common eating disorders. I recently came across a whole wealth of information on the syndrome
in the book Spook by Mary Roach, and I found it enchantingly revolting. So if anyone else
was curious, here is a bunch of information about it.
"Search the British medical journals from the early 1900s, and you will come across lengthy articles on the subject of human ruminants: seemingly ordinary citizens who could effortlessly 'bring up' portions of their most recent meal for further mastication and - quite often - enjoyment. 'It is sweeter than honey, and accompanied by a most delightful relish,' a Swedish ruminator is quoted as saying in E. M. Brockbank's 'Merycism or Rumination in Man,' which ran in the February 23, 1907, issue of the British Medical Journal.
No one could say whether the condition was hereditary or learned. Brockbank cites the case of a tin worker as support for heredity's role. 'He looked upon it as a perfectly natural phenomenon, descending from his grandfather and father to himself, and to all of his sisters and brothers and to many of their children. . . . [His wife] [sic], a bright intelligent woman who does not ruminate, states very definitely that as soon as the children began to walk they used to bring up mouthfuls of food, which at first they spat out, later they began to rechew it, especially after a meal they liked.' Other physicians insisted the habit was passed along by imitation, citing as evidence a Swiss ruminator who lived among cows all his life, and a boy who was suckled for two years by a goat, and 'acquired by imitation his foster-mother's . . . habits.'
Though the act appears identical in cow and man, only in the bovine does it serve any useful purpose. Though occasional exceptions did exist, such as this 1839 Lancet case study of a farmer: 'To save time, he had acquired a habit of “bolting” his food . . . then getting on horseback, and subjecting his dinner piecemeal to mastication at his leisure.' The farmer didn't seek medical advice until later in life, after falling into some wealth and attempting to mix with a higher cut of society, who found his habit 'very disgusting.' Two papers I read implied that ruminating was accepted as normal behavior among the working class, implying that cud chewing was as common among nineteenth-century laborers as tobacco chewing among modern-day league pitchers. These days, rumination articles are confined to literature about psychologically or developmentally impaired individuals.(Happily, there is help. A surgical technique recently perfected at the Swallowing Center at the University of Washington stops rumination in its tracks.”
Roach, Mary. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. New York: Norton, 2005.
I thought that was so fascinating. (Incidentally, this is such a wonderful book as is her previous one Stiff, and I get to introduce Mary Roach when she comes to talk at the bookstore where I work next week!) More information on rumination: Anred, linked to in the aforementioned post, and an article at Emedicine linked to at Anred.
I find the syndrome strange and captivating. And I wonder what else the Swallowing Center studies. As mentioned also in Spook the real “swallowing center” is a part of the brain that coordinates and controls chewing, swallowing, gagging, vomiting, coughing, belching and licking, which is interesting in and of itself as it relates to eating disorders.