To Serve Man
"Human beings are mostly water. Their tissues and fluids retain flavors and other residues from their food. Their bones have a brittle quality. Their skin is warm and pliant. Thirst-quenching, well-seasoned, crunchy and yet chewy: People are the Elvis of snack food."
The planet Earth in fiction seems to be a magnet for every hostile alien, demon, trans-dimensional being and human-created atrocity known for a very simple reason.
They come for the food.
Humans seem to be the universe's top delicacy. On a planet covered with millions of animal and plant species, it seems that humans are the only thing here worth eating.
Never mind that predators native to this planet tend to turn their noses up at human flesh unless nothing else is available. From a predator's standpoint, humans aren't really worth eating. We are frighteningly inefficient as a food source, given the amount of meat on us relative to our size (compared to other prey animals, humans are kinda bony), as well as our growth rate, and of course, our ability to fight back with weapons and the other benefits of our brains.
Nonetheless, rampaging alien carnivores will bypass an entire herd of beef cattle, bison, elephants, whatever, just to get their chops around a nice, juicy human. Maybe it's because humans are easier to find nowadays?
(And don't even get us started on how, apparently, human and alien biology is a hundred percent compatible - every space monster seems perfectly equipped to digest human flesh which probably never even existed in its native enviroment — or if not, it never realizes until it's too late.)
A lighter version of the trope, bordering on aversion, is when the aliens can, in fact, eat just about anything... but humans just taste better. In other words, that line above - "Humans are a delicacy" - is taken literally; you wouldn't eat it every day, but when you get the chance...
This also happens in just about every zombie movie - the zombies spend almost all their time and efforts attempting to feed on live humans, which is pretty strange for creatures acting on "Pure motorized instinct."
Likewise, in any given werewolf horror movie, the werewolf typically preys on live humans, as opposed to raiding a butcher shop or a livestock farm. In cases where the lupine hunting instinct is said to be causing this behaviour, why doesn't the werewolf go after wild deer or rabbits? This makes no sense given that wild wolves will scavenge from an existing food source if available, rather than waste energy hunting for it, and humans behave much the same way.
On the topic of horror genre monsters, the same could go for vampires. It seems like all recently turned vampires just decide, "Hey, let's go kill humans!" They never once consider feeding on other animals, such as livestock, which would surely contain more blood than humans, nor does it occur to them to break into the blood bank of a hospital. A human would be more likely to fight back, and human blood would increase the risk of food-borne diseases.
(However, vampires are more likely to have justifications for this behavior, since their hunger is often supernatural in origin; being dead, they aren't "feeding" in any biological sense, and often the blood must come from a living human. In other cases it's explained by sheer sadism, as vampires become inherent sociopaths as soon as they're turned.)
Can also be justified if the monsters are a result of The Virus, if said virus is human-specific and spreads through a bite, since it can be altering its host's mind in order to spread itself around more effectively.
Named for the classic Twilight Zone episode (itself based on a short story by Damon Knight) that dramatically shows you cannot judge a book by its title. See I'm a Humanitarian for plain old cannibalism, and How to Invade An Alien Planet for additional reasons why this doesn't work so well. May lead to People Farms. Related to Horror Hunger.
Anime and Manga
- Homunculi in Busou Renkin eat humans, but this doesn't seem to be necessary for their survival; after an early feeding frenzy, Papillion Mask doesn't eat another human for the duration of the series. Victoria Powered later suggests that it's because, unlike other homunculi, Papillion has absolutely no wish to be human again. Notably, this tidbit comes after the line, "Want a taste? It's my mother."
- The "Processing Plants" in Cannon God Exaxxion convert humans into food, among other things, some of which is actually sold back to other unwitting humans. Somewhat justified as the aliens' main motivation is to colonize the planet & making the dominant species into a foodsource is simply convenient.
