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~~all the facts you never wanted to know~~

by Beth Boswell Jacks

“If a lump of soot falls into the soup
and you cannot conveniently get it out,
stir it in well and it will give the soup
a French taste.” -- Jonathan Swift

I’m going to get down and dirty in this column, so don’t keep reading if you’re averse to such things. I also recommend your not continuing to read if you’re snacking, especially while chewing on something straight from the garden.

And why?

Because the latest info from the American Dietetic Association tells us that, like it or not, each of us probably eats several pounds of dirt from birth to death, and no matter how well we wash those turnip greens or carrots we’re still going to be putting down some reechy matter.

Since it’s time to start hauling in veggies from our gardens, I thought I ought to alert everybody to this new information, although the old saying “You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die” has been around for generations. Anybody with a baby has quoted that one.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s really impossible to get all the dirt and foreign objects (insects, rodent hairs, worms, maggots!) off our food, fresh and processed, but for the most part, the USFDA states, this unappetizing stuff won’t kill us or even make us sick. That’s good to know.

I still have fond childhood memories of pulling radishes straight from the garden, washing those suckers off with the hose, and eating ‘em like candy. Makes my mouth water to think about it. Little did I know I was digesting a palatable portion of grit and grime also, no matter how long I washed those radishes.

And as little bitties, sister Kathy and I had the most adorable playhouse where we spent hours making mudpies and cinnamon “coffee” in dusty bowls and cups. We never partook of our gourmet offerings but fed them instead to baby cousins and dogs. Must not have adversely affected them because they’re still around. (Not the dogs -- but the cousins seem all right.)

Then there are folks who eat dirt on purpose. You read that right. They’re called geophages (from the Greek “geo”--earth and “phagein”--eat).

Trying to explain the attraction of soil gobbling, scientists and sociologists have come up with a bunch of explanations ranging from hunger to cravings to heredity. But when they ask geophages why they eat dirt the main response is that dirt tastes good.

Well . . . I guess so.

One dirt eater in an article written by Associated Press writer Kathy Eyre compared her habit to using a pinch of chewing tobacco every day. I’ll say “Amen” to that.

Another lady claims she eats a cupful every afternoon while she watches TV and works her crossword puzzle. I can hear the conversation now: “Hey, honey, while you’re up would you get me a cup of dirt?”

Dr. Kevin Grigsby, a social worker and professor of psychiatry and health behavior at Medical College of Georgia explains that geophagia exists all over the world and has for centuries, but is especially prevalent in the American South. That’s a lot of dirt excavating. No wonder we need kudzu for soil conservation.

Anyway, I was telling hubby G-Man about all this dirt eating research I was doing and he said he didn’t eat much dirt as a child, but did enjoy munching on chicken feed, the closest thing to junk food his mama kept around the house. He swears the little chicken feed pellets were tasty. (And this is a man who won’t eat English peas.)

But listen, I’ve always maintained “to each his own.” I’m not one to get all up into peoples’ business. They can just proceed if they want to devour stuff like chicken feed and dirt (which, by the way, comes from the Old Norse word "drit," meaning excrement).

Not me. I’ll dish the dirt, but there will be nary a time I'll intentionally eat it.


Editor of USADEEPSOUTH.COM, Beth Boswell Jacks is the author of Grit, Guts, and Baseball, the stories of Coach Sank Powe, featuring tales of sports and race relations in the Mississippi Delta. Her second and third books, SNIPPETS I and II, are collections of more than 60 of her newspaper columns. More of her columns may be read at USADS by clicking this link: SNIPPETS.

Contact Beth at bethjacks@hotmail.com

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