Don’t eat that!

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Pica: (noun) “An abnormal desire to eat substances not normally eaten.”

Pica was the Miriam-Webster Dictionary’s Word of the Day on 08/28/2014. The word pica derives from the Latin word picave, meaning magpie, a bird that will eat anything.

Pica is a common cause of illness, injury and parental panic with toddlers who seem so curious about the new world around them that they, like magpies, will gladly eat anything they find… from mothballs to bugs to forest-green Crayolas.

Even stranger are the (alleged) grownups who turn up on psychiatrist’s couches because they too engage in pica. Consider these:

  • A 31-year-old Florida mother of five recently sought treatment to end her 21-year habit of eating the foam inside furniture cushions. In the last year before seeking help she ate seven sofas.
  • A 62-year-old French man, starting at the age of 52, began eating money. He swallowed 350 French francs and Euro coins worth $650, weighing 12 pounds. He spent it all and more on “coinectomy” surgery to save his life.
  • Then there was the 52-year-old woman from Queens, New York, who had developed a craving for baby powder at the age of 30. She still eats a handful of powder every morning as an after-breakfast snack.

Sure makes good old peanut butter and jelly – even Brussels sprouts and broccoli – seem pretty good by comparison, doesn’t it?

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a best-selling author and once highly competitive athlete and figure skater, practices nutrition-based medicine. He brings pica one step closer to home:

We have these weapons of mass destruction on every street corner, and they’re called donuts, cheeseburgers, French fries, potato chips, junk food. Our kids are living on a junk food diet.”

So, what if junk food and fast food are really just more socially acceptable kinds of pica?

This week’s Jamestown Gazette invites you to look a little more deeply into our notions of what is good and acceptable to eat.

Consider the most dangerous of all among the weird and exotic kinds of pica. Children in some parts of Jamestown and across Chautauqua County eat it almost every day. What they too much of is: Nothing. That is a hazardous to their health.

And when Nothing is intermittently relieved with helpings of fast food, junk food and snack food, children may live just long enough to become underfed, malnourished and sickly adults.

Those are the dishes make up the standard cuisine for people who live in food deserts within the land of plenty, within our community.

We have discovered, as we hope you will by reading this week’s cover story, that we may be allowing food deserts to form and grow every time we bypass a chance to support our local farmers, the fresh produce, meat and dairy they grow right here at home, and the local merchants who still sell it.

How we shop can help keep fresh, wholesome food flowing through the community and help shrink our food deserts out of existence.

Remember pica. Eating daily helpings of Nothing is hazardous to our children’s health and eating Nothing Fresh is the next worst kind of pica for both children and adults.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.