- The Cyborg 009 2001 series has the Athans, a race of talking an telephatic dinosaurs that invade the peaceful Kingdom of Yomi to use its citizens as their living food stock. Hence why the five Princesses of the kingdom first latch on Black Ghost, and later on the Cyborgs as the BG Group betrays them...
- This is literally a genetic imperative of the aliens in Parasyte - as one tells the main character, the first thing all of them hear in their heads when they take over a body is "Kill and eat this species!" This is further expanded on early in the story, when the main character sees a Parasyte that accidentally landed in a dog - it's eating another dog.
- The demons in Yu Yu Hakusho, combined with Carnivore Confusion. It doesn't say whether all species of demon have to eat human flesh to survive, though. This leads, later in the series, to a what measure is a human discussion, as well as Raizen's death via starvation for his medieval Japanese human lover, from whom Yusuke is descended.
- In their first appearance in Dragon Ball, Vegeta and Nappa are shown successfully invading an alien planet and eating the remains of the planet's Humanoid Alien inhabitants.
- YMMV, though, as the "Humanoid Aliens" had a lot of insect-like features to them.
- As you can see in the page quote, Nextwave explains monsters' preference for eating humans.
- Inverted in the Star Wars Expanded Universe comic Qui Gon And Obi Wan Last Stand On Ord Mantell, the title characters discover that a group of humans are smuggling aliens off of their planet, and assume it is because they are useful as cheap slaves. In reality, it is because they are "delicious".
- One Strontium Dog story had a planet of aliens who imported many other sentient species as slaves. The fit ones were put to work building monuments to the king, while the sick, lame, and old were put in battery farms to be fattened up before eating.
- Marvel Zombies 5 involves a world where H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds happened. Then the Martians came back, immune to Earthling's diseases. Then, they did human farming. So, what do you do with the Zombie virus? It's a dirty war, let's poison the enemy's food.
- This is the premise for Peter Jackson's (yes, that Peter Jackson) first movie, Bad Taste: if the aliens have their way, our entire species will be served throughout the galaxy as "Crumb's Country Delights"...
- The sci-fi movie Daybreakers explores this trope with an interesting twist --- what if 95% of the population are now vampires, and only 5% are humans?
- Again inverted in District 9- some of the Nigerians believe that by eating the aliens, they'll gain the ability to use their DNA-coded weapons (this is based on Truth in Television—albinos in Tanzania are hunted by a superstitious but dangerous few trying to gain their "power"). Humans Are the Real Monsters is in full effect.
- Also played straight with Koobus's fate. It seems everyone's got a taste for everyone else in that universe.
- In Dude, Where's My Car, the first thing that the alien Amazon Brigade do after merging into the Super Hot Giant Alien is swallow the nearest teenage boy whole.
- The Vastatosaurus rex of Skull Island in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong seemed to find blonde heroine Ann Darrow an irresistible tidbit, eagerly pursuing her with intent to devour regardless of circumstances. One actually drops the half-eaten carcass of its reptilian prey (massing about as much as a human) to pursue her, and later a V-rex struggles to bite her while dangling by (industrial strength) vines over a canyon floor! (Maybe blonde female humans are "carnosaur crack" and just the sight or scent of one immediately addicts the poor brute.)
- After the brontosaur stampede ends with the entire herd of sauropods literally left in a pile - which, given their huge size, would have left most of their skeletons effectively pulverized and probably killed instantly in Real Life - the predatory Venatosaurus pack promptly ignores the already-disposed of banquet before them in order to pursue the small band of fleeing humans (who are armed with Tommy guns, no less).
- The Matrix has humans being used by robots as food (well, batteries). Thermodynamic concerns notwithstanding, wouldn't cows be less trouble?
- In the M. Night Shamayalan movie Signs, the aliens want to "harvest" humans, but are afraid of, and affected badly by, water. The liquid that makes up most of human biology. Maybe they planned to turn us all into jerky.
