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Is anyone able to help me with a project on "PICA?&quot

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Angus Cattle Shower

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Feb 25, 2005
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For Health, I have to study the eating disorder "PICA". This is the one that the person that is effected will eat anything, including, dirt, gravel, clay, paste, lead, laundry starch, chalk, etc.Does anyone know of any effects of this, or have any information at all that they would be willing to share??



Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Montgomery, Al
ROXANA, Ala. -- Carrie Webb, 78, is thankful she can buy white dirt in East Alabama convenience stores. The local red variety will do in a pinch, but the white tastes better, particularly when fried with a little grease.

"That red dirt has grit in it sometime. This here is the best," she said, drawing the powdery white chunk of clay out of a plastic bag. Smiling, she slipped a piece of "Down Home Georgia White Dirt" into her mouth.

"This is sho 'nuff good," she said.

It's a tradition at least as old as history. It's practiced all over the world. And though it might seem strange to the uninitiated, it's not that different from adding salt (sodium rocks) to your food or chewing on a piece of gum (synthetic rubber).

Though dirt-eating's demise has been predicted for decades, the practice persists, particularly in rural areas such as the slice of East Alabama from Loachapoka to Camp Hill, from Tallassee to Opelika, where modern distribution has displaced the home-dug supply.

Wayne Smith, owner of a Conoco convenience store near Opelika, estimates he sells 50 of the one-pound bags of white dirt every month. "They say they don't eat it. They get it for someone else," Smith said.

In Loachapoka, they're more straightforward.

"We have white dirt connoisseurs around here," said Ron Burton at the Greenway Grocery. "They'll want to sample it before they buy it. ... I've got a lot of young girls who are pregnant come in for it."

Though both of the South's dominant races are known to practice "geophagy," the scholarly term for dirt-eating, it is most commonly associated with black women, particularly during pregnancy. Webb said she "was in the family way" when she started.

The white powdery clay Webb prefers is pure kaolin. That is the principal ingredient in Kaopectate, the over-the-counter medication for diarrhea and intestinal cramping. Iron, a mineral that's sometimes lacking in the diet but is particularly important during pregnancy, gives Alabama clay its red hue.

Biological benefits aside, the dirt-eating is culturally perpetuated, according to experts who've studied the phenomenon.

Dennis Frate, a professor in the department of preventive medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, first studied dirt-eating in rural Mississippi in the early 1970s. At the time, more than half the women surveyed in one rural Mississippi county said they had consumed clay.

"It was quite a common sight to see a group of women gathered on the porch sharing a plate of dirt," he said.

The dirt was harvested from earthen banks where the clay layer, usually 24 to 36 inches underground, was exposed. Frate said women often bake it in an oven or a chimney, drying the clay and making it longer lasting. Some flavor it with vinegar and salt. But no matter how it's spiced, Frate has never found it to his liking.

"I guess it's an acquired taste," he said.

Several former dirt eaters described the taste, once acquired, as a craving.

"I used to tear up a bank," Webb said. "When I used it regular, I don't care what it done. I went wild over it, I ate so much. I was killin' that dirt."

As Webb was aware, over-consumption of clay can lead to constipation. But in general, dirt eating is not particularly harmful, Frate said. In fact, it is better than some of the substitutes people have come up with. Some women substitute laundry starch and baking soda for the dirt. Both have similar textures but are potentially more harmful.

Geophagy is widely and elaborately practiced in modern Africa. Prized dirt from different regions is sold in markets. Africans sold into slavery appear to have brought the tradition across the Atlantic. Perplexed plantation owners devised mouth locks to prevent slaves from eating dirt. Poor whites picked up the habit, earning them the pejorative nicknames "dirt eaters" or "clay eaters."

"If you look at ethnographic accounts of people and societies, about every population at some time in their history engaged in geophagy," Frate said.

Plato wrote about Greek women eating soils, and the Swedes used to add a clay to their flour when making bread, Frate said.

Humans aren't the only dirt-eating species. Scientists have observed elk, bears, raccoons, parrots, giraffes, zebras, sheep in New Zealand and Nepalese monkeys eating soils. In Kenya, elephants make treacherous climbs to hillside caves in search of their favorite dirt. In experiments, rats, also known dirt eaters, were fed compounds that caused stomach aches and diarrhea. The rats responded by eating much more clay than normal.

In fact, geophagy may have made the domestication of potatoes possible. A book by Timothy Johns, an ethnobotanist at Montreal's McGill University, points out that nearly all of the 160 species of wild potatoes growing in the Andes contain toxic chemicals. Indians eat the poison potatoes with a dip made of clay and seasoned with herbs. With the clay neutralizing the toxic effects of the potatoes, the Indians, Johns hypothesizes, were able to begin consuming them, leading to the cultivation and selection of non-toxic varieties.

But the potential dangers of dirt-eating made the news in Alabama recently. Monsanto is being sued for allowing PCBs produced at its plant to contaminate an Anniston neighborhood. Many of the residents have high levels of PCBs in their bloodstreams, and one possible route for exposure was snacking at the neighborhood clay bank, which was a tradition there in bygone days.

Because of the potential for contamination and other reasons, Neil Sasse, Alabama's state toxicologist, advises against dirt-eating. "We would rather people not eat clay," he said.

In fact, Charles and Shirley Maddox, whose Griffin, Ga., company distributes the dirt, advise against eating Down Home Georgia White Dirt. It's labeled "Novelty" and the label warns: "Not suggested for human consumption."

Charles Maddox is retired from the grocery and beverage business, and he took up the clay cause from his father. They are aware that some portion of the three to four tons of kaolin they bag each year gets eaten. But Maddox would rather focus on the dirt's non-culinary applications.

"It is a product Georgia should be proud of. They make so many things out of it," Maddox said. The label reads: "Some of its uses: adhesives, catalyst, ceramics, glass, ink, paint, paper, pesticide, pharmaceuticals, plastics, rubber, old whitewash."

Maddox added, "I keep some in my boat and use it as a fire extinguisher."


Well-known member
Jul 27, 2005
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I've got a HUGE exposure of the " white clay/dirt" here on my farm in Ga. The old man who owed this farm before I bought it told me he ate that dirt/clay pretty often.

Can't say it helped him much as about 2 wks after he told me that he keeled over in his kitchen!!!


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Feb 16, 2005
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South East Texas
Yeap....... I agree, they are lackin in mineral.

To be honest tho I'd never heard of such a "condition" or "disease"..........
If ya do a search on google, there were a few articles on it.

Faster horses

Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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NE WY at the foot of the Big Horn mountains
When cattle eat boards that is a condition known as 'pica' as well.
We went to a bull sale once, and the bulls were ALL eating the boards around the pens. They got a fire someplace they're trying to put out...

And yep, it is a problem that can be solved with a good mineral...

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