Today I was thinking about my rather abject addiction to mineral water, which my short-term spouse calls "rock juice". Might it actually be that I crave the minerals in mineral water? It turns out that a craving for minerals/sediment/dirt is common in humans (and animals, but there's more guesswork to why they're eating it, and that's probably off-topic), especially for females.
Various people have told me interesting things about dirt-eating among different social groups, which in the professional world is known generally as geophagy, with the pathological form being known as "pica".
An acupuncturist in a Traditional Chinese Medicine class once told me that dirt was an old remedy for disorders of the "earth element," particularly of the spleen and stomach, since those organs are related to the earth element. The colors of the dirt were black and yellow, because these colors corresponded to those organs: was it yellow for deficiency and black for excess, or was it the other way around?
I can't tell you, because I've had a horrible time trying to find any information on this. I've been told that the actual ingestion of pure dirt is no longer a common remedy, but when you look at the ingredients in patent formulas from HK and Taiwan, I wouldn't be surprised to see "yellow dirt" or "black dirt" listed as ingredients.
It also occurs to me that there would be a *tremendous* resistance by Anglo-Americans to do anything remotely like eating dirt. Seeing as I was in the classroom when the acupuncturist told us this, and everybody grossed out!
Now, what would Baudrillard, or a medical sociologist, tell us about fear of dirt, and our bodies being invaded by it? Probably something similar to their theory that many allergies are psychosomatic. (Which I don't necessarily agree with, but it's an interesting theory with some interesting consequences, especially for someone studying the American ascendancy in the Victorian era, which contributed greatly to our professional class and scientific outlook and said things like "cleanliness is next to Godliness.")
Has uptight professionalism in the dominant culture produced a nation full of mineral deficient people?
Since the craving to eat dirt or metal tends to show up during pregnancy, and often indicates a deficiency, might it be involved in fertility issues? I thought this article about infertile women attending guided meditation and learning to get "up close and personal" with their yin by pretending to carry dirt balls around was fascinating.
What about past fads for eating dirt at 19th century spas? (Another item of hearsay I've been unable to confirm-anyone?)
And- from the ethnic geography angle- cultures in the USA and Canada who eat dirt?
If you read this about halfway down, the reviewer associates geophagy with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Did I miss that album?
How does each culture explain or experience these cravings, depending on their current or past environment? I once talked to a woman who said that she started craving the pipes under the sink when she was pregnant.
The article above gives a great introduction to the subject, and says that some people started eating the walls of their clay homes to satisfy their cravings. It also mentions some traditional dishes (Edit: Yeah, as in food, not plates, etc.)made with clay.
In the US, the big nutrients seem to be calcium and iron. Different cultures no doubt have geographic and dietary reasons for being obsessed with certain nutrients, but don't we all have purely cultural perceptions of which nutrients are important? Many scientist say kaolin is actually the culprit behind dirt cravings, as mentioned in this abstract.
Also: Religious rites involving dirt?
By the way, at the acupuncture office we started to get loads of infertility patients, followed by Christmas cards with pictures of babies in them. Do you think it's possible that the acupunturist was selling his trendy, upscale, professional patients some very expensive dirt pills?
Next: ethnographic beverages: milk, coffee milk, and frappuccino, with a little Werner's Ginger Ale