- In the 2009 film Star Trek Kirk is marooned on the planet Delta Vega where he is attacked by a large predator. That predator is killed by an even larger predator which drops its huge, freshly killed prey in order to pursue the miniscule Kirk.
- The beast is probably territorial, and is chasing Kirk off of its land - notice how it uses threat displays before chasing Kirk.
- In Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks initially think our heroes are food. Except Leia since she ran into Wicket, a single Ewok, first.
- Troll 2: The goblins try to treat the Waits family to Nilbog food so that they can turn them into "half-man, half-plant" goblin food.
Arnold: They're eating her! And then they're going to eat me! OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDD!
- Lampshaded in Madagascar, when the lemurs are discussing Julian's plan for Alex. When the fosa are mentioned, panic breaks out, and one of the lemurs holds a book with the title "To Serve Lemur," screaming that it's a cookbook.
- The iconic giant plant from Little Shop of Horrors, is an alien species that survives only by feeding off of fresh human blood, and arrived on earth in the first place to conquer America and feed off of its inhabitants, supposedly due to an extreme lack of food on the species' native planet.
- Battle Beyond the Stars. Caymen of the Lambda Zone captures The Chick and, though he admits he'd normally get a fine price elsewhere for a pretty thing like her, he's now going to feed her to an alien who's purchased her body for more carnivorous purposes.
- Weird sci-fi flick Lifeforce has an unusual spin on vampire mythology: vampires are actually aliens who visit humanity from time to time to suck us dry of life energy.
- In The Awakeners by Sheri S. Tepper, humans are allowed to immigrate to the planet Northshore after the government essentially makes a Deal with the Devil with a native species (that resemble human sized, talking birds). When a person dies they are fed a liquid, The Tears of Viranel, which supposedly helps them on into the afterlife. In reality this liquid turns them into walking zombies, and tenderises their flesh so the native species can eat them. Um, yeah...
- In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair the children are invited to stay in the giants' castle, where they will be "part of the great Autumn Feast in their honor". The older female giants fawn and tut-tut over their charges. Then they discover a giant-sized cookbook in the kitchen... it lists Man as a delicacy, albeit with very little actual meat. The cookbook goes so far as to list Marshwiggle (Non-Human Sidekick Puddleglum), claiming that while edible, they are very stringy and have a "muddy flavor".
- What courses are Man served at the Autumn Feast? "MAN. This elegant little biped has long been valued as a delicacy. It forms a traditional part of the Autumn Feast, and is served between the fish and the joint. Each Man--" We don't know what it says after that because Jill stopped reading.
- The "be part" should have tipped them off.
- Subverted a bit in Larry Niven's Draco Tavern stories. A minor character tells the (protagonist) bartender his tale of being in the first diplomatic mission to the Glig, where they're given standard DNA testing among other things. And then cloned as a meat source.
- Inverted in the short story From Gustible's Planet by Cordwainer Smith. Petting Zoo People ducks invade/decide to hang out on Earth, eat all our food and refuse to leave. When there's an accident involving a Duck-person official, a fire hazard, and smell-o-vision, the entire world realizes that they're delicious. The few ducks that survive the ensuing massacre beat a hasty retreat and change their galactic phone number to 'unlisted'.
- In Yulia Latynina's Inhuman, the extinct Ttakas ate everything regardless, including humans, though they showed no particular preference. A better example would be the Barrs, who have a proud hunter culture and like to eat their prey - especially humans because they're so difficult to kill, what with their power armour and their general predominance.
- The immortals from the Clive Barker short story The Midnight Meat Train have to eat human flesh to survive, though they claim not to enjoy it. The Eldritch Abomination that leads them and is implied to be the original source of all myths of Gods doesn't seem terribly interested in eating much of anything during the brief time we see it, though.
- A number of aliens in John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe like to eat humans, most notably the Rraey. This tends to be the main issue with human-Rraey relations.
- The Rraey have cooking shows about how to serve humans.
