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 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 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.

Columbia University Press

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

About the Author

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

Columbia University Press

Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsPrefacePart I: All About Pica 1. What on Earth?2. A Biocultural Approach: A Holistic Way to Study Pica 3. Medicine You Can Walk On4. Religious Geophagy: Sacredness You Can Swallow5. Poisons and PathogensPart II: But Why? 6. Dismissal and Damnation: A Historical Perspective on the Purported Causes of Pica7. Pica in Response to Food Shortage8: Pica as a Micronutrient Supplement9: Pica to Protect and Detoxify10. Putting the Pica Pieces TogetherAppendix A: Notable Moments in the History of PicaAppendix B: Prevalence of Pica Among Representative Populations of Pregnant WomenAppendix C: Prevalence of Pica Among Representative Populations of ChildrenAppendix D: Pica in LiteratureAppendix E: Association Between Pica and Iron Deficiency and/or Anemia in Cross-Sectional StudiesAppendix F: Association Between Pica with Zinc Deficiency in Cross-Sectional Studies Appendix G: PredictionsNotesGlossaryWorks CitedAcknowledgmentsIndex

Columbia University Press

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