You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the generosity of a placenta, the temporary organ which gets little thought in pregnancy and then passes as a kind of birth afterthought. “No bones,” says Ina May, because even though the contractions come back (curses!), it’s much easier to push out. Historically we’ve called it “the afterbirth,” with connotations of uselessness and disgust. That is changing rapidly.
Now there is a calling for placental advancement in society, with new mothers and birth professionals arguing that the gently used organ is not bio-hazardous hospital waste but a tree of life that continues giving even after its life purpose has been fulfilled.
Perhaps, they say, its purpose isn’t fulfilled when the cord is cut. Many have found benefits from consuming their placentas. Placentophagy, or the consumption of the placenta, is not new. Societies from around the world have practiced it at different times in history, for different reasons. But now, modern, first-world women are taking to it in record numbers.
American Afterbirth will be the first documentary about eating the placenta. It follows extreme food writer Eddie Lin on a placental journey that started with his wife’s request that he cook her placenta after their second baby was born.
The film will include interviews with researchers, midwives, doctors, doulas, chefs and celebrities to help tell the full story of placenta consumption.
“When I went to prepare my wife’s placenta back in 2006, I was shocked by the lack of information available on the placenta, despite the fact that each of us wouldn’t be here without one,” said Eddie. “We’re making this film in order to dispel misinformation and to accurately present all viewpoints on the practice — one that’s rapidly growing in popularity.”
Many are looking forward to the placenta study research that is coming out of the University of Las Vegas. Now there is a full-length documentary to look forward to as well!
I contacted Eddie and asked him some more questions about his experience with placenta preparation and consumption and the upcoming film, American Afterbirth.
How did you prepare your wife’s placenta?
Originally, I wanted to make a dish out of the placenta that was appealing for her to eat, something familiar like chili, tacos, or even a variation of Sloppy Joe I was going to call Sloppy Diane (my wife’s name). She didn’t like any of those ideas, especially loathed the last one.
My mother was summoned to help with the cooking. In her wisdom, she insisted on making a simple tonic soup. I processed the placenta by bleeding it, removing the thick outer membrane and cutting off chunks of usable flesh. Then my mom placed the placenta meat into a pot of simmering water with a slice of fresh ginger, some salt, sesame oil, and rice wine for flavor and energy enhancement. The rice wine did not have the alcohol cooked off in the process because my mother felt it needed to be there to fool my wife’s stomach into absorbing the placenta’s beneficial components more efficiently, since alcohol is taken in by the body quickly.
Did you try it?
Yes, I tried the placenta. Much of it was flavored by the rice wine and sesame oil. It was tender and the coloration was dark brown after cooking. I’ve also tried placenta as a tartare which is raw. Much more of the placenta’s true flavor is experienced that way. The taste was subtly of beef, and the texture was extraordinarily tender.
At what point was the whole placentophagy concept weirdest for you? Or what about it?
When I was processing or “butchering” the placenta, I had to imagine that the organ was from an animal like a cow. It was too hard to slice apart this organ when I thought of it coming from my wife. It was mentally challenging to say the least.
What would you say to people who call it cannibalism?
It is in fact cannibalistic, but without the guilt since nobody had to die. Even stranger, it’s self-cannibalism when you consider the intended consumer is the mother–its producer. However, this category of consuming a part of the self is so unique and possibly beneficial that people can get past what it technically is.
What research or facts have you seen about placentophagy that impressed you the most?
I’ve learned of some of UNLV’s preliminary research on human postpartum consumption of placenta, the first of its kind in the U.S. Dr. Daniel Benyshek is the head researcher and has found some promising results based on a small sample size. A larger scale study is planned soon. Many of the subjects have experienced positive experiences, however the question of whether the effects are actual or placebo is still being determined.
What do your foodie colleagues and friends think about your work on this?
They expect nothing less from me. I’ve been on Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods twice and literally wrote the book on odd edibles called Extreme Cuisine. American Afterbirth is a logical step. This documentary on consuming placenta was born from my personal experience with placentophagy. Now it will join with other stories and hopefully we will get a bigger picture of what is going on and if it really does help women.
How are you keeping production costs so low?
We have a very small crew and everyone wears multiple hats. The director acts as camera operator and editor. The producer and I move gear around if we don’t have extra help. We’ve been shooting locally around Los Angeles. However, the Kickstarter is necessary because now we will be traveling far and wide to interview important figures in the placentophagy community like Jordan Thiering in Mississippi and Robin Lim who lives in Bali. We’ll be visiting UNLV and PlacentaCon. There’s an ancient community in Mexico that perform rituals around placenta that we’d like to visit. We’ll have music licensing, legal fees, post production, film festival expenses, and so on.
Like placentas? Get some sweet placenta gifts when you support the production of American Afterbirth on Kickstarter (through Dec. 1).