- In Parasite Pig by William Sleator, there are crablike aliens that have a whole gourmet tradition for cooking humans and similar creatures (complete with treating them as guests and fattening them up), even though they don't have space travel and have to wait for humans to come to their home planet. (In that verse, Casual Interstellar Travel exists, but Earth-inhabiting humans don't have access to it, and it generally doesn't seem as if the crabs in question do.)
- The godlike Managers imprisoned beneath the showgrounds in The Pilo Family Circus consider the entire human race little more than an exquisite but miniscule delicacy.
- The main reason the devils in The Screwtape Letters have any interest in people whatsoever is their oh-so-tasty souls.
- Averted in Piers Anthony's "Small Mouth, Bad Taste", in which a prehistoric race of sentient lemurs was driven to extinction because, unlike we humans, they were quite tasty to predators.
- In Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, vampires usually feed from humans, but have no problem whatsoever with existing on animal blood if they have to. Lestat even explains this to Louis in Interview with the Vampire when he points out that if Louis doesn't want the(at the time) still-superstitious humans opening his coffin while they're at sea, Louis "damn well better keep that ship clean of rats." Additionally, Lestat's mother Gabrielle lives almost exclusively in the wilderness, and subsists on wild animals.
- The War Against the Chtorr series has an invading alien ecology transforming Earth into a world where humanity will not only serve as food, but will welcome it.
- In David Weber and Steve White's In Death Ground (a novel based on the Starfire tabletop wargame), on every human-colonized planet the Arachnids take over, they eat the locals.
- The Martians in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds are here for the food. As medical science at the time (or at least Wells' understanding of it) had the digestive system actually transforming food into blood to keep the body moving, the Martians "fed" by directly transfusing human blood into their system. So this is Older Than Radio.
- They actually have the cookbook in real life, inspired by the Twilight Zone episode.
- This trope is one of the main themes in Michel Faber's Under The Skin. The book plays with the reader's perceptions as the aliens call themselves "humans" and refer to Earthlings as "vodsels". The protagonist's job is to pick up human hitchhikers while disguised as a voluptuous human female, and deliver the meat to a farm to be processed and sent to the home planet for the rich to eat as a delicacy.
- World War Z (and 'The Zombie Survival Guide before it) had the zombie hunger for human flesh as part of the solanium virus's lifecycle. Zombies feed largely because a single bite is enough to convert the victim (they don't need to eat; human flesh simply builds up in their digestive systems. If they live long enough, food intake will push undigested flesh out of their rear). The major problem with this is that "Feed" instinct usually outweighs "Spread" instincts.
- Larry Niven's Known Space Verse plays it straight and averts it for different species. The kzinti used to eat humans during the Man-Kzinti Wars, but had to give up the practice during peacetime. On the other hand, one of the main characters tells a story of being attacked by a native predator on the planet Gummidgy. It tore a chunk out of his side, then stopped chasing him to eat the strip it had in its grip...and then dropped dead on the spot, from biochemical incapatibility.
- Defied in Tara Duncan. A dragon states that he won't eat humans: cows taste better. The heroine wonders how he can tell.
- Played with in Chess With A Dragon, in which humanity is in danger of becoming food to any of a number of predatory alien species if we can't pay off a massive debt owed to one of them. In this case, it's not that humans are particularly prized as food: it's that every newly-spaceworthy species gets conned into the same position, and it's become routine for carnivorous races at the top of the galactic pyramid-scheme to eat whichever species are indentured to them.
- In the Goosebumps book Attack Of The Jack-O'-Lanters, people are reported as missing around Halloween in a fairly background event. The protagonists meet two new friends who help them scare a couple of bullies, and aren't particularely phased when the duo turn out to be aliens. As they escort them back to their spaceship, the aliens reveal that they ate all those people and that they will continue to return to Earth to do exactly that, before taking off in their spaceship.
- In Robert Asprin's Myth-Nomers and Im-Pervections, Skeeve is in disguise in a Pervish restaurant and asks for "something from [his home dimension of] Klah", and is brought what appears to be an entire cooked Klahd/human; it turns out it's a fake constructed out of other kinds of meat.
