Have you eaten dirt? I have, usually when some bully shoved my face on the ground or during a football game when a 300 lb tackle sat on the back of my head. My parents told me that several times as a toddler, they’d find me scooping up a handful and putting it in my mouth.
It may have been my way of having a hizzy fit for not getting my way, saying, “I’ll go out and eat some dirt.” Most kids say they’ll eat worms. I never liked worms.
I gave all that up for t-bone steaks and ice cream, but there are people around the world who eat dirt, and like it. Some folks buy what is called “healing clay” at a drug store for a snack. Anthropologist Sera Young of Cornell University believes it’s all part of an ancient craving that has evolved over the centuries.
Pickles are out on the east African island of Pemba, where pregnant women eat about 25 grams of dirt each day, in the belief that the soil protects them and their fetus during their pregnancy. The lady in the picture, taken by Sera Young, is collecting geophagic soil called Ufue.
The practice is called geophagy, and dates back some two million years when powdered loam was used as marching rations. Archaeologists made the discovery during a dig in Africa, but the reason why remains a mystery.
Animals eat dirt too, cattle, parrots, rats, elephants and chimpanzees are known to partake of mother earth.
Young says that, with the exception of Antarctica, there are people who eat dirt, loam, chalk or marl. Above all, it cannot be dirty dirt. Her study leads her to believe that “dirt may help to remove poisonous substances from the body.” Her conclusions are based on a study of over 2,700 cases in literature on the subject.
During times of hardship, indigenous people ate dirt in great quantities, and even stored it in the form of dried clay balls, just in case the food supply dwindled. In 2004, it’s reported that slum dwellers in Haiti were given flat cakes of dirt to eat. Butter, salt, water and dirt were baked and distributed to the starving Haitians.
Young is reported to be analyzing 30 loamy samples from several countries in order to understand if dirt really is an aid to ridding the body of toxic foodstuffs. Many earth eaters live by the credo: dirt cleans the stomach.
I’ll have cheesecake please, with a drizzle of raspberry sauce.