After reading this story, you may never complain about eating kale salad again. A 50-year-old Pakistani man claims he’s survived for 25 years eating only fresh wood and ripe tree leaves. Get all of your “Leave it to Beaver” jokes out now.
Finished? According to local media, Punjab province resident Mehmood Butt says he began this strange practice when he was 25, unemployed and hungry. In a noble gesture to avoid being a burden on his family or bring shame to it by begging, Mehmood went into the woods and tried eating leaves and branches. He found that he liked the taste and his body had no adverse reaction to the diet, so he kept eating wood and leaves until he got a job and could afford human food again.
That’s when he found out he couldn’t stop.
Eating wood and leaves has become my habit now.
Mehmood owns a donkey cart and works as a hauler, so he has plenty of opportunities – as well as storage – to pick leaves for dinner. He says he prefers wood and leaves from Banyan, Tali and Suck Chain trees.
Before you throw away your frozen dinners and kale and make yourself a maple leaf ragu, let’s look at what doctors have to say about this. Pica is a recognized eating disorder characterized by cravings for non-nutritive substances such as hair (trichophagia), paper (papyrophagia), metal (metallophagia), soil (geophagia), glass (hyalophagia), or feces (coprophagia). Geophagia is probably the most well-known – dirt-eating by children or pregnant women is often reported in rural or pre-industrial cultures and actually has some probiotic and anti-nausea benefits.
Xylophagy refers to animals that subsist solely on fresh wood – those preferring dead wood are sapro-xylophagous. Beavers are the most familiar of the xylophagous mammals but it’s more common in insects (bark beetles, termites) or marine animals (shipworms). The abnormal behavior of eating or chewing on wood is called xylophagia and is common in horses that don’t like to be corralled with wooden fences. In humans, the most common form is pencil chewing (wooden, not mechanical – that would be metallophagia.)
Wood is primarily a type of cellulose that humans don’t have the proper teeth to chew nor the right gut bacteria to break down. Tree leaves are a little closer to the ground-growing greens we eat (lettuce, spinach, dandelions, etc.) but are much lower in nutrients and still very tough to digest. Even animals that subsist on leaves – sloths, for example – spend their entire day digesting them. Without other foods, a human couldn’t survive on leaves for more than a few days.
Which brings us back to Mehmood. His neighbor says he looks healthy.
He has never visited a doctor or any hospital. We are shocked how can a person not fall ill despite eating wood all these years.
It sounds like something may have been lost in translation – possibly due to Mehmood’s mouth full of leaves. He probably snacks on them and, from the pictures, likes to show off chewing them. As far as living primarily on leaves and wood for 25 years, we’d like some additional evidence. A picture of his refrigerator or pantry would help.
Or maybe a sample of his feces. Perhaps a local coprophagiac could help out with the analysis.
Meanwhile, here’s some music to eat maple leaves by, courtesy of Scott Joplin