Eating Dirt

Move over, beef. Geophagy is really what’s for dinner. Despite seeming positively batty, the practice of munching on the salt of the earth (otherwise known as good old dirt) happens to be as common in the animal kingdom as it is among diverse cultural groups around the globe. Aside from the random critters who indulge – birds, reptiles and assorted mammals included – I bet you’re thinking that homosapiens who willingly snack on soil are quite possibly the victims of a harsh blow to the noggin. There couldn’t possibly be a logical reason why anyone in their right mind would willingly consume something so… dirty.

The stuff right outside your door. What you plant your veggie garden in. Tiny brown particulates that get carried by the wind into your once pristine home.  Whatever you want to call it, the brown pulverized rock-laden material that covers the large majority of our planet – which, depending on the region, can often be as diverse as a snowflake in terms of appearance and ingredients – is rich in organic compounds and minerals. That’s all fine and dandy, but should any of us seriously eat dirt?

Based on anthropological and historical evidence, health-compromising alkaloids have long been successfully tempered with the consumption of earth, and even in various developing nations today, people eat the brown stuff to aid digestion, combat nausea and treat diarrhea. It helps to understand that despite our dirt-phobic paranoia, the flora found in soil actually establishes truly beneficial bacterial colonies in our bodies that are capable of thwarting many acute ailments – in particular, they prompt our immune systems to operate at maximum capacity by regularly warding off unwelcome invaders. Consider it a natural way to flex your internal mechanisms.

Jeff in the Field: Dietary Advice from our Evolutionary Past from Naked Pizza on Vimeo

Amusingly, foodie culture has picked up on this dirt renaissance by popularizing meticulously arranged organic meals garnished with accents of edible ‘pseudo’ soil composed of everything from blackened veggies and hazelnuts/mushrooms to pulverized pumpernickel bread crumbs, dehydrated beets/maitake mushrooms and even coffee mixed with cardamom.

Some have gone a step further – as in the case of El Celler de Can Roca – by crowning meals with foamy and completely edible ‘essence of earth’ courtesy of a Rotavapor distillation gadget. Those who participate in Laura Parker’s ‘Taste of Place’ soil sampling events get the whole novelty and nutritional kit-n-kaboodle, first by inhaling the distinctive aromas inherent in assorted types dirt and then by indulging in fresh produce grown in those very same earthy mediums. (Oh, you know you want to try it! Life’s too short to pass up tasty soil.)

Ultimately, the lesson in all of this is that perhaps we really should heed the sage advice of grandma. Science agrees with her that a little dirt is good for us, so relaxing our scrubbing philosophies just a bit (and laying off of the antibacterial agents) will enable our bodies to once again do what they’ve been expertly designed to achieve on their own.

Photo: schillergarcia

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