- In Angel, Big Bad Jasmine needs to regularly eat humans whole for nourishment. When Gunn finds out about this, he screams "To Serve Man! It's To Serve Man all over again!" When Angel mentions this as one of his reasons for opposing her, she quickly retorts "Like you never have?"
- In the episode "Unleased" a group of depraved culinarists catch a werewolf for her meat. Since a werewolf returns to human form when it dies, it has to be eaten alive.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel both stays with and subvert this trope. Standard vampires in Buffy are shown to make regular runs at blood banks in an effort to stay out of Buffy's way, while Angel buys animal blood from a slaughterhouse. And when Angel becomes CEO of Wolfram & Hart, he is given a cup of blood to drink. Wondering at the taste, he is informed that "the secret ingredient is otter."
- Another episode addresses it more directly and then plays with it, without even using vampires. Buffy—working at a fast food place called "Double Meat"—notices that the managers are extremely secretive about the meat making process, and that some of the more troublesome employees disappear without question or concern. She comes to the conclusion that the meat is actually human, but when she investigates it she finds out that the meat isn't even meat, it's vegetable matter and that the disappearing employees are the result of a man-eating monster.
- According to Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly's memoir A Bold Fresh Piece Of Humanity is a recipe book.
- However, according to Stephen Colbert, the "Learn and Serve America" program is not.
- The Doctor Who serial The Two Doctors featured Shockeye, an alien who prattled on endlessly about the gourmet possibilities for the preparation of human flesh.
- There's a subversion/inversion in "The Impossible Planet", in which the Ood advance on the Doctor and Rose repeatedly stating "We must feed" - their translator was malfunctioning and they meant "We must feed you" (they're servants).
- Stargate Atlantis's Wraith can only subsist on the life-energy of humans; alternative food sources won't work. Much of the protagonists' challenge involves keeping them from finding Earth, which they desire because of its large population even though it's in another galaxy. Yes, there are humans in another galaxy. It's Stargate.
- It's not that alternative food sources won't work; after puberty, a Wraith's digestive system shuts down and while they can still consume food and drink orally, they won't derive sustenance from it. We never saw one starving to death since they can just hybernate when hungry but Todd did show signs of it like randomly fainting (or going delirious and speaking in rhymes in an alternate universe).
- Quite a few monsters in Supernatural are prone to snacking on people or specific parts of them, but the Leviathans certainly take the cake, as their entire M.O. seems to be "they eat people".
- To elaborate on the Trope Namer, it was the word-for-word title of an episode of The Twilight Zone. The story begins when seemingly benevolent aliens come to Earth bringing solutions to the world's issues of war, hunger and poverty, and eventually offer humans rides back to their home planet. Said aliens are carrying a book instructing them on how to aide humans, entitled "To Serve Man" (that is, presumably, to be of service to man). However, as more of the book is translated, its true nature is discovered, leading to the reveal: "It's a cookbook!" (Most likely Better Than It Sounds)
- Of course, double meanings do not carry over well in translation, which raises the question just how stupid or unlucky the translators must have been.
- It's not impossible, depending on the language structure. The "poor luck" scenario in this particular case is more a 20% chance or so than a 1% chance, at least in Earth languages.
- The episode foreshadowed the twist ending by saying metaphors that compared humans to livestock. In fact, one of the first things the aliens did was build huge containment shields, ostensibly to end war forever..
- Of course, double meanings do not carry over well in translation, which raises the question just how stupid or unlucky the translators must have been.
- The aliens in V plan on making humanity into a food source. Subverting the trope since it didn't follow though, however, they seem to have no problem with eating other mammals as well (see: the famous sequence where one swallows a guinea pig whole).
