The Dirt on Geophagy

Remember those cozy days on the playground when you patted and poked and cooked up a real nice mudpie…and then ate it?

Most of you grew up and left your dirt-eating days behind, but not all of you. Do I have any readers out there with lingering mud mustaches? Raise a hand (er, a comment?) and let us see who you are. As it turns out, you’re not alone.

Kids who eat dirt are called kids. But when adults eat dirt (or clay, or chalk), it’s called geophagy. (Actually, it’s technically called geophagy for kids, too.)

If you just said, “No, that’s called pica,” hear me out. Pica is classified as an eating disorder in which people feel like they really need to eat things that aren’t food. But geophagy is specific to earthy substances, and it’s often more like a hobby than a craving.

Who eats dirt?

Anybody can catch the geophagy bug. Among animals, dirt is no delicacy; it’s in the diet of mammals, reptiles, and especially birds (many species of parrot, specifically). In people, dirt-eating is most common among children and pregnant women. It’s also associated with people who live in poverty and who adhere to traditional medical practices over modern ones.

Where?

Geophagy is going on all over the world, especially if you’re talking about animals. (I’m pretty sure it’s happening in my backyard right now, actually.) Human dirt-eaters may be more common in parts of Africa than in westernized countries, but the practice is still alive and well in the rural American South.

What kind of dirt?

Clay, mostly. Georgia white clay (kaolin) is apparently particularly pleasing to the palate and is available for purchase online. Some small stores in rural areas keep clay in stock. According to Wikipedia, if you go all the way to Haiti you can get a real farm-to-table experience: you can buy fresh, local mudpies from women who just baked them on their roofs.

But really…why?

Well, the main reason people eat clay may be that it’s good for you. It includes minerals and nutrients that can fight pathogens, and there is evidence that birds eat clay because it neutralizes toxins in other foods they ingest, allowing them to get nutrients from the other foods without becoming sick. In fact, a few types of clay may work like Kaopectate (which, until 2003, actually included kaolin – Georgia white clay – as an ingredient). And some dirt-eating is likely the remnant of traditional medicinal practices. Great-granny may not have called her natural remedies “geophagy,” but they sure did taste a lot like dirt…

It’s possible that some people eat dirt because they don’t have anything else to eat. The fact that geophagy is more common in impoverished populations than it is among people who have enough to eat lends credence to this theory. Another consideration is that geophagy may be a part of tribal or religious ceremonies and rituals in some cultures.

And of course, some people just like the taste of dirt.

World’s Most Famous Geophage?

 

For a truly insightful essay paralleling a foray into geophagy with a spiritual journey, read Beth Ann Fennelly’s piece in the Oxford American.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

12 thoughts on “The Dirt on Geophagy

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I had a dog that ate dirt. Even after a very good meal, she’d wander outside for dessert.

  2. I was going to comment that pregnant women have that craving sometimes but you already covered that. I learned about it when I was pregnant, but I certainly never craved it.

  3. wanda says:

    Here’s a great site for ordering Georgia white dirt…it is freshly dug and not processed like the dirt you order from other sites
    http://www.goodoledirt.com

  4. April says:

    Buy Georgia White Dirt
    Shipping is fast and discreet
    georgiawhitedirt.com/
    People all over the world eat dirt just because they like the taste and have done so for centuries. Its very common in other than pregnant women as well.
    Find a clean source and enjoy in moderation as in all things.

  5. linda says:

    I have those cravings especially when it is that time of the month. it started out with a piece of chalk as i was teaching a class then i found baked clay in the super market. I often wonder if it is good for me. I haven’t had any for a few weeks but i am constantly thinking of buying some.

  6. Lilly says:

    I just placed an order for white dirt of georgia I am so excited! I crave dirt since I was a little child, worst with pregnancies, I like to eat the small crumbs you find after rain, earthworm poop, delicious!

  7. xiubacca says:

    Im 18 and ive been a geophagist for aslong as I can remember and I dont se myself quiting anytime soon but the only negativaty ive found is how “disgusting” it is. im very open about eating earth but I have lost some friends and respect from people :/ sad stuff but I love dirt and Im proud of it!

  8. Mia says:

    how do you process dirt before eating?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: