Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I alluded to the fact that I ate dirt between the ages of 3 and 4, in a post titled "Learning To Face Life's Little Problems", but I'm not sure I ever detailed the compulsion I had for it. Quite frankly, I liked the taste of dirt!

It is sometimes said that you have to “eat a peck of dirt before you die”, and, because of my childhood vitamin and mineral deficiencies I’m probably well on my way out!

I think it all began with one innocent pinch of cigarette ashes…BAM…I was hooked on that ashy taste. However, it grew out of a lust for some mineral or vitamin, probably iron, that I was not getting in my normal diet. So, I experimented around the yard and everywhere I visited for a year or two around the turn of the 50’s decade.

Once while visiting us in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, my uncle once saw me pick up a chunk of common yard dirt and put it in my mouth. He quickly brushed it from of my hand, picked me up, and stood me in the midst of the freshly hoed dark soil of my dad’s garden, saying, “Here, get you some clean dirt son!

He, like a lot of parents and people who study bacteria today, was not overly concerned about me eating dirt. A case in point is this video clip of Dr. Bonnie Bassler, a professor at Princeton University, who is a molecular biologist.

My Uncle Earl stood proudly by and watched me taste the rich black dirt. My mom, of course, was not quite as open minded and would always make me put it down and immediately wash my hands and try to wash my mouth out.

The basic truth is bacteria teach the body the specifics of creating the right kind of antibodies that protect our bodies throughout our lives. Think about it, with bacteria, not just crawling all over everything, but covering everything, we stay amazingly well.

Oh sure, we get the occasional cold, but without an immune system that has been educated by bacteria we probably wouldn’t have survived the first year of life. Just look at me…I survived all this time after eating cigarette ashes and dirt!

I can still remember the lime taste of the earth around Five Points, Tennessee where my grandfather raised cotton and corn. The soil was almost white, with tiny little bits of rust colored rocks in it. The soil is lime rich and I bet those rust bits were from iron, which is exactly what I needed. It made the best clumps from which I would scrap off a mouth full with my upper front teeth.

My mom took my little skinny body to the doctor and asked him how she could get me to eat more “real” food and stop eating dirt. His solution, which worked, was to give me a big brown bottle of some vitamin elixir containing a lot of iron.

I was soon eating more and growing toward the mass I am today, and never picked up another clod of dirt to eat again. Although, like I said, I remember its taste, with all its variety of tastes today.

I think about this every time I see my granddaughter Lily crawl under the table at a restaurant. We try to keep her hands clean and out of her mouth, but it’s inevitable that she will get some dirt into her mouth. I remind myself that her body is learning to produce the antibodies that will keep her alive and well for a long time.

I wish someone had told Howard Hughes this, and I hope Howie Mandel reads my blog! Dirt is actually good for us guys! However, you must remember that garden dirt is cleaner than yard dirt!


*Goddess* said...

My sister was a dirt eater, but the only kind of "dirt" I've eaten is the kind that's made with pudding and crushed oreo cookies...yum!

Howie Mandel would have a friggin heart attack if he got anywhere near dirt!

BRUNO said...

I had a dirt-eatin'-sister, too!

But me? Nah, I was more of a "stick-chewer", especially a twig from an apple or peach-tree.

Being "born-into" a farm-background, I suppose I've gotten my fair-share of "clean"-dirt as a kid, too.

Does a mule-turd flyin'-off the tire of a model MD-Farmall tractor count as dirt? Or, is that considered a "natural-supplement"?

Either way, I never did develop much of a liking to the TASTE of it!

Even though Mom would tell us, over and over:"Good medicine ALWAYS tastes BAD! That's how it works!"...

Michelle H. said...

Ha! My comment was almost going to be the same with everyone's above concerning my own sister. Unfortunately, she wasn't a dirt eater, she was a paper eater: regular white spiral-bound with the blue lines. I suppose it's still the same, trying to find those missing nutrients to satisfy the body.

I was never a dirt eater, along with my siblings (older sister and older brother). More than likely because we raised cattle and couldn't be quite sure if the dirt was actual dirt or had an added ingredient. Yuck!

Scott from Oregon said...

boogers too.

Eat a booger a day to keep your immune system strong.

Suldog said...

Sure, I tasted dirt a few times. Just curiosity. But I agree with you and a lot of others, in that our children today are not getting what they need from such experiences as we once did, so things that used to be benign for most - peanut butter, a good example - are now increasingly allergens to many.

MY WIFE has told me she used to eat the white sticks that lollipops came one, as well as chew on an occasional brown paper bag. I think certain kids have an instinctual awareness of a lack of a mineral or whatever, such as Michelle's sister, or Bruno. Generally won't hurt 'em, anyway.

FHB said...

Mmmmm, wood, paper, boogers... just about anything that gets within' reach at one time of my life or another. Hell, how do you think I got this way? But never dirt. Hell, that's just gross! Aaaahahahahaha!

I did flash on somethin' readin' this thought. Farmers tasting their soil to see if it's good... If they need one fertilizer or another? Haven't I seen that somewhere?

*Goddess* said...

Oh, hey, we used to check sticks too..from the birch tree. Had a great taste to it. Heck, I still do that from time to time when I'm cutting grass and pass the birch tree:) We used to suck the honey out of honeysuckle flowers too!