby or two." Via Romenesko
posted by oneswellfoop (47 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Chili's Baby Back Ribs (with barbecue sauce!)
posted by FJT at 8:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

. . . or to nom on dog ears.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have no maternal instincts whatsoever and find babies mildly frightening, but I'll be honest: I have threatened to eat a couple of babies in my time.

Anyway, babies love it when you pretend to eat them. That's when they're genetically programmed to be at Peak Cute.

I really really hate the word "nom," but it was invented for chubby baby legs.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Babies? Small children ? Lord no. They have their annoyances, but are otherwise a blast to be around and raise.

Teenagers ? That is when you discover why some species eat their young.

after one particularly bad fight with my teenaged son, I was compelled to call my parents and apologize profusely.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:24 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

People like smelling babies when doing so activates the reward centers in their brain? That seems an awfully circular argument, as can be seen by the fact that it is in the form of a circle.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:28 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

I've always assumed that this was related to wanting to kiss them, and also to the difficult-to-restrain impulse to use your own saliva to clean them off when nothing else is available. Contact w/parents' saliva appears to transfer beneficial microorganisms, so it stands to reason that the "eat" impulse might actually be a "transfer microbiome" instinct at work.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:30 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's tragic that people are so dumb the CSM felt the need to pander to them with an update, but at least, she worked in some sarcasm into it: "Still, I hope that you will not only stand firm with me in refraining from infant cannibalism, but that you will also urge your friends, family members, and neighbors to do the same."

More broadly:
The smells were shown to elicit activation in the women's' brains' reward circuits.

“This circuit makes us desire certain foods and causes addiction to tobacco and other drugs,” said University of Montreal researcher and study co-author Johannes Frasnelli, in a news release.
It's unfortunate that a) the journalist couldn't be bothered actually speaking to the research, relying on a press release, and b) I am not a neuroscientist, and perhaps I do this wrongly, but if the introductory lectures on endocrinology I listened to are any indication, describing things like this as a circuit is both very alluring and grossly oversimplifying what's happening.

More broadly still: A 2006 study found that mothers tend to regard the smell of their own baby's poop as less disgusting than that of someone else's baby.

I am not a mother, but this is definitely the case with my daughter. Shits that would have me gagging from other children are only mildly unpleasant from her. This is not to say she can't pop out a gagger every now and then, too. Also - other parents, has anyone ever noticed an inverse correlation between the size of the crap and the heinousness of its smell? I swear, with her, the tiny pellets are like concentrated neutrons of stench.
posted by smoke at 8:33 PM on September 24, 2013

It's tragic that people are so dumb the CSM felt the need to pander to them with an update

It's tragic that people are so dumb the CSM felt the need to use something as ridiculous as that as "the thing that gets people to read the article." Or maybe it was the CSM staff that was so dumb.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:37 PM on September 24, 2013

This is probably why Pop Sci shut down their comment section, effective immediately.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2013

But then again, even on the above-average website Metafilter, it generated a conversation about baby smells rather than the smell of a rapidly decaying standard of journalism.

(not wishing to control the thread... I quit now)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2013

It would be interesting to ferment babies to make beer.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:41 PM on September 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

One Easter, I remember a Target billboard with babies dressed as bunnies and a headline that read "Most people like to nibble the ears first". I didn't understand why no one else thought that was disturbing.
posted by the jam at 8:50 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are babies salty, though? I'm watching my sodium.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:57 PM on September 24, 2013

As an atheist, I say that eating babies is perfectly normal behaviour.
posted by Decani at 9:00 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did somebody say California Cheeseburger?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:04 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I assume it's the same reason we want to eat puppies.
posted by vespabelle at 9:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love babies but I could never eat a whole one.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Bad science.

I'm a guy, and I FREQUENTLY think babies look delicious. So soft and plump.

I mean, seriously, here... Think of BABY BACON!
posted by Samizdata at 9:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sebmojo: "I love babies but I could never eat a whole one."

Hell, betcha can't eat just one!
posted by Samizdata at 9:18 PM on September 24, 2013

Babies smell like poop and cheerios drool.

