In 2008 I took a Zombies in Popular Media class. Yep, that’s a class. Gotta love art school! Anyway, my midterm project on Scott Kenemore’s The Zen of Zombie led to him coming to speak with my class, so I created this ‘zine-style cookbook for my final project in hopes that it would land me an internship at Time Out Chicago – and it did! A million years have passed since then, but I’ve posted the book as a free download so you can print it out and give copies to your friends each Halloween.

If you’re interested in my “artist’s statement” about the book, keep reading. Otherwise, skip to the bottom to download your free copy.

Being a food nerd, I can’t help but think about every single thing I eat on three levels- what it tastes like, how it was made and how it was conceived. Even the other day as I made baking powder biscuits- probably the simplest bread recipe known to man- I had to admire the fact that at some point in human history, someone thought to put shortening, flour, baking powder, milk and salt together and then bake it. Beyond that, someone had to invent baking powder and shortening. Someone had to make the decision to mill flour. These are amazing advances in human civilization and here they are, standing as one along side my BBQ tofu and macaroni and cheese. Don’t even get me started on the brilliance behind tofu!

My constant, probably annoying habit of thinking of food as a tangible and edible sign of evolution melded with all of the zombie movies I’ve watched over the years and turned into The Joy of Cooking Humans, a zombie cookbook. I started to notice signs, especially in George Romero’s movies, of zombie evolution. It isn’t always linear, but it’s definitely there. Of course other directors came along and messed up my theory- Lucio Fulci’s zombies, for example, are little more than animated corpses. They don’t learn anything, they don’t retain any information from their previous life and often times they don’t even open their eyes. They just lumber along like sleep-walking cannibals, falling into holes and smashing their way through wooden doors.

Natalie Slater ThreadlessBut Romero, the old hippy, can’t stand to let the undead wander aimlessly through the afterlife. Either he knows that audiences will only accept the stupid, slow zombie as scary for so long before it gets boring, or he, like myself, thinks that given enough time, zombies would evolve, functioning frontal lobe or no. Even in his first zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, which many people credit with setting the zombie movie standard, zombies can be seen picking up bricks and tools. In this film they tend to pick up tools but not use them properly, but I always found it interesting that a zombie from this early of a zombie movie would pick up a brick in the first place. Surely a Fulci zombie would trip over the brick, or just carry it around but never notice it.

In Dawn of the Dead the zombies don’t seem to make much progress in the tool-and-weapon-using department, but the film brings up an interesting question. What, if anything, do the zombies remember about life? They were roaming around the mall before the four humans entered, so they weren’t there to eat. The fact that most of the zombies are in full uniform- zombie nurse, zombie baseball player, zombie policeman- just reminds the audience that these were living people not too long ago, and it makes you wonder what (again, if anything,) they’re thinking about their current state. I consider this an example of Romero’s brilliant (albeit hippy) approach to a genre that at its best, is terrifying and thought provoking and at its worst, is pure schlock. He introduces us to the undead in Night, he dabbles in their strength in numbers and he plays with the idea that they could easily overwhelm us. In Dawn he taunts us with their humanity. They don’t appear to pick up new skills, but they seem to remember their former life. How much time will pass before they remember more than simple places and rituals? What happens when they remember how to climb stairs or how to use guns?

In Day of the Dead, Romero pushes the question further- are they us or did they used to be us and now they are something else? Bub probably exemplifies this more than anything else in the film. The audience sympathizes with Bub because he’s more human than the other zombies, and more likeable than most of the human characters. He seems willing to behave and willing to learn. Bub begins to remember and re-learn simple skills. He knows what a telephone is for, and right after that he remembers that he was in the service and salutes an officer. When that officer disrespects him, he quickly remembers how to use a handgun. My interest was really peaked, though, when Bub listened to headphones. The phrase “music soothes the savage beast” entered my head, as being able to make and enjoy music is a uniquely human activity. That scene made me wonder what other elements of human culture a zombie could- if not remember- relate to. Had Bub eventually tasted a rich, dark chocolate would it take him back to a time when he was more civilized? Could it push him into striving to get back to civilization?

I think the reason a lot of purists rejected Romero’s Land of the Dead fits right into this same idea. A lot of people don’t want to see zombies learning, using tools and weapons or taking care of each other. It does make them harder to hate, and as result, it makes it more difficult to cheer when they get blown to bits. But that final element- the idea that the zombies were forming a community- is what really pushed the idea for my zombie cookbook.

Obviously, I am a world away from being an anthropologist, so in my head human civilization went something like this:
1. single cell goo
2. crawly things
3. monkey people
4. cave men/clans
5. communal meals
6. advancements in communication
7. wearing clothes
8. families/separate housing
9. advancements in food preparation
10. ipods

As you can see from my super scientific list there, it took us a while to get from Flintstone-esque slabs of meat to bleu cheese foam with port wine reduction. Zombies are still developing; they’re a very young civilization, if you can call them that. They’re still in the “braaiins, braaiins!” phase right now, but as we’ve seen in the progression of Romero’s films, and as I’ve just discussed here, they’re moving right along. The sort of communal packs we saw in Land of the Dead could eventually develop into more complicated family structures. Families lead to domestication- building houses, making those houses comfortable and eventually, I believe, to culinary advancement.

It is my personal belief that the success of a society can be determined, for the most part, by examining it’s cultural developments. If a specific society produced art, music, delectable foods and harbored a certain level of creativity and artistry, it was a successful society. In order to thrive, zombies will eventually need to tap into their creativity. I wrote this book with a sort of zombie Martha Stewart in mind. She’s quite self-sufficient, creative and successful; and often times it seems as though she exists solely to teach the rest of us poor uncultured fools about being more civilized. With The Joy of Cooking Humans I attempt to teach my fellow zombies a little bit about civility through a variety of recipes based on real foods fit for human consumption. But of course, in this cookbook, “human consumption” takes on a completely new meaning.

Free Download

The Joy of Cooking Humans

Use the duplex setting on your printer and print this out in color. I recommend something glossy for the cover, but do what thou wilt. Give it to all your zombie-loving friends & leave me comments telling me I’m brilliant. (P.S. I got a 104% in the class.)