Craving Earth: Understanding Pica--the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk

Craving Earth: Understanding Pica--the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk

by Sera L. Young
     
 

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Humans have eaten earth, on purpose, for more than 2,300 years. They also crave starch, ice, chalk, and other unorthodox items of food. Some even claim they are addicted and "go crazy" without these items, but why?

Sifting through extensive historical, ethnographic, and biomedical findings, Sera L. Young creates a portrait of pica, or nonfood cravings, from

Overview

Humans have eaten earth, on purpose, for more than 2,300 years. They also crave starch, ice, chalk, and other unorthodox items of food. Some even claim they are addicted and "go crazy" without these items, but why?

Sifting through extensive historical, ethnographic, and biomedical findings, Sera L. Young creates a portrait of pica, or nonfood cravings, from humans' earliest ingestions to current trends and practices. In engaging detail, she describes the substances most frequently consumed and the many methods (including the Internet) used to obtain them. She reveals how pica is remarkably prevalent (it occurs in nearly every human culture and throughout the animal kingdom), identifies its most avid partakers (pregnant women and young children), and describes the potentially healthful and harmful effects. She evaluates the many hypotheses about the causes of pica, from the fantastical to the scientific, including hunger, nutritional deficiencies, and protective capacities. Never has a book examined pica so thoroughly or accessibly, merging absorbing history with intimate case studies to illuminate an enigmatic behavior deeply entwined with human biology and culture.

Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education
A concise, critical summary of what we do and don't know about eating earth, grounded in an exhaustive search for relevant literature and [Young's] own fieldwork in Zanzibar.

— Jeremy MacClancy

Gretel H. Pelto

Fascinating! With wit and keen scientific insight, Sera L. Young has written the landmark study of pica. It is sure to be a classic in anthropology and nutrition for a long time to come.

New York Times - James Gorman

There's a lot to learn in Craving Earth.

Quarterly Review of Biology
Highly recommended for reading by both interested academics and nonspecialists.

— Peter W. Abrahams

Gastronomica

Brilliant and very readable.

Mary Roach

Sera L. Young combines a detective's intuition, a scholar's diligence, and her own joyful, indefatigable curiosity to unravel one of the oldest and oddest of human mysteries. I devoured this book like an amylophage on a laundry starch bender.

Barnes & Noble Review - Adam Kirsch

Quirkily informative.

Journal of Human Biology
Accessible and engaging. A valuable teaching tool... and a fascinating and well-told story.

— Deborah L. Crooks

Barnes & Noble Review

Quirkily informative.

— Adam Kirsch

Carole Browner

Young writes like a dream. This masterful work draws upon data, insights, and perspectives from anthropology, history, public health, nutrition, and medicine to offer fascinating answers. A book you'll never forget!

Sacramento News and Review

Accessible.

Cornell Daily Sun

The work serves a very important purpose.

Lenore Manderson

Craving Earth is compelling, encyclopedic, and distinctively quirky-an engaging account of eating, soil chemistry, history, religion, ethnography, nutrition, and the social media. It is a book to inspire students and capture the imagination of any reader of the mysteries of geophagia and the idiosyncracies of social life.

Peter Ellison

Young brings a fascinating story from the musty cupboard of old wives' tales into the bright light of science. With fluid prose, a storyteller's style, and a restless curiosity, she peels back the surface of a seemingly bizarre and idiosyncratic behavior to produce a marvelous study of social biology with global reach. This is a book that will entertain as it educates, and it will educate everyone who reads it.

Michael Latham

This marvelous book takes the reader on a fascinating historical, literary, and scientific safari. Craving Earth is surely the most in-depth, revealing, and readable publication ever undertaken on geophagia and other aspects of pica. A must read for experts, while also a most enjoyable read for anyone else.

David L. Browman

The human focus of Young's book provides a welcome counterpoint to the strictly medical focus currently available.

Monique Borgerhoff Mulder

A fascinating romp through the history of pica, an eye-opener for the geophagist, and an elegant piece of quantitative evolutionary analysis. Young has produced an engaging, fast-moving text anchored to rich appendices that document pica in history and literature, its prevalence across human populations and subpopulations, and its association with micronutrient deficiencies.

Journal of Human Biology - Deborah L. Crooks

Accessible and engaging. A valuable teaching tool... and a fascinating and well-told story.

Times Higher Education - Jeremy MacClancy

A concise, critical summary of what we do and don't know about eating earth, grounded in an exhaustive search for relevant literature and [Young's] own fieldwork in Zanzibar.

Quarterly Review of Biology - Peter W. Abrahams

Highly recommended for reading by both interested academics and nonspecialists.

Food Museum Blog

Completely original, well-written, wide-net book about the craving for and ingesting of non foods, known as pica.

American Journal of Human Biology

Utilizing a biocultural approach, and writing in a style that is both accessible and engaging, Young tells the tale of pica in three parts.

— Deborah L. Crooks

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231146098
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
08/14/2012
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.78(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Sera L. Young is a faculty member of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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