They do look pretty tasty though. Maybe a little too fatty for everyday eating.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

The smell of a warm fuzzy little puppy is delightful though. Kittens slightly less so but mostly because they make me sneeze.
posted by elizardbits at 9:25 PM on September 24, 2013

The Hungry Tiger's greatest craving...I wonder if he ever lost his conscience and ate one would it quell his monstrous appetite?
posted by brujita at 9:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

So no blood transfusions, but a little baby eating is A-OK? What a strange religion.
posted by miyabo at 9:33 PM on September 24, 2013

My wife (quite finished having babies of her own) gets a little creepy and is often suppressing urges to smell babies' heads.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Babies smell WONDERFUL. Holy crp. My coworker had a kid in February and whenever his baby is in the office I delight in being able to hold him because he smells marvelous. Fresh and sweet and lovely. My desire to not have children is dramatically reduced around him. He is yummy and his parents agree.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

This explanation doesn't appeal to me because I do the same 'eat-your-toes-wubba-wubba' thing to dogs and cats, which obviously don't have that new human smell. What these things all do have in common is A) they are cute and mute, and B) it can make babies giggle and pets playful.

I don't think there is any special significance in the faux cannibalism. It's intimate and playful. I'd guess that 'eat a cute thing' isn't found in all (or most?) cultures, but that similar versions of close-up play silliness are nearly universal.
posted by dgaicun at 10:16 PM on September 24, 2013

I am not a mother and do not intend to be, but when given the chance to nuzzle sweet baby head, I will huff it like an addict.

I have a lesser but related urge to nibble on the paws of both cats and dogs that is more texture-driven than smell-driven. Something about the toe pads that is endearingly vulnerable.
posted by desuetude at 10:29 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm a father of three, and I could smell babies all day long if given the chance. My mother tells me that the middle-aged midwife that delivered me would wax poetic about baby smell, even after decades on the job.
posted by Harald74 at 11:25 PM on September 24, 2013

I think I'd rather be a Super Happy instead.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:50 PM on September 24, 2013

Babies smell like Play-Doh to me. It's not an unpleasant smell, but it doesn't inspire me toward the practice my friends describe as "baby head huffing." Very occasionally, when presented with a particularly cute baby, I will have to suppress an urge to mibble at its tiny fingers and toes, but I've never had the urge to inhale or consume any of the babies I've had in my arms. I often joke that I was born without the babywanting chemical, but maybe I'm truly not wired for babies. Now if only I could convince the "You'll change your mind" crowd that it's just a biological defect!
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:10 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never understood the allure of babies. They don't smell like much unless they have been anointed with nappy rash cream or something. That whole baby-head-fuzz smell? Nup. And yet with other things I'm sometimes excessively sensitive to smell, so it's not just an olfactory impairment. Babies just don't work for me. Well, maybe with butter and garlic. Pretty much everything is yummy with butter and garlic.

As for puppies and kittens? Ears. Every time. Puppies grow out of it, but kitties never do. I am very sad that my cat now needs thyroid medicine which is applied to her ears, so I can no longer nibble them lovingly.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:47 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Y'all probably want to avoid babies with cradle cap - oooh, stinky French cheese! Nice!
posted by alasdair at 1:02 AM on September 25, 2013

"Just one toe. It'll grow back" is the longest running joke I have with my boy.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:14 AM on September 25, 2013

posted by Thorzdad at 3:23 AM on September 25, 2013

Baby head smell is like 98% pure blue meth. I can't get enough of it.
posted by mathowie at 3:30 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

So no blood transfusions, but a little baby eating is A-OK? What a strange religion.

The CSM is pretty much divorced from the doctrines of Christian Science. I have a friend who works for them and she has never had an affiliation with the church.

That said, Jehovah's Witnesses are the ones who specifically can't get transfusions. Adherent Christian Scientists refuse ALL medical treatment in favor of prayer. Here in New England, where the religion is based, there's a trial every couple years because some CS parents killed their kid by refusing antibiotics for a simple infection.

Every town of any size around here still has a CS church. The one in my home town had a sign that read "First Church of Christ, Scientist." When I was a kid, it made me imagine Jesus in a lab coat, staring at test tubes.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:40 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hmm. I am in close proximity to a baby as I type this. Perhaps I am a defective mom, but I have to admit I have never had any urge to nom her. I love how she smells, but I started pretending to nibble her feet because I read in a magazine that it might make her laugh.

