'It's hard for me not to pick up a little rock and put it in my mouth'
VANCOUVER, Wash. - I'm sitting with Kristi Spinuzza in her Vancouver apartment as she explains her strange addiction to me.
"It tastes good to you?" I asked.
"It tastes like it smells. It has kind of an ashy taste to it," Spinuzza responded, talking about the dirt she often eats.
She takes me to her patio, where she points out the little white rocks mixed into the dirt in her flower pots. Those rocks are her favorite. As she sifts through the dirt with her fingers, she compares the process to looking for sea shells on the beach.
"They're usually clean after the rain, they come up to the top, and they kind of break apart so they're not hard and crunchy," she explained.
For Spinuzza, it's not just the smell or feel of dirt that draws her in. It's the taste.
"I've been called dirt girl," she said. When asked, she said she eats dirt every day.
On a nationally televised show, Spinuzza revealed the extent of her appetite for dirt. She explained how she would eat it at home, in the car, and basically anywhere she could find it.
She said some of her addiction, however, was exaggerated for television. For example, she said producers bought her the bags of potting soil she was shown eating out of on the show.
Other aspects, she admitted, were dead on.
"In San Diego, I used to do shot glasses of dirt, and I would take dirt with me to work," Spinuzza said.
Spinuzza said her obsession began when she was just a little girl.
"I can remember playing with mud pies, actually eating the mud pies," she said with a laugh.
She grew up around dirt. Her dad built swimming pools. Her grandfather had acres of flowers. Softball and baseball were a big part of her life.
"It was always a smell to me that was soothing and comforting. Whereas other people accepted that was (part of) a nice spring day, I would just think that's good dirt," said Spinuzza. "My mom used to catch me all the time, she'd turn the lights on, and I'd be eating it, and she'd be like no. She'd covered everything in the yard with beauty bark so I couldn't get to the dirt, but she didn't know I had my own little supply."
I asked Spinuzza if she ever thought dirt was bad for her.
"I thought 'well God made dirt, so dirt don't hurt,'" she said. "You know that saying? So, I honestly didn't think too much about it being bad for me."
Spinuzza said she's been tested for mineral deficiencies; that isn't the problem. Most experts she's seen have told her this is a type of eating disorder.
There is such a thing known as pica disease. It most often emerges in pregnant women. They crave soil, clay or chalk.
As she got older, her obsession was harder to hide. The habit has taken a toll on her teeth, costing her more than $20,000 in dental repairs. And a couple of months ago, something else came along.
"I'm fighting something else way bigger than dirt right now," she said with a look of fear in her eyes. "I'm being treated for pancreatic cancer."
"It'll be okay," she said, nodding slightly as she wiped away a tear.
I asked Spinuzza if she thinks the cancer is tied to her eating of dirt.
She said her form of pancreatic cancer is so rare, the doctors told her they can't say the dirt's directly connected. They also can't rule it out.
The cancer is motivation enough to get her to stop eating dirt, if only so she can be around to raise her teenage son. She realizes she needs to resist the urge to connect with the earth in a manner that may be killing her.
But she still sees dirt everywhere and desires it.
"It's hard for me not to pick up a little rock and put it in my mouth, even if it's just sucking on a rock."