nature science update
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By Ehsan Masood
It’s lunchtime somewhere in rural tropical Africa. You’re hungry, but the nearest restaurant
is too far to walk. There’s no Italian, Chinese, Indian or fast food and the telephone pizza
delivery company is a little reluctant to send its dispatch rider beyond the city walls.
Moreover, you’re on a tight budget. What are you to do? The answer, quite literally, may
lie in the soil directly beneath your feet.
According to two researchers from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, UK, the
tradition of soil consumption is still very much alive in the African tropics, India, Jamaica
and it has also been reported in Saudi Arabia. Despite the advent of modern religions and
the end of the slave trade, soil eating is not uncommon, though mostly confined to the
poorer sections of society.
The reasons for soil consumption are many and often misunderstood, say the researchers
Peter Abrahams and Julia Parsons. But geophagists – as soil-eaters are known – on the
whole are regarded as quite ‘normal’ to most but outsiders.
“Despite the widespread distribution of geophagy, both today and in the past, it is largely
unknown, under-reported, misunderstood or ignored by most people in the developed
world”, say Abrahams and Parsons. [This is why] “the adjectives ‘eccentric’, ‘perverted’,
‘odd’, and ‘bizarre’ have all been applied to geophagy”.[...]
(Nature News Service, 1996)
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