Earth is the last thing that a person will eat in the face of starvation, when there is no grass, no leaves on the trees, no bark.

I always thought that the earth is the last thing that a person will eat in the face of starvation. When there is no grass, no leaves on the trees, no bark. I never looked at the earth as potential food, except in early childhood, when I made “Easter cakes” in the garden. Therefore, it was a big surprise for me that the history of the use of land for food is long and rich. That there is even a special scientific term – “geophagy”, which, I believe, literally means “eating geography”. 

Earth is the last thing a person will eat in the face of starvation, when there is no grass, no leaves on trees, no bark.

I knew that many children from one to three years old eat the earth, eat simply because at that age everyone pulls in their mouths, wanting to get to know the world through the language – the organ that they know best. I also saw photographs of people who returned home after a long absence and kissed their native land. I also knew that chickens and ostriches swallow stones to make it easier for the stomach to digest rough foods. Earth is eaten by worms, from the body of which the earth comes out enriched.

Geophagy is something new. New to me, but not to humanity. Now I know that people have eaten the earth for millennia, and of their own free will! Not because they were starving and had no other food, but because the earth, as a normal “source of food, gave them something they needed. I made this discovery for myself when, having become interested in acorns, I read in the book “Edible Plants and Animals” by A. D. and Helen Livingston (1993) that “some Indians mixed clay into flour from acorns (in a proportion of about 20: one). 

University of Mississippi professor Dennis Freuth, who studied the food use of land, told one of the authors of Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 1997 that the first sources that testify to human consumption of land date back to about 40 B.C. In those days, the Greeks prescribed reception of various types of clay for the treatment of a number of diseases. According to the scientist, “information on the use of land for food is in the history of almost all major nations.” Freit also speaks about the negative consequences of such a practice..

“Cases of bowel obstruction have been documented. I conducted a chemical analysis of the soil in our area and found out that there is no reason not to eat it, although this does not mean that I urge this to be done. ”.

Other researchers go further and directly state the usefulness of the earth. University of Toronto chemist Susan Ofreyter and York University professor of geography William Mahany published their collaboration in the British scientific journals New Scientist and International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in 1997, including, among others, the conclusion that that the earth is light yellow soil, sometimes serving as a means of survival for the Chinese, is rich in iron, calcium, vanadium, magnesium, manganese and potassium – elements necessary for a starving body.

They also found that in Zimbabwe, locals eat red soil from termite mounds as a remedy for digestive disorders. A thorough analysis of this soil showed that it contains kaolinite clay. By the way, kaolinite is a key component of keopectate, a popular drug for diarrhea. This clay is also rich in iodine and iron, the lack of which, according to Ofreiter, “is the cause of many diseases associated with a deficiency of nutrients.” When eating clay from termite mounds “these elements react with gastric juice, which increases the chances of their absorption”. Another soil sample taken in North Carolina also contained iron and iodine. In the rural province of Sisaket, Thailand, where the soil is very salty, villagers often chew the ground just to satisfy a slight hunger..

Turning to the past, the Offreiter and her colleagues note that the Romans made pills from the earth and goat blood. That the Germans in the 19th century spread finely sifted clay instead of butter on bread. That in some countries of West Africa to this day, balls made of clay termite mounds are sold as a gastric remedy. In the era of the slave trade, such balls appeared in North America. Today they can be found in the pockets of some residents of the American South. More often in pregnant and lactating women who say that this remedy helps them calm their stomach. According to Peter Farb and George Armelagos in their book “Food Addictions, or Anthropology of Nutrition” (1980), in this way people respond to a lack of calcium and other minerals in their body.

In Amazonia, some Indians eat clay with meat. It is well known that lime is part of the Mexican drink ambassador. The great Spanish researcher Cabeza de Vaca wrote in his memoirs that the Indian tribes living in the territory of today’s Central and South Texas and in the north of Mexico prepared food from the fruits of the mesquite tree, mixing them with land and water. In the same India, clay shards are crushed with the addition of sandalwood oil and in the form of tablets – they are called mitts – are accepted by pregnant women.

“During this period, their tastes change,” says a representative of one of the Mexican manufacturing companies. – Ask any woman in an interesting position. They want something else. Some eat tamarind, others switch to meat food, although they always ate only vegetarian. However, almost all of them show a desire to eat land. Therefore, our product was developed. He smells like the first raindrops that fell on dry soil. ”.

So can a person just go to the forest or go out into the garden, dig up some land and eat it, hoping to receive nutrients from it? Unlikely. Ms. Ofreiter writes about this. Many shops and restaurants around the world work today under the guise of “Good Earth”, but this does not mean that any land is useful. A guarantee of its quality can be obtained only in stores that enjoy a reliable reputation. Do not also think that eating land is a common practice in the American South, where, according to some observers, such poverty reigns, and many people are so ignorant that they eat land.

Comedian Roy Blount, a southerner himself, was so tired of listening to such fables from the mouth of a Yankee that he began to distribute fantastic recipes supposedly from the heritage of the Cajun Indians, for example, the recipe for “fried red soil,” and swore their authenticity. For some time in the mid-90s in Atlanta, you could buy 450-gram bags of land in health food stores. And although it was written on the package: “Not for internal use” – this did not stop selling a huge amount of a strange “product”. The price is ridiculous, only 1 dollar 19 cents per package. The delegates of various congresses and conferences were especially eager to buy.

Based on the book Extreme Cuisine.
Jerry Hopkins.

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