Eating Dirt

Several years ago a 20/20 type program ran an episode about folks that ate various kinds of dirt and clay. Folks were filmed spooning varieties of earth into their mouths and, seemingly, enjoying it. One ABC news article (“Eating Dirt: It Might Be Good for You” (Oct. 3, 2005 By Marc Lallanilla) quoted one lady as saying the dirt she ate “melts in your mouth like chocolate. The good stuff is real smooth. It’s just like a piece of candy.”

Weird, huh? Experts call this this phenomenon “geophagy.” So what does one call someone that eats dirt?  I suppose that if those who eat plant life are called vegetarians then I guess a devourer of the stuff plants grow in would then be called a geophagarian. I’ll go with it! However, for brevity sake I think I will call geophagarians just “geos”.

Various experts have opined as to why geos eat dirt. Some think that it has to do with some sort of deficiency in nutrients that is an inherited characteristic. In other words, they were born that way. Others thought that dirt eating was a mental disorder similar to pica, the abnormal urge to eat non-food items such as paint or soap.

But some nutritionists asserted that this soil consumption is normal and even claimed that the eating of dirt, especially by pregnant women, might be wholesome. They would argue that dirt was the world’s first mineral supplement. Hmmm, the jury is definitely out on that one for me!

No one knows just how many geos there are in this world. They do not tend to broadcast their dietary orientation. It would be a safe guess that they are a small minority, but perhaps not. The fact is that we do not really know what percentage of the population is either wholly or in part geophagarian. It is a given, though, that geos truly believe that their dietary proclivity is healthy and natural and that there is nothing wrong with it. I would think that most of our society might disagree. That is probably why, I suppose, that most geos keep their diet to themselves.

But I wondered what would happen if the geos of this world made themselves known in mass? What if they came ‘out of the closet’ so to speak? What if they organized and began to tell how their lives were miserable because they are not accepted by society and that they have to eat meals in seclusion or only with other geos? What if geos sued their employers because they brought topsoil in for lunch, grossed out fellow employees and were let go? What if a business fired a geo employee because it lost customers because the geo was observed snacking on chunks of clay? Could the company be sued for discrimination?  That would certainly make the evening news!

What if nutritionists wrote scholarly articles and cited surveys that assert that eating soil is normal and ought not to be stigmatized? Hollywood celebrities that secretly partake of a loam enriched diet could reveal their dietary orientation and thus help break down societal prejudice against dirt consumption. Pressure could then be put upon legislators to make discrimination against geos illegal and laws passed outlawing and stigmatizing anti-geo expression. Sit-coms could portray geos as kind, gentle, hardworking, above average citizens who just happened to love dirt. Public school health curricula could portray dirt eating as just an alternate diet and school cafeterias required to include fresh mulch or clay on the daily menu. Could not happen? Really?

I can recall as a parent discouraging my toddlers from ingesting dirt when on outdoor outings. Generally, most parents would, when observing a handful of soil heading for their infant’s gobble hole react swiftly in halting that snack. Physical restraint and expressions like “Oh no” and “yucky” are often used on such occasions.

One wonders, though, in a geophagy sensitive political landscape if enlightened progressives might argue that parents were instilling geophobia into their children and thus creating a generation of the nutritive intolerant.  Conceivably, social services could be called and parents sent to dietary diversity counseling.

For my part, I do not care if someone eats dirt in the privacy of their own homes or back yard. I am somewhat libertarian in that regard. I would not refuse to do business with geos. I do not care what they eat as long as it is not another human being. I believe that geos have the right to be left alone.

However, I would have a problem if a geophagarian encouraged children to eat dirt or tried to convince them that eating dirt is somehow normal.  I would also have a problem if restaurants were fined or forced to close by the government if they refused to provide a soil diverse menu or declined to cater a geo wedding.  I, for one, would probably not patronize a restaurant that served dirt. My appetite, after observing someone eat mud while I am eating my soup, would tend to wane a bit. I would also tend to question the cleanliness of a restaurant that served dirt. Maybe it is just me.

My honest opinion about eating dirt is that it is…well – dirty. Call me intolerant. But to date, those of us who think that eating dirt is not normal or healthy, are still free to say so. Those days may be numbered. There may come a day when reason is turned on its head and normalcy is redefined to accommodate the bizarre, the abnormal, the anomalous and even the deviant.

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