Why do zombies like to eat brains?
January 29, 2007 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Why do zombies prefer eating brains (as opposed to any other part of the body)?

It seems to be part of the public consciousness that zombies prefer brains but I can't find any sources that tell me why.
posted by bryanboyer to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Why? Because that's how it was written in the Zombie movies and it's funny to say.

Note: flesh-eating Zombies are not real and were created for film and television. I do not believe they come from ancient myth.

Plus, if they only wanted to eat our fingers, we probably wouldn't be as worried and I'm guessing the films wouldn't have taken off--not dramatic enough. "PINKIESSSSS!" doesn't sound very scary.
posted by dobbs at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2007

The pineal gland?
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2007

I've heard that only eating brains can ease the pain of being dead - that might have been in the excellent movie, "From Beyond."
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:10 AM on January 29, 2007

Here's a page of results from googling "Why do zombies eat brains"...

Just from a quick perusal, I can see that some of the results are jokey, but some of them seem to be tackling the subject in a serious way.
posted by amyms at 10:12 AM on January 29, 2007

very high in protein/nutrients, once you get beyond the skull it is easy to eat, no bones, not tough and stringy.

eating human brains has been associated with a form of madness
posted by edgeways at 10:13 AM on January 29, 2007

Are you looking for the original publication of the mythology of brain-eating zombies, the explanation within that mythology, a broader description of the sort of cultural taboos of which such mythology is a reflection, or something else?
posted by scottreynen at 10:13 AM on January 29, 2007

My guess is that they hunger for what they've lost: consciousness and the soul.
posted by Kirklander at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

My related AskMe.
posted by rdr at 10:18 AM on January 29, 2007

Since they don't eat for nourishment, perhaps the act of brain-eating represents an unholy, instinctive attempt on the undead's part to regain their lost minds.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2007

Recent studies have shown that glial cells, which make up the bulk of a brain, have the ability to act as stem cells, at least as far as being able to replicate other brain cells.

Zombies are probably going after the glial cells to help restore some of their brain function.
posted by cCranium at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2007

From Wikipeida:

In America, Dan O'Bannon's 1985 movie, Return of the Living Dead, took a more comedic approach to distinguish his movie from George Romero's; it had the zombies hunger specifically for brains instead of all human flesh.

So Dobbs might be right.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2007

Being dead, many zombies are missing teeth, and prefer eating something that's easy on the gums.
posted by mike0221 at 10:35 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Given that this is AskMe, it's the duty of someone addressing this question to make the obligatory argument that this is all due to observational biases: zombies eat lots of different kinds of human flesh, but it's kind of unusual to go after the brains -- e.g., why crack a coconut when there are macaroons all around? -- so that's all we remember. Just like coincidental birthdays.

Please resume the discussion; I apologize for the interruption.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2007 [4 favorites]

Brains are rich in cholesterol, which is essential for maintaining cell membrane pliability, which is a particular problem at the low body temperatures typical of zombies in non-tropical climates.
posted by Good Brain at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2007

It's a matter of managing their habitat. As is well-known, a zombie's bite will infect a normal human and turn him or her into another zombie within a matter of minutes or hours. This, of course, assumes that the attacking zombie or its pack do not completely consume the victim. Now, you figure that a solo zombie or even one or two attacking in conjunction cannot eat all of the meat parts of a given victim in one sitting. This means that if a zombie just eats an arm, pretty soon it will be joined by a one-armed zombie that is also now on the hunt. Therefore it must now compete with the n00b in the pursuit of tasty human flesh.

Eating the brain is both satisfying and prevents the rise of new zombies, so the zombie population does not increase to unsustainable levels.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 10:55 AM on January 29, 2007

Best answer: As Brandon Blatcher above noted, the BRAAAAIIIIINNNNNNSSSSS and zombies link was made in the movie Return of the Living Dead, an entertaining film. It is far less influential than the films of the godfather of the modern zombie, George Romero, whose Living Dead films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead) are the holy writ of zombiedom.

In the Romero films, zombies are merely interested in living flesh, be it brain or other, easier to consume pieces. Most zombie films and fiction follow this lead.

Romero's zombies are also without language*, at least without human language, and thus can't be bothered to ask directly for brains.

*with the exception of Land of the Dead, where some communication seems to have evolved.
posted by griffey at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Brains are high in fat, which zombie metabolism requires.

More on zombie metabolism.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2007

I'd like to call into question the basic assumption of the question, namely that zombies like to eat brains. Aside from RotLD, is there a major cultural reference for this? Neither of the two arguable "canons" of zombie lore (Voudou and Romero's Dead cycle) feature brains specifically.
posted by mkultra at 11:01 AM on January 29, 2007

Zombies don't eat brains. They eat a paste made from datura.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:30 AM on January 29, 2007

In Monster Island (by David Wellington), the zombies just want to eat living flesh as opposed to just brains, because of some life-energy that exists in living things. Only this life-energy can satiate a zombie's hunger.

I think it has something to do with that you can only kill a zombie by damaging the brain, or something like that.
posted by god particle at 11:50 AM on January 29, 2007

This is a no-brainer. They eat them for the tannic acid, to keep their undead hides tough and leathery.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:00 PM on January 29, 2007

Zombies should in fact avoid eating brains at all costs- consumption of brain or nervous tissue can transmit kuru, a prion disease similar to BSE.

