A taste of ISRIC's soil profiles

10 Oct 2017

Have you ever wondered what soil tastes like? The World Soil Museum, hosted by the international soil institute ISRIC World Soil Information, has a collection of 1,200 soil profiles. Stephan Mantel, the museum's curator, sat down with artist Masha Ru to ‘taste’ a tropical soil from ISRIC's collection. ‘I had stomach ache for a week after,’ he says, laughing. Soil is clearly not to Mantel's taste. ‘It's not that it’s disgusting, but it's not tasty, either.’

During the lunch meeting on October 2nd at Impulse, named ‘Appetizer,’ artist Masha Ru offered a foretaste of the exposition on geophagia that will be opened on campus next year. ‘Geophagia’ is the scientific term that denotes the practice of eating earth or soil-like substrates. People in our western culture would think this is eccentric. Who in their right mind eats soil? Modern medicine even still classifies geophagia as a disorder: ‘pica’, the urge to consume non-edible objects. However, many other cultures around the world don't see this as a disorder. They may even think it's normal.

Russian-born Maria Rudnaya, who produces her art under the alias ‘Masha Ru,’ has been eating soil since she was a child. Whether chalk, pieces of clay or simply soil, she has a taste for them all. She consumes soil daily – not huge amounts, but small mouthfuls. ‘It's the same as drinking a glass of wine. I do it for the taste, not for nutritional, spiritual or other reasons.’

With a PhD in mathematics (TU/e) and a degree in photography, eating soil is one of Maria's passions, and one in which she has gained artistic fame. She has already set up several projects that deal with the topic of geophagia. The most recent of these is the Museum of Edible Earth, which brings together a collection of edible soils from across the globe. At the time of writing, the museum is home to 315 samples from 20 countries. ‘But this is only the beginning.’

During the lunch break at Impulse, visitors were faced with tens of pots of ground soil, chunks of a chalky substance and edible cups made of baked clay. Anyone daring enough could have a taste. ‘Although we've tasted everything, consumption is at your own risk,’ she adds. These were the concluding words of a brief talk about her work, to whet our appetite for the exposition that will open next year on campus in Impulse and the World Soil Museum.

Stephan Mantel is enthusiastic about working with Masha Ru. ‘Masha Ru's work takes a whole new stance on the subject of “soil”. While we gather soils for scientific purposes, looking closely at the soil's composition, there are totally different ways to engage with the substance. Masha Ru, for instance, collects soils and investigates how edible they are. This approach is inspirational, tantalising, as it presents a different perception on soil. The cultural aspects of soil are fascinating, although little is known about them.’ ((Source: Resource, Roelof Kleis)