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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231146081
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 02/21/2011
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(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.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part I: All About Pica
1. What on Earth?
2. A Biocultural Approach: A Holistic Way to Study Pica
3. Medicine You Can Walk On
4. Religious Geophagy: Sacredness You Can Swallow
5. Poisons and Pathogens
Part II: But Why?
6. Dismissal and Damnation: A Historical Perspective on the Purported Causes of Pica
7. Pica in Response to Food Shortage
8: Pica as a Micronutrient Supplement
9: Pica to Protect and Detoxify
10. Putting the Pica Pieces Together
Appendix A: Notable Moments in the History of Pica
Appendix B: Prevalence of Pica Among Representative Populations of Pregnant Women
Appendix C: Prevalence of Pica Among Representative Populations of Children
Appendix D: Pica in Literature
Appendix E: Association Between Pica and Iron Deficiency and/or Anemia in Cross-Sectional Studies
Appendix F: Association Between Pica with Zinc Deficiency in Cross-Sectional Studies
Appendix G: Predictions
Works Cited

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