To all the Zombies out there, don't be the next victim of Mad Zombie Disease. Just say no to brains.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:15 PM on January 29, 2007

Heh, a while back I wrote a story for MSNBC about movie zombies and researched this. Sometimes I love my job.

It doesn't quite answer the question, but here's a relevant part:

"The movie zombie has evolved. They weren't always hungry for brain food. Back in "Night of the Living Dead" Romero called them "marauding ghouls," and they weren't picky about their dinner — they'd eat any part of you. Instead you were supposed to go after THEIR brains. As one character explained "since the brain of a ghoul has been activated by the radiation, the plan is kill the brain, and you kill the ghoul.""
posted by GaelFC at 12:30 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Clyde Mnestra, your derailing will not stand. How am I supposed to concentrate on the very serious question at hand now? I guess I'll just have to do my best.

I'm pretty sure they eat brains as a radical symbol of the social inversion they are trying to bring about. They are clearly a very opressed class. I mean nobody would even argue that it's wrong to kill a zombie. Most wouldn't even call them humans. They don't eat us just because they're hungry and that's what they naturally eat. They are trying to bring down the ruling classes through violent revolution. And what is it that supposedly makes us so superior? Our fully functioning brains. So they eat them to symbolize their attempts to invert the social order.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:49 PM on January 29, 2007

As I said before it was mysteriously deleted...tastes like chicken. Perhaps Zombies prefer brains to other, tougher cuts of meat. Human flesh is very chewy, what with all that tendon and ligament stuff.
posted by Gungho at 1:20 PM on January 29, 2007

Apparently there's a very good reason for the whole brain diet thing... so ya know.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:32 PM on January 29, 2007

Just for total clarification... here is the revised Zombie Food Pyramid. It's all about balanced nutrition, you see...
posted by miss lynnster at 1:34 PM on January 29, 2007

Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide site has an "Ask the Expert" section. The book says nothing about any supposed preference for brains, but does note that 1) zombies do not digest the flesh they eat but simply accumulate it in their digestive systems until it is forced out their anus or their intestines burst from the pressure, 2) zombies continue to feed even when they have no digestive tract at all, 3) zombies attack animals as well as humans, and 4) captured zombies presented with cubes of animal and human flesh invariably reach for the latter first. Modern science is at a loss to explain any of this.

Bottom line: Zombie brain preference is an urban legend.

This is gonna spawn a horde of MeTa threads, you know.
posted by mediareport at 2:10 PM on January 29, 2007

Because they only drink white wine.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:43 PM on January 29, 2007

The ecology of zombies needs a workup. Why should they bother to eat human brains (or humans at all) with bountiful non-human food around in the USA, unless it's so far into the apocalypse that the food production system has totally broken down. They need to arise in a very poor country.
posted by bad grammar at 3:54 PM on January 29, 2007

1. As I said above, and as others have substantiated, it is likely a misperception that zombies crave brains in particular.
I'm aware of no sound empirical work that would evidence such a preference -- and note that if there is such work, it likely failed to comply with federal guidelines on research involving human subjects, and should therefore not be cited.

2. Assuming they do prefer brains, why is that? Perhaps it is the nutrients; perhaps it is because they are cretinous and misunderstand that the brain is only their peculiar vulnerability, while humans can be killed in many other ways.

I'd like to think it's because zombies are a metaphor for intellectual exchange, and they attack and harvest brains for much the same reason that the OP looked to AskMeFi.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:21 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Only movie zombies eat brains. Real zombies eat Nutella.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:34 PM on January 29, 2007

Aside from the Return of the Living Dead zombies needed brains to stop the pain of being dead, my going theory was that, to maintain their undead nervous system they needed, well, more nervous system, namely, braaaaaaains.
posted by adipocere at 4:42 PM on January 29, 2007

I'd like to call into question the basic assumption of the question, namely that zombies like to eat brains. Aside from RotLD, is there a major cultural reference for this?

Jonathan Coulton gives us a first person account.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:43 PM on January 29, 2007

Mmmmmmmm Nuteeellllllllllllllllllaaaaaaaaaa.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:03 PM on January 29, 2007

Obviously, the hippie vegetarian zombies wouldn't eat brains. Instead, they'd be like "Graaains! Graaains!"
posted by cschneid at 5:14 PM on January 29, 2007

OK..I really need to settle this... As mentioned in the past (I'm sure I've mentioned it, I ALWAYS mention it), I was, for a brief period of time, a Zombie... (photos available), having been cast as a Zombie Extra in "Dawn of the Dead"..

Bottom line, we'll eat any available piece of living human flesh...those idiots in "Return of the Living Dead" were fakes....
posted by HuronBob at 5:31 PM on January 29, 2007

Before they attack, be sure you've read enough literature on the subject.

And to help keep zombies away from your brain: the zombie survival kit! Bargain at $21,999 if you ask me! Zombies not included.
posted by Xere at 5:34 PM on January 29, 2007

cschneid: I would have thought it'd be "Braaaaans! Braaaaans!"
posted by sephira at 10:35 AM on January 30, 2007

Zombies eat brains because they are fictional, and can eat whatever they want to.
posted by Aquaman at 12:51 PM on January 30, 2007

Confirmation bias.
posted by Coda at 1:56 PM on January 30, 2007

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