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A Dirty Delicacy: Eating White Dirt in the South

The scientific term ‘geophagy‘ refers to the somewhat unusual act of eating dirt, or other types of earthen substances, like clay, sand or chalk. The practice of eating dirt can sometimes be related to a medical disorder known as ‘pica‘, which is a disorder caused by a mineral deficiency — sometimes iron, sometimes zinc, or sometimes other such minerals necessary to the healthy functioning of the body.

Eating White Dirt in the South

This deficiency might be caused simply by a poor diet, or it may be caused by some other underlying medical condition, such as celiac disease, or some sort of parasitic infection. But, for whatever reason the deficiency occurs, a person suffering from pica is psychologically compelled to actually ingest earthy materials. It appears to be the body’s way of attempting to persuade the individual to take in more of the missing minerals. This is likely where that old saying “Have some minerals, leave some minerals. Need some minerals, eat dirt” comes from. (So, now you know)

Besides the physiological condition of pica, there are also some psychological conditions which might compel a person to eat such types of materials. Or, free from any sort of either physiological or psychological cause, people may simply eat dirt because they like eating dirt. Which, it appears, is very often the case when it comes to a certain culinary tradition still practiced in certain parts of the American south.

Although it has been observed that the practice of eating what is commonly called ‘white dirt’ has been waning over the last number of years, it is still practiced regularly by some people — almost exclusively, however, by African American women living mostly in Georgia, but also in some other Southern states as well. And, it’s not just any old dirt they’re eating. The clear preference is for the earthen delicacy known as kaolin — a clay silicate mineral with a somewhat chalky appearance that is often used as an ingredient in porcelain ceramics, in the material used to coat the inside of incandescent light bulbs for the purposes of diffusing the light, and in a number of other industrial products.

Now, before you start thinking that the intentional eating of white dirt is just a whole bowl of crazy, it should be noted that, while there isn’t enough scientific research available to be absolutely conclusive, some real evidence nevertheless does exist to suggest that white dirt, taken in moderation, might actually have some honest-and-for-true health benefits. There is reason to believe that kaolin possesses a binding characteristic that causes it to absorb dietary toxins. Along with this, kaolin has been prescribed by medical professionals in some parts of the world to treat conditions such as stomach upset and diarrhea for quite a long time. In fact, kaolin was an original ingredient in the well-known product commonly used by a great many people to treat indigestion and other forms of digestive discomfort and ailments which goes by the brand name ‘Kaopectate.’ (Although it is used as an ingredient in that particular product no longer, having been replaced some time ago with bismuth subsalicylate)

To this very day, a trip into a number of small, independently owned, country convenience stores located throughout parts of rural Georgia and elsewhere in the south, will often reveal bins of a small, plastic baggies containing chunks of white rock for sale. This is kaolin, and the baggies of the white dirt are being sold for snacking purposes.

If you’re interested in learning more about the bizarre southern practice of eating white dirt (And, why on Earth wouldn’t you be?), which you were quite likely entirely unaware of until now, Director Adam Forrester has apparently completed a feature length documentary film entitled “Eat White Dirt” that is due to be released this coming summer. So, keep watching for it!

And, if you know of any awesomely tasty white dirt recipes, please don’t hesitate to use the comment box below in order to share them with us and other readers!

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