As far as I can remember, I have never eaten dirt. But reading Beth Ann Fennelly’s article for The Oxford American about the history and experience of geophagy, and Tejal Rao’s article for The Atlantic looking at the modernization and gentrification of geophagy almost make me want to.
I remember the first time I went to my ancestral family farm as an adult, the farm that my great grandfather was born on. I remember driving down the lane, seeing the farm house appear, and the feeling that this place was more mine than any other place I had ever been. This sense of belonging past memory, past generation upon generation, was new to me.
If you’re not native, the United States is a new place, and Alaska one of the newest places. The house I live in is one of the oldest in Juneau and it was built in 1920. I think few of us, especially those of us on the West Coast, have an understanding of what an ancestral place can do to your understanding of who you are.
When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted by my great Uncle Elliot. Walking around, looking at the buildings and the gardens, it was strange to think that these were the same things that my grandmother had seen when she was my age. The time between our lives had disappeared in a single moment, and just by standing on that ground I felt physically tied to every other woman ever born into my family. And this is without having ever lived there.
This great, rolling, full linkage of self and place seems to be a huge part of Southern life, especially for those rural families that have lived for generations in one place. So to read about the living practice of geophagy, and the historic record of geophagy, something about it makes sense to me. The need, the desire, to take the earth into your body, especially earth that is so tied to your identity. Beth Ann Fennelly writes “my husband tells me his relations (poor white Alabamians) ate the clay mortar grouting the stones of the hearth at the family's home, the ‘Old Place’—weakening the structure until it threatened to collapse.”
The metaphor of eating something you love so as to take that thing into you, make it an inseparable part of yourself, has stuck with me for a long time. Often this image is tied in my mind to the notion of a dangerous love; love so strong that it in the act of consuming, destroys the object of affection. Last night, in one of those bar conversations that goes all sorts of places, my friend Caleb told me that Wikipedia has a list of fetishes. I immediately made him show me on my iPhone. Towards the bottom of the list was Vorarephilia. A “sexual fetish and paraphilia where arousal occurs from the idea of being eaten or by the process of eating. The fantasy may involve the victim being swallowed alive, and may or may not include digestion. Since the fetish is hard to achieve in real life, it is more commonly enjoyed through pictures, stories, and video games.”
I feel a story coming on.