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White Clay Sold as Gourmet Dirt

Q. You ran a letter from a correspondent in Kenya who told about dirt being sold in the supermarket there. You said it isn’t sold in grocery stores in the U.S.

I was in a market in Georgia last week while I was traveling and noticed “white dirt” prominently displayed for sale. I checked it out and discovered it is a gourmet item for dirt eaters and commonly available via the Internet as well. You guys should be up on this stuff.

A. Thanks for bringing us up to speed. According to the online New Georgia Encyclopedia, white dirt is kaolin. The antidiarrheal medicine Kaopectate used to contain kaolin, although now it contains bismuth subsalicylate instead.

Although white dirt was being sold in Georgia, white clay is also found in western North Carolina as described in Christopher Benfey’s new book, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay. It is prized for pottery.

People across the south sometimes eat clay, and those who can’t get the clay of their choice occasionally substitute cornstarch. Craving non-foods (pica) may be linked to a deficiency of zinc or iron and often disappears when the deficiency is corrected.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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