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Geophagy is a practice of eating earthy substances (such as clay) often to augment a mineral-deficient diet. While most often seen in rural or preindustrial societies among pregnant women, it also occurs among children and as a psychological eating disorder. Geophagy is a type of disorder known as pica.

Geophagy seems to be most prevalent among Africans and their descendants. A 1942 Mississippi study found that:

"at least 25 percent of the schoolchildren habitually ate earth. Adults, although not systematically surveyed, also consumed earth. A number of reasons were given: earth is good for you; it helps pregnant women; it tastes good; it is sour like a lemon; it tastes better if smoked in the chimney; and so on." (Hunter, 192) [1]

In the southeastern United States especially tasty dirt (usually a chalky dirt with a certain flavor) is sold in local stores or sent to friends and family who are no longer living near the source of this dirt.

Geophagy was also practiced by Native Americans who would eat dirt with acorns and potatoes to neutralize potentially harmful alkaloids.

See also: nutrition.

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