- The first season of War of the Worlds ends with the Blackwood team allying itself with an android sent by a "friendly" alien race to help protect mankind from the invaders. Her final message back to her homeworld before leaving, subtitled for the benefit of the audience, but untranslated for Blackwood and his team, changes a hopeful ending to a Downer Ending. The message? "Humanity still in danger as future food supply."
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, one of the rules that all werewolf clans are supposed to follow is not eating humans. This is explained as being partially because it's dangerously close to cannibalism (all werewolves have a werewolf as one parent and either a human or a wolf as the other), but mostly because with all the preservatives we eat, we're just not very healthy for them. One clan (consisting only of werewolves with a wolf parent) breaks this rule whenever they can, but this has more to do with their inherent misanthropy than anything else.
- In Werewolf: The Forsaken, werewolves are forbidden from eating humans or wolves - their cousins on either side of the spiritual family tree. Thing is, if they break that rule, they gain Essence back...
- In Starfire, one alien race, the Arachnids, finds humans to be a delicacy.
- The whole plot of Commander Keen 6 revolves around saving the protagonist's babysitter from aliens that want to eat her (the full name of the game is Commander Keen 6: Aliens Ate my Babysitter!). The game even features a level which contains a book with "How To Serve Man" written on the cover with alien alphabet.
- Buried in Time: The Journeyman Project Part 2 features a player death sequence in which the hero accidentally teleports himself onto the table of some aliens preparing to sample earth cuisine, and is mistaken for Kung Pao Chicken.
- The Kaiju Gods of Primal Rage can eat the humans who enter the battlefield to pray to their respective god during battle to gain health. Taking this to the extreme is Sauron (No, not that one) whose insatiable appetite has him eating everyone in his ending.
- Referenced in World of Warcraft - the item "An exotic cookbook" is described as having the title "How to serve Man". Seeing as it drops in a jungle area populated with cannibalistic trolls, this is definitely meant to be taken literally.
- Undead characters also have a racial ability called "Cannibalize" that enables them to consume humanoid corpses every so often to restore a percentage of their health.
- The alien invaders' objective in Body Harvest.
- In Warcraft III, the basic Troll Unit has 'Soylent Gray is made from Trolls' and 'It's a cookbook! A COOKBOOK!' as his taunts.
- Actually its the Troll Witchdoctor, and his last taunt (before cycling back to the non-pissed phrases) is a hilarious parody of the Iron Chef cooking show!
- It's hinted in the X-COM series that one of the reasons aliens harvest humans is for food... some fan works retaliate with humans dining on the aliens in return. (Rule of Funny is in play)
- One of the ways that players can earn money in the game is selling recovered alien technology—including alien corpses. It is never made entirely clear who buys those corpses, but in the official X-COM tie-in novel by Diane Duane, the protagonist actually wonders if restaurants are buying them.
- A common joke about the second game, Terror From the Deep, is that bases undoubtably eat hearty after fending off Lobster Men attacks.
- In Tomb Raider, dinosaurs (and other various large creatures) seem to find Miss Lara Croft a delicacy, considering they attack her on sight with or without provocation, in addition, in various QTE's, Lara can get Swallowed Whole by either a T-Rex or Snake creature, with the former ignoring several Raptors to eat Lara.
- Aside from using humans or various parts thereof in their war machine, the Strogg from Quake II and Quake IV also reprocess humans into Stroyent to feed their troops. When the player himself is Stroggified, he can also use it as a means of replenishing health.
- This is a required survival behavior for the player's monster in Crush Crumble and Chomp; eating humans staves off hunger and heals damage. Unprotected civilians are the best, while armored tanks and infantry provide minimal benefit.
- Touhou Project's Youkai are generally said to be man-eaters (no, not THAT kind), though this is usually kept in the background:
- The prologue of Perfect Cherry Blossom, written by a Hakurei shrine maiden (possibly Reimu herself) notes that humans are delicacies to the youkai and that teams of them regularly leave Gensokyo to kidnap outside humans for food, disguised as accidents or people running away from home.
