Dirt-Eating Parrots: Humans

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Clay is mined out of hillsides and riverbanks the world over, and it’s not just used
to make bricks and pottery. For many people, clay is a food. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. There are places in Africa where clay is sold for consumption and markets in South America where you can buy clay in the form of bite-sized tablets.

“Most of the clay that’s consumed by indigenous people is collected at a particular site that’s well known to that particular group. There’s a place in Central America where a lot of people eat soil, and there’s one hillside that’s very well known, and every year everybody goes to that hillside and mines this clay out of the hillside, and then they process it and so forth.”

James Gilardi is research director of the Oceanic Society. He says that eating clay is not restricted to indigenous cultures.

“The habit of consuming large amounts of clay actually came over to this country during the slave trade, and still exists in the southeastern corner of the United States. And in some cases it’s been such a strong thing that people who have made that move from the southeast up to, say, Chicago area, actually have friends back home send them clay from their favorite clay site.”

In many parts of the world, it’s especially common for pregnant women to eat soil, possibly because it relieves nausea. Eating clay may neutralize some of the toxins in a pregnant woman’s diet, reducing the risk that her child will be born with birth defects or disease.

“One of the explanations that’s come forward is that when women are in the early stages of the pregnancy, the fetus is particularly sensitive to things in food that aren’t necessarily good for you.”

In fact, some scientists say that consuming clay could help solve one of the most common health problems on earth. We’ll hear more about that in our next program.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.

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Dirt-Eating Parrots: Humans

People in many parts of the world eat clay on a regular basis. It may sound strange, but scientists say it's healthy.
Air Date:09/28/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:


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Clay is mined out of hillsides and riverbanks the world over, and it's not just used
to make bricks and pottery. For many people, clay is a food. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. There are places in Africa where clay is sold for consumption and markets in South America where you can buy clay in the form of bite-sized tablets.

"Most of the clay that's consumed by indigenous people is collected at a particular site that's well known to that particular group. There's a place in Central America where a lot of people eat soil, and there's one hillside that's very well known, and every year everybody goes to that hillside and mines this clay out of the hillside, and then they process it and so forth."

James Gilardi is research director of the Oceanic Society. He says that eating clay is not restricted to indigenous cultures.

"The habit of consuming large amounts of clay actually came over to this country during the slave trade, and still exists in the southeastern corner of the United States. And in some cases it's been such a strong thing that people who have made that move from the southeast up to, say, Chicago area, actually have friends back home send them clay from their favorite clay site."

In many parts of the world, it's especially common for pregnant women to eat soil, possibly because it relieves nausea. Eating clay may neutralize some of the toxins in a pregnant woman's diet, reducing the risk that her child will be born with birth defects or disease.

"One of the explanations that's come forward is that when women are in the early stages of the pregnancy, the fetus is particularly sensitive to things in food that aren't necessarily good for you."

In fact, some scientists say that consuming clay could help solve one of the most common health problems on earth. We'll hear more about that in our next program.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation.

music