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STRANGE: Meet Tarrare, the Frenchman Who Could and Would Eat Everything

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Every day, the internet seems to turn up a new freaky eater. There’s Pakkirappa Hunagundi, who has to eat about 3 kg of mud and rocks every day. There’s also YouTube star Shoenice22, who likes to eat tampons. There are men who eat airplanes, and there are even little girls in Scotland who like to eat every carpet and sofa they can find. But despite all of these strange diseases, there was a man who made them all seem like nothing. He had a taste for things that were not part of the normal food chain. Check out this article from the Munchies.

You may not have heard of Tarrare, but he was a young Frenchman in the 1700s who completely changed the idea of what it means to eat. Because he was born with a metabolic disorder that no one could figure out, he could never get full. To stop his ravenous hunger, he would eat anything and everything in sight, from inanimate objects to living animals.

Let a person imagine all that domestic and wild animals, the most filthy and ravenous, are capable of devouring, and they may form some idea of the appetite, as well as the wants, of Tarrare,” said M. le Baron Percy, who studied Tarrare while he was alive but was never known by his real name.

Tarrare was born somewhere near Lyon in 1772. Like all good Frenchmen, he was a mama’s boy who ate everything Madame Tarrare gave him. At 17, he could eat a quarter of a cow in a day, even though he only weighed 100 pounds. His digestive system was one that only a mother could love. It had a huge mouth, hardly any lips, and always smelled bad enough to make any teenage boy’s cracks proud. Other things about him were that he could wrap his stomach flesh around his whole waist when he wasn’t full and that his jaws were about four inches apart.

Tarrare’s mother kicked him out when it became clear that he could probably eat her. He took his huge appetite with him into the world and decided to make eating his job. It didn’t take long for him to become famous all over France because he led a traveling group of prostitutes, thieves, and bards. He would get the crowds excited by eating whatever they threw at him, whether it was a basket of apples, a cork, a piece of flint, or a live cat.

When the War of the First Coalition began in 1792, this bottomless pit of hopeless hunger was put to work. His hunger could not be stopped. He soon went to Soultz-Haut-Rhin hospital with exhaustion because he wasn’t getting enough to give his strange body what it needed. This moment would change his life forever.

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Tarrare caught the attention of some doctors there. They had him skin live cats, drink their blood, eat their flesh, and then throw up their fur because they had never seen anything like him before and wanted to see how far his new, strange appetite would go. Any group of men with any sense would turn around and lock the doors at this point. But these doctors were more curious, so Tarrare was kept in the hospital and fed not only meals for 15 people, but also live snakes and eels as special treats. But the live animal thing took a bit of a dark turn when our hero started drinking the blood of patients and was caught trying to eat a severed hand in the morgue. When a 14-month-old baby went missing from the infirmary (shudder), he was kicked out right away.

Before that, someone figured out that his insatiable hunger could be used for strategic purposes. Soon, he was allowed to eat a wooden box with a message inside and then poop it out in front of all the generals of the Revolutionary Army. For his trouble, he was given 14 kg of raw bull lungs. He ate them right away, even though they were full of his own poop.

Tarrare stayed in the background of history for four years, until he died of tuberculosis in Versailles in 1798. His death came after a long time of anal leakage. The autopsy of Tarrare, who was always up to something, showed that his stomach took up almost all of his torso. His liver and gallbladder were both the size of coconuts, showing that he had lived his life to the fullest.

People think now that Tarrare had brain damage and a severe thyroid disease, but would it be so far-fetched to say that this man’s taste for the taboo was ahead of its time? Could he have unintentionally set the stage for the kind of food that Ferran Adria made famous by confusing the senses? Tarrare was willing to try anything, and if he were alive now, he would have eaten barbecue before pulled pork was cool. Before Dominique Ansel could get his Cronuts near it, he would have eaten the deep fryer. He didn’t think twice about eating a peasant or peasant food, and he left behind an example of how to live quickly (by eating everything you want) and die young (in an ocean of your own excrement).


Featured Image screengrab from embedded tweet.