Makes me wonder what other instincts I'm missing...
posted by town of cats at 3:54 AM on September 25, 2013

From the updated text, I thought it was going to be an article on why people click on links about eating babies.
posted by sutt at 5:06 AM on September 25, 2013

> The Hungry Tiger's greatest craving...I wonder if he ever lost his conscience and ate one would it quell his monstrous appetite?
> posted by brujita at 12:32 AM on September 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

He says not. Cowardly Lion, speaking to Dorothy:

"... but let me introduce to you a new friend of mine, the Hungry Tiger."

"Oh! Are you hungry?" she asked, turning to the other beast, who was
just then yawning so widely that he displayed two rows of terrible
teeth and a mouth big enough to startle anyone.

"Dreadfully hungry," answered the Tiger, snapping his jaws together
with a fierce click.

"Then why don't you eat something?" she asked.

"It's no use," said the Tiger sadly. "I've tried that, but I always
get hungry again."

"Why, it is the same with me," said Dorothy. "Yet I keep on eating."

"But you eat harmless things, so it doesn't matter," replied the Tiger.
"For my part, I'm a savage beast, and have an appetite for all sorts of
poor little living creatures, from a chipmunk to fat babies."

"How dreadful!" said Dorothy.

"Isn't it, though?" returned the Hungry Tiger, licking his lips with
his long red tongue. "Fat babies! Don't they sound delicious? But
I've never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong. If I
had no conscience I would probably eat the babies and then get hungry
again, which would mean that I had sacrificed the poor babies for
nothing. No; hungry I was born, and hungry I shall die. But I'll not
have any cruel deeds on my conscience to be sorry for."

"I think you are a very good tiger," said Dorothy, patting the huge
head of the beast.

"In that you are mistaken," was the reply. "I am a good beast,
perhaps, but a disgracefully bad tiger."

But then he would say that.
posted by jfuller at 5:35 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I saw that article yesterday and found it hilarious and relatable. I've had the "why do we want to chomp on babies?" conversation before; it's apparently a really common urge. On the other hand, I've never wanted to chomp on babies; I usually find babies kind of boring and often sort of weird-looking and gross. After reading that article, I considered posting an anonymous AskMe to the effect of "I don't like babies; does this mean I should never ever have children?" Or maybe it means I should definitely have children because I'm at low risk for eating them.

I do frequently want to soft kronsche cats, however. My brain's reward center thing is pretty dumb if it wants me to put kitty heads in my mouth.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:28 AM on September 25, 2013

I have a friend who whenever she has a friend who has just had a newborn, will scarily say as she's talking about the baby, in all seriousness and honest deadpan: "I'm serious, I just want to eat that baby up, he's so cute." I always tease her about it because she has said it several times. It secretly scares me.

As for me and my tastes, I lean towards the feline, nom nom. My 17 year old kitty cat just passed away a couple of weeks ago (bless her heart), and I swear, her fur had the cleanest scent - a soapy scent even - I'd bury my face in her all the time and it was hard to stop. Could never completely inhale her.
posted by foxhat10 at 7:45 AM on September 25, 2013

Oh, please don't go! We'll eat you up - we love you so!
posted by Smedleyman at 7:54 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a mama of 10 month old butterball, chubbular and thoroughly delicious baby. I nom on her daily, and one of her favorite things is to have her toesies nibbled. If I was told not to eat my baby, I would cry.

We often tell Darling Boy that we are going to have Darling Baby for lunch. He screams, "Nooo! Darling Baby is NOT food!" Kid is a total buzzkill.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

This never happened to me pre-kid, but now when a young baby comes near, endorphins or seratonin or some such rushes through my head saying "want one - want one".

While the rest of me is saying NOOOOOOOO more.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:01 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Margaret, reacting to young child: You are too precious for words, why I could just... eat you alive!

Morticia Addams: Oh no, Margaret! Too young!
posted by 1367 at 10:13 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

As of now, the "update" part seems to have been taken back off.

But what struck me was the picture caption: "This delicious-looking infant is wearing a onesie from J. Crew's new baby collection." Looks like the CSM is doing advertorials.
posted by beagle at 3:32 PM on September 25, 2013

Just add vegetables!

Nobody mentioned J. Swift, yet? Never mind.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:06 PM on September 25, 2013

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