As the distribution of pica across time and place and species makes itself ever more clear, we will surely learn this story is even richer, the culture practices subtler, the mineral commerce more complex. In some ways, our changing explanations of pica tell us more about the scientists and explorers than the very earth eaters they set out to describe. For now many mysteries remain, like how particular mineral deficiencies metamorphose into desire or along what channels of the mind such cravings sail. At the most, the story suggests an instinct within all of us, ready to emerge when famine strikes. At the very least, the tale—whispered by wolves and lovesick girls, discovered by a lonely anthropologist on the sweet breath of an Indian queen—suggests new views of who we are and what we eat.
Image: Charles Laughton in a scene from The Private Life of Henry VIII, directed by Akexander Korda, 1933. © Kobal
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