Eating the Placenta: It Tastes Like Squab!

Dear Helena,
Some friends of mine had a home birth and are very gung-ho about the fact that they ate their placenta. They froze it, where it hung out next to the Ben & Jerry's in plain sight, and then they made a smoothie out of it and are planning on feeding some of it to their kid in capsule form on his first day of school. This has been a topic of discussion on more than one occasion, and frankly I find it kind of nauseating. Am I in the wrong for considering this conversation oversharing, or has placenta-eating become mainstream enough that it's politically incorrect of me to have a problem with it?
—Enough About Your Placenta

Dear Enough About Your Placenta,
If a placenta smoothie makes you squeamish, you probably don't want to hear about the friend of mine whose husband, a renowned chef, sautéed her placenta with sherry, apples, and onions. They shared it for dinner. "It tasted gamy, kind of like squab," he said. She is saving the rest to make a placenta-infused vodka that is supposed to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. But in general, it's extremely rare for humans to indulge in placentophagy. Yes, most mammals do it (except for camels and marine mammals), but that doesn't mean your friends need to provide details, unless other people solicit them.

For those unfamiliar with this practice, devotees of placenta-eating believe that it can ward off postpartum depression and provide other health benefits. Unlike my friend, most mothers prefer to mask the taste of the placenta by blending it into a smoothie, as your friends did, or better yet, by drying it and making it into pills, a service for which specialists charge $250 to $300. But even professionals admit that the placenta is a little revolting. Jenya Rose, who runs Placenta Bakery, a placenta encapsulation service, says, "It's pretty gross when you're working with it." It's a hefty, vein-covered slab of meat that can weigh several pounds, and because it's full of blood, preparation can be seriously messy.

From time to time, a chef gets PR for cooking a placenta—most recently, Chef Daniel Patterson used his wife's placenta in a Bolognese sauce and put together an entertaining class about placenta-cooking held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But cooking a placenta is like making breast-milk cheese: attention-getting for sure, but still a fringe practice. According to Placenta Benefits, California has the greatest concentration of specialists (no surprise there). But in Chicago, where Placenta Bakery's Rose lives, placentophagy is practically unknown. "I get two calls a year," she says. Suzanne Connole, an acupuncturist and herbalist in Brooklyn who offers placenta encapsulation, says that outside the Brooklyn home-birth crowd, the practice is rare on the East Coast. "My family members who live in New England find it really, really odd."

So why do placenta-eaters feel the need to go on and on about it? For the same reason new parents feel compelled to regale you with every detail of their "birth story." They are so high on the whole incredible experience of birth that they completely lose perspective. (I can't be the only person who has listened to a blow-by-blow account of a gruesome episiotomy during dinner.)

Nonetheless, placenta-eating parents should realize that other people may be thoroughly grossed out by the practice. Raving on about it is insensitive, just as it's insensitive to gush to a vegan friend about the fat, juicy steak you had for dinner. Thankfully, shutting your friends up is simple. Start with a white lie: "I think it's cool you saved the placenta." Then say, "But I'd much rather hear all about your baby." As any new parent knows, this topic never gets old.

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