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Geophagy in Africa and in the United States: A Culture-Nutrition Hypothesis

John M. Hunter
Geographical Review
Vol. 63, No. 2 (Apr., 1973), pp. 170-195
DOI: 10.2307/213410
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/213410
Page Count: 26
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Geophagy in Africa and in the United States: A Culture-Nutrition Hypothesis
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Abstract

Geophagy is a widespread and diverse phenomenon that reflects religious belief, cultural practice, psychiatric disorder, and pathogenic reaction. The hypothesis is offered that geophagy is a behavioral response to physiological stress and that it has evolved from early, individualized response stages to sophisticated, institutionalized forms. Both extremes are observed among African ethnic nations today. The hypothesis is derived from an analysis of mineral nutrients in twelve Ghanaian geophagical clays and from an assay of simulated human digestion. Evidence that supports the culture-nutrition hypothesis is found in data on the physiological cost of pregnancy and lactation and in studies of free-selection animal and human diets. Geophagy in the United States is regarded as a culture transfer from Africa, and a model is formulated to explain the practice of starch eating, especially in the urban ghettos of the North.

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