blog | werkgroep caraïbische letteren

Eating earth/Aarde eten

Meeting of art, science, tradition and food habits


During a two-day event (21-22 June, 2018), artist-in-residence Masha Ru will explore the phenomenon of eating earth. The focus is on pimba, white kaolin clay from Suriname. The workshop is part of Masha Ru’s project “Pimba. Closing the gap” which examines connections and interactions between cultural practices, science and policy through contemporary art practice and visual storytelling.


The eating of soil and soil-like substances, called geogaphy, is an ancient spiritual and healing practice which is an integral part of culture in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. For example, in Suriname, Indonesia, Ghana and Nigeria clay snacks and tablets are sold as edible products on the market.

At the same time in Europe and the USA eating earth-based substances is officially regarded as a psychological disorder, known as pica – the consumption of non-nutritious items, including earth. Eating soil is discouraged, as it can contain elements hazardous for health, as shown in a study by the Dutch Food Authority (2013), which describes how edible clays were sampled on the Dutch market from 2004 until 2012 and further examined. The study focuses on 63 clays that were found on the Dutch market sold as edible products.

Despite the follow-up warnings of food authorities in both The Netherlands and Suriname, different communities still continue to engage with pimba, white kaolin clay from Suriname. At the same time, a number of popular brands available in health shops sell edible soil and clay officially meant for internal use.


A very special guest of the two-day workshop is Dr Sera Young, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University, in Chicago. She is the author of the book Craving Earth. Understanding Pica—the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk in which she examines historic, ethnographic and biomedical aspects of pica, describes its healthy and hazardous sides and reflects on the possible causes of pica. The book won the Margaret Mead Award. Sera Young’s academic training includes medical anthropology (MA, University of Amsterdam), international nutrition (PhD, Cornell), and HIV (Fellowship, University of California San Francisco). Sera Young will contribute to the workshop by putting traditions connected to pimba into the general context of geophagy worldwide, as well as to create a dialogue between science and tradition.

Bert Boekschoten is professor emeritus of geology, presently staff member at VU Amsterdam, Science Faculty. On 21st of June in NIAS he will talk about cultural and religious traces of eating Dutch soil in the Netherlands.

Elihaika Minja is a research officer at the Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, currently working with Dr. Ron Hoogenboom from the RIKILT institute in Wageningen. Elihaika Minja and Dr. Ron Hoogenboom will talk about the toxic elements which can be present in clays for oral use, and the question of food regulation.

Ludo & Hedo is an unusual gelato shop indulging in a game of perception, surprise, curiosity, with a goal to break the expectations and question the habits. Together Ola Lanko from Ludo & Hedo and Masha Ru have created clay-based gelato flavours, which will be offered for your tasting during the event.

The workshop also includes the NIAS seminar by Masha Ru, in which she discusses her most recent fieldwork in Suriname.



About the workshop

As Ru’s research at NIAS is focused on the theoretical background of the phenomenon of geophagy, she will invite both members from the academic community (within and beyond NIAS) and members of soil-eating communities, especially based in Amsterdam Bijlmer to take part in this participatory two-day event. The workshop aims at creating a point of discussion and stimulate the exchange of ideas and interdisciplinary communication between art, science, tradition and food habits. The workshop will be followed by soil tasting (at one’s own risk).

The first day of the workshop will take place at NIAS: 21st of June, 9.30-17.30

The second day is planned at OBA Bijlmerplein in Amsterdam Zuidoost: 22nd of June, 13:30-17:30.

The project Pimba. Closing the gap is funded by the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK), NIAS and the Society of Arts-KNAW.

Subscription for both days to:

Your comment please...

  • RSS
  • Facebook
  • Twitter