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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Listener Letters Dirt Winner

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth opens up our mailbag to read your comments, criticisms and compliments. And host Bruce Gellerman announces the winner of our ‘tell us your best dirt-eating story’ contest.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.


GELLERMAN: And time now for listener feedback…


GELLERMAN: A few weeks ago we got down and dirty with an interview about why some people eat clean dirt. Seems some soils can actually be good for you - and our conversation with nutritional anthropologist Sera Young about the practice of geophagy, or dirt-eating, evoked many a listener memory.

WILLIAMS: My name's Tonya Williams and I listen to WTSU 89.9 in Montgomery, Alabama. Geophagy? So that’s what it’s called. When I was a child, my mother told stories of dirt-eating binges she had while pregnant. The thought of her shoveling fists full of soil into her mouth, soil that was probably crawling with bugs and other critters, made me squeal with both revulsion and delight. “No Tonya,” she’d say, “not just any dirt, but clay.”

GELLERMAN: Must be something in the soil because we got this from another Alabama listener, Sarah Frazer: “My grandmother was a physician graduating from the Indiana Medical College in 1901, and I can recall my father telling me that she ate clay. I am now 70 years old, however, I didn’t think enough of the fact to try it myself.”

But before you decide to take a spoon or shovelful, you might heed this warning from veterinarian Barry Taylor: “Accidental ingestion of dirt contaminated by cat feces is a leading cause of toxoplasmosis infection in humans, which can lead to horrific birth defects or miscarriage. Please issue a warning against eating dirt - it is a very risky activity!”

Well we chewed it over, and Dr. Taylor is absolutely correct. Though I tried some dirt we got from Sam's General Store online and ate a lump on the air, and we had plenty left over, which we offered as a prize to the listener who came up cleanest about their use of dirt…and that would be Lisa Ross of Kernville, California.

She writes: “As a child I was compelled to cram dirt of any kind into my mouth until it was impossible to get more in. I loved the crunch and swallow. I also loved the taste and grittiness of burnt matches. Our old time physician told my mother not to worry, as I might be trying to fill a need in my diet.”

Well Lisa, congrats - we owe you some lumps, as well as a copy of anthropologist Sera Young's new book, “Craving Earth.” And thanks to all who sent in stories - and if you have a comment on any of our stories, you know where to find us: comments at L-O-E DOT ORG. Or our Facebook page is PRI’s Living on Earth - one word. Or you can call us at 800-218-9988.



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