- In Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, Heida no Akyu says on one hand that the humans of Gensokyo are no longer hunted by youkai as food ... but later comments that outsider humans are common prey (as well as hermits).
- One of the few times a youkai has threatened to eat a human in-game is the encounter with Utsuho Reiuji in Subterranean Animism, when playing as Reimu and Suika. Utsuho finds Reimu rather tasty-looking, and expresses her desire to eat Reimu right then and there.
- In the Mortal Kombat franchise, Tarkatans - as in, Baraka's people - not only eat humans, but other sapient species of Outworld, including Tarkatans of other tribes. In fact, Tarkatans themselves are often preyed upon by them, given comments made by Kotal Kahn and Ferra/Torr.
- Aylee from Sluggy Freelance seemed to eat nothing but human beings at first. Justified since her species is specifically designed to take over worlds, so she'd naturally be geared towards attacking the dominant species.
- Also the zombies. Justified because not only do they need to eat humans, they need to eat SPECIFIC PARTS, because they literally "are what they eat". Their bodies constantly rot, and only regenerate the body parts they consume. Hence, the ones that go after BRAAAAAAINS end up being as smart as regular humans while those with a low-brain diet are stupid like regular zombies.
- Schlock from Schlock Mercenary occasionally delves in here, albeit not too often. the biology aspect is kinda laid aside due to the fact that Schlock's immune system is good enough to reject even nanobot assault.
- Occasionally this actually is much more convenient than other options.
- Demons in Tales of MU are required to feed on humans, either something physical or intangible, depending on the individual. Even ones who feed on blood apparently find human flesh tasty, as do other races such as ogres and even mermaids (Why did you think they were so attracted to sailors?). With members of these races integrated at a human university, it can lead to culture clash.
- It's been mentioned in Ben 10 that humans are one of the universe's most delicious species.
- Inverted in the episode "The Problem with Popplers". The Planet Express crew discover a delicious life form on an uncharted planet, and market it as a snack food. Unfortunately for them, it turns out the popplers are actually larval Omicronians, who are none too pleased when they find out. Somewhat subverted when the Omicronians insist on eating humans (i.e., Leela) as compensation. Unfortunately for them, she isn't a human, she's a mutant. But the difference isn't easy to notice in behavior.
- Played straight in the same episode where Bender's "solution" to being out of food is to suggest Fry and Leela fight to the death so he can cook one of them. They naturally object and look for another solution, which turns out to be the Popplers.
- Parodied in the chapter about the slurm's factory
Fry: Maybe...the secret ingredient is humans!
Leela: Nah, there is already a soda with that.
Fry: Really? how's it taste?
Leela: It varies from person to person.
Announcer: It's a buncha muncha cruncha humans!
- Subverted in an episode of Sunbow's G.I. Joe, of all things, where Scarlett mentions that animals actually find that humans taste rather bad (all while being chased by a mind-controlled T-Rex).
- The Uglions in the Sam and Max animated series open a restaurant "to serve man". The Twilight Zone episode gets another Shout-Out in the game "What's New Beelzbub?", when Max exclaims that Stinky's baby book is a cookbook.
- Triple-subverted in a Simpsons Hallowe'en Special parodying the Trope Namer. Lisa finds a book entitled How to Cook Humans, but Kang quickly wipes away some dust to reveal the true title - How to Cook for humans. Lisa then wipes away some more dust, revealing that the title is in fact How to Cook Forty Humans. Finally, Kang wipes away the last of the "space dust", showing that the full, complete title is How to Cook for Forty Humans. After that, the aliens are so disgusted at Lisa's assumption they would eat her that they leave Earth for good... after trying everything you'd expect from a secretly "humanitarian" race, including the book that looks like a cookbook, the neverending feast, constantly saying things that sound like a Double Entendre about eating people, etc. Although it is partially justifiable, as they've probably never done this with humans before and didn't expect to be thought of as people-eaters.
