ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Soil, paper, chalk, clay: eat me
By Brian Wong
Remember that girl in kindergarten — the one who stared at you with
a delightfully wicked look in her eyes as she licked the overflowing tip of
a bottle of Elmer’s all-purpose? Or how about when that same girl gave
you a similarly wild stare as she uncapped a Sharpie, placed the felt tip in
her mouth and proceeded to draw a bleeding black streak on her tongue?
The above childhood memory might sound kind of sexual (sorry — you can
blame Freud), but there’s definitely nothing sexy about eating items
that aren’t food. Sure, some other species in the animal kingdom might
ingest non-food objects — including and not limited to such things as
paint, soil, rocks, chalk and rust — but when humans have a craving for
and feed on these things, they may be diagnosed with pica.
The word “pica” itself is derived from the Latin word for “magpie,” that
pretty little bird with a deceptively monstrous appetite for anything and everything
it finds. In humans, however, there are other explanations for the behaviour.
Although babies and infants normally put anything in their mouths, young children
who have pica might have played copycat with a pet. Pregnant women might also
engage in pica so they can make up for lack of nutrients. Clay, a calcium-rich
substance, might be consumed to thwart morning sickness.
Eating clay or soil, also known as “geophagy,” is also a religious
practice in areas where the dirt is believed to serve as a way to fight disease.
Others may engage in pica because they have a developmental disability or a
psychiatric problem. And then there are those dieters who practice pica when
they’re hungry — taste the yummy, low-calorie soil.
But one thing that should be stressed is that pica itself is not considered
an eating disorder. If the practice doesn’t involve devouring toxic or
contaminated substances, or cause intestinal blockage or any other medical
ailment, then pica can be harmless.
Yet in other instances, some people with an eating disorder — such as
anorexia — might think pica deals with their hunger. In 2001, then 10-year-old
Justine Gallagher attracted media attention for having an eating disorder since
age five, consuming up to 10 pieces of paper a day, as well as Q-Tip cotton.
OK, so you might’ve sampled some fingernails or sand in your more curious
days, but don’t worry — to be diagnosed with pica, one has to be
ingesting non-food substances for approximately a month.