According to a time-honored tradition in parts of the South, dirt does a body good. Especially if you’re eating it.

Pica, the urge to eat dirt, is not a subject you commonly hear discussed at parties. But a recent piece from NPR’s The Salt delves into the history of dirt-eating.

The “white dirt” usually consumed is actually a soft clay more commonly known as kaolin. It’s the material used in porcelain, some types of paper, and paint, reports The Salt. Kaolin is also one of the most common minerals in the world.

According to folklore, pregnant women should eat white dirt to stay healthy throughout pregnancy. But nutritional anthropologist Sera Young believes that the subject merits clinical study.

Young, author of Craving Earth, tells The Salt:

“There are literally hundreds of thousands—if not millions—who are intrigued, disturbed and devastated by these cravings. …Cardiac arrest, threats of divorce, broken dentures, thousands of dollars in dental works—none of this deters people when they have these cravings.

I’ve talked to women throughout East Africa and the U.S., and they all talk about this stuff with this incredible fondness and enjoyment.

Although the practice is not widely publicized, many researchers are beginning to drag it back into the light. Documentarian Adam Forrester’s newest film project, titled Eat White Dirt, has set out to investigate dirt-eating culture.

According to the film’s website,

The film investigates the white substance’s role as mythological medicine, its prehistoric origins, and its controversial place in the ongoing narrative between mining companies and landowners.

Pica has also been documented by less high-brow programs, such as TLC’s My Strange Addiction. In an episode called “Crunching on Dirt,” a woman called Kristie reveals that kaolin is ruining both her teeth and her life.

Scroll down to watch the trailer for Eat White Dirt, and to check out stills from the film.

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[via The Salt]