- It's been said that Matt Groening wanted the title to turn out to be How to Cook For Forty Humans and Then Eat Them, but he was fortunately vetoed—having them be wrong about it is much funnier.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "The Trouble With Augie", Donatello and April encounter the Brotherhood, a race of lizard-like beings who allegedly sought to reach Earth in order to share their technology. However, Donatello eventually finds that not only does the Brotherhood plan to consume every human on Earth, they had already done so with the main inhabitants of the planet they currently lived in.
- A What a Cartoon Show Short called Gramps Lampshaded this when a character runs to Gramps, exclaiming what he found before he is hit by a golf club by Gramps, exclaiming, "It's been done!"
- In Adventure Time, Jake invites his rainicorn girlfriend's parents over for dinner. He tells them Finn is his goblin servant to impress them. When he finally fesses up that yes, Finn is a human, they start licking him. When they realize Jake and Finn are friends, though, they settle for artificial human.
- Regular Show episode "Meat Your Maker": A group of hot dogs (the leader of which is voiced by Tim Curry) marinate the cast with this as the intention. Then Rigby squirts mustard on them, and they eat each other instead.
- Real Life aversion: While great white sharks do attack human surfers, such cases are generally thought to be mistaken identity, as they virtually always spit them out after a single exploratory bite. Seals and other marine mammals, the shark's staple diet, have much thicker subcutaneous fat than humans, so a quick taste is enough to convince a great white that our flesh is too lean to be worth consuming.
- Carl Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot, has a footnote about this during a part of the book where he refutes various arguments against watching for other life.
Surprisingly many people, including New York Times editorialists, are concerned that once extraterrestrials know where we are, they will come here and eat us. Put aside the profound biological differences that must exist between the hypothetical aliens and ourselves; imagine that we constitute an interstellar gastronomic delicacy. Why transport large numbers of us to alien restaurants? The freightage is enormous. Wouldn't it be better just to steal a few humans, sequence our amino acids or whatever else is the source of our delectability, and then just synthesize the identical food product from scratch?"
- An Australian cookbook has a typo listing "freshly ground black people" as ingredients for a recipe. "To Serve Man" jokes ensue http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8627335.stm
- Abundant fossil evidence indicates that early human ancestors were regularly food for any number of large carnivores, including big cats, hyenas, and eagles. One species, Dinofelis, a leopard sized sabretoothed cat, may have even been a hominid specialist. This continued up to at least the time of Homo erectus, the discoverer of fire and the first human species to legitimately be a competent major predator in its own right.
- The idea that humans are somehow unpalatable or repugnant to most predators is probably a myth. We are unlikely to taste much different than your average monkey or ape, which are part of the regular menu for many predators. Instead, living predator species for the most part have learned the hard way that humans are dangerous prey and not worth the effort. Those that have not learned this are no longer with us. It also may not that humans taste bad, rather we generally don't have much meat compared to other similar-sized animals. Combined with having guns and stuff, humans are not very good prey. It's not really worth all the trouble. We also look a lot bigger than other animals of our body weight, due to our vertical posture. A predator that'd happily take down a human-sized quadruped is likely to hesitate before tackling a creature that towers over its usual game.
- One particularly famous example of size intimidation are mountain lions. Simply opening up and spreading your jacket convinces an aggressive mountain lion that you suddenly doubled in size, and can scare them off.
- There are a number of modern predator species/populations who have included humans as a regular part of their diet. These include the polar bear, the large crocodiles of Africa and Australia, the tigers of the Sunderbans, a population of lions in Rwanda who learned to prey on refugees during the civil war, and chimpanzees, who regularly hunt monkeys, and have been known to steal and eat human babies, sometimes being as bold as to snatch them right out of their mother's arms.
- There's this one particular crocodile in Africa named Gustave. He's easily distinguished by the dozens of scars on his face from many, many failed attempts to kill him. He seems to have developed a taste for humans, and, rumour has it, his known body count is in the hundreds.