Tarrare, the Man Who Ate Anything and Everything
Do you recall eating so much that you felt terrible about it? If yes, this story will make you feel lighter and better. (A word of prudence: do not consider reading this article on your lunch break). Imagine a man swallowing stones, corks, cats, and a basket full of apples in one sitting, only to feel hungry again the next moment! Tarrare, the legend of the late 18th century, walked the streets of France with an insatiable appetite that knew no bounds. His insatiable eating habits quickly turned into folklore. He was well-known for eating things that most people would find immensely revolting. Tarrare’s horror story began innocently enough and was morphed into one of French history’s creepiest, little-known chapters.
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What made Tarrare lead a carnival lifestyle?
Tarrare is thought to be a nickname from a popular French expression “bom-bom tarrare!” used to describe powerful explosions. He was given this nickname because of his prodigious flatulence. He was born in 1772 in Lyon, France, and by the time he was 17, despite being able to consume a quarter cow’s worth of beef in a single day, he only weighed 100 lbs (about 45 kilograms).
Tarrare was a big bone of contention within his family as a kid. His parents were madly frustrated by their inability to satiate this little creature. He soon became a financial burden. He would cry without a break even after finishing a massive meal. With no choices left, his family finally kicked him out of the house, and that’s when he began the life of a nomad traveler and carnival lifestyle.
Tarrare becomes a voracious street performer in Paris.
After getting abandoned by his family, Tarrare had a rough life. So, he parlayed this into a career with a traveling freak show. He traveled around France like a vagabond. Tarrare moved to Paris with a gang of bandits, swindlers, and sex workers to become a street performer. Later, he became a warm-up act to a show where he would swallow all kinds of stuff.
Tararre would eat just about anything for his act, including barrels of apples, rocks, corks, and even live animals. There were some first-hand accounts of his actions:
“He seized a live cat with his teeth, shredded it, sucked its blood, and ate it whole, leaving just the bare skeleton. ”
He similarly ate dogs too. He enjoyed snake meat and would swallow eels whole. Nobody cared to look at what was blatantly wrong with him. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and he appeared to be just another man out for a quick buck.
He had a particularly turning feature. His deflated stomach sac hung loose in such a way that he could wrap it around his body like a belt. It’s like he had been routinely eating so much to such an extent that the flesh over his stomach naturally grew over time and expanded. So, when he wasn’t eating, it was an empty sac.
What did Tarrare do to the military?
In 1789, France was racked by the French Revolution, and so, Tarrare joined the French military. He didn’t fight; he helped people out with their day-to-day tasks. When he would help them, they would give him their rations, and he would eat them.
Practicing in the army made him more ill. Eventually, he ended up in the military hospital because he was still hungry no matter what he ate. It was then the severity of his condition became apparent. Tarrare wasn’t gaining weight and was exhibiting signs of undernourishment.
General Alexandre de Beauharnais decided to take advantage of his condition and made him a spy. He put a document inside a wooden box and gave it to Tarrare to swallow. The General waited patiently until the box passed through his body and had a soldier go through his stool to fish out the box. The box came out with the message. The experiment had worked!
Tarrare was then disguised as a Prussian peasant and asked to deliver a top-secret message to a captured French Colonel. Unfortunately, he didn’t reach the destination because of his putrid smell.
The London Medical and Physical Journal in 1819 described his smell as follows:
“Tarrare was constantly covered in sweat and from his body arose, sensible to the sight and more so to the smell. He had whiskey-blonde hair and a large mouth surrounded by slender lips and discolored teeth. He frequently burped and farted and had constant, particularly odorous bowel movements, which one would expect from someone whose diet consisted of massive amounts of both food and non-food items. ”
Prussians searched him, found him, whipped him, and tortured him. Eventually, Tarrare told them about his mission. The Prussians chained him to a toilet and waited for him to excrete the box. The message in the box was still a test run because the general wanted to see if he could succeed.
The Prussian General ordered him to be hanged in anger, but Tarrare sobbed and begged for his life. The General took pity on him and instead ordered his soldiers to give him a good spanking and let him return to the French lines. Safely back in France, Tarrare asked the army never to make him deliver another secret message.
Was Tarrare ever cured completely?
Tarrare didn’t want to be this way anymore! He pleaded with Baron Percy in the hospital to make him normal like everyone else. Percy tried the best of his medical knowledge and expertise. Tarrare was fed with tobacco pills, wine vinegar, laudanum, and all he could in the high hopes of quenching his insane hunger.
Tarrare stayed the same no matter what. Not only did this treatment not work, but it also appeared to have accelerated his condition. No food was enough, and he had gone past eating trash. In one particular episode, he was caught drinking blood drawn from other patients and gnashing on some bodies in the morgue.
Then, the disappearance of a 14-month-old baby began to generate rumors that Tarrare had gotten hold of the baby and eaten it. Baron Percy kicked him out of the hospital, and he had to return to fending for himself. After four years, he again returned to a hospital in Versailles because he was dying. Tarrare died of complications related to his extreme eating habits in 1798 at the young age of 26. However, his legacy lives on as a medical mystery that continues to fascinate researchers and the public alike.
What is the medical enigma of Tarrare and his legacy?
Tarrare’s insatiable hunger was a complete mystery for all, including medical professionals and scientists who studied him like a fascinating case study. Everybody who met him was eager to unlock the secrets of his unique condition.
The autopsy of Tarrare accepted that every weird thing he consumed resulted from this genuine need to eat that he couldn’t control. Tarrare’s life had been profoundly influenced by the unusual body he was born with! It was that which cursed him with an eternity of hunger.
The exact cause of Tarrare’s insatiable appetite remains unknown. Still, some theories suggest that he may have suffered from a rare medical condition known as “hyperthyroidism,” which can cause extreme polyphagia, increased appetite, and metabolism. The medical condition is super-rare, almost to the point where it is looked upon with suspicion and doubt. The concept of it is someone being unable to control their appetite. The extra disturbing feature is that it typically involves eating non-food items.
Others have speculated that Tarrare may have suffered from a psychological disorder that caused him to crave food in an unhealthy way.
Whatever the cause of Tarrare’s condition, his narrative serves as a reminder of the human body’s incredible complexity and the many mysteries that remain to be solved. His life and condition also offer insight into the limits of medical knowledge and the importance of continued scientific exploration and discovery.
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