Meet Tarrare: The man who ate literally everything
When compared to the average person, I would argue that I eat quite a lot. Being a 6ft-something man, my appetite is fairly large and I tend to have three big meals a day accompanied by some snacks and maybe the odd dessert. But, while my eating habits may be a little on the unhealthy side in terms of the quantity of food I eat, they are nothing when compared to the following man.
In recent times, eating contests have become a disturbing trend in the western world. In what has to be one of the most out-there displays of human greed and gluttony, contestants compete against one another in order to find out who can eat the most amount of food in the shortest time. But, before people like Adam Richman and "epic meal time" came along and made eating extreme quantities popular, someone else had already paved the way.
The story of Tarrare is a peculiar one in the sense that it features food, the French Revolution and cannibalism. Born in 1772 in Lyon, France, Tarrare was eating 100 pounds of beef per day at the age of 17. Unable to keep up with their son's expanding appetite, Tarrare's family kicked him out of their house and he joined a freak show, where he delighted attendees by eating anything - and I mean anything - that they gave him, including baskets of apples, dozens of eggs and even whole wine corks.
Despite his penchant for eating copious amounts of food, Tarrare's appearance was fairly ordinary, being average in size and height. However, there was one thing that made him stick out from the crowd: his scent. According to an account published in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1819, Tarrare was “constantly covered in sweat, and from his body… a vapour arose, sensible to the sight and moreso to the smell.” He also used to fart a lot and had particularly odorous bowel movements - something that is hardly surprising given what he used to eat.
Tarrare went on to join the French military when the revolution began in 1789. And, although he didn't fight, he did help out his fellow soldiers with day-to-day tasks in exchange for their rations. However, their food was not enough for Tarrare and he ended up in hospital, as no matter how much he ate, his appetite remained insatiable.
During his time in the military hospital, physicians were left fascinated by Tarrare; who took to eating live animals, including cats, dogs, snakes and eels (which he would swallow whole).
After realising that they could use his freak capacity to their advantage, surgeons had him eat a wooden box with a sheet of paper in it. After passing the box and paper unharmed, doctors gave him a message in the box to send to captured French soldiers being held by the Prussians. Posing as a peasant, Tarrare made it across the border but was discovered to be an imposter due to the fact that he didn't speak German. After being captured and tortured, the London Journal reports that “Tarrare voided the wooden case…and had the address to swallow it again to conceal the knowledge of its contents from the enemy.”
Remarkably, Tarrare managed to escape back to France, where doctors treated him with tobacco and opioids. But, it was during this time that he began turning to cannibalism. Doctors found him drinking drained blood from other patients and consuming their corpses. Tarrare was finally booted out of the hospital in 1794 after a 14-month-old child disappeared.
Following the incident in the hospital, Tarrare went off the radar for the following four years. When he died at the age of 26 in Versailles, doctors performed an autopsy that found his stomach took up a large part of his gut. Aside from his massive, fatty liver, the rest of Tarrare's organs were decaying and smelled so bad that the chief surgeon called off the operation.
It's now clear that Tarrare suffered from some kind of polyphagia - a medical condition that is characterized by uncontrollable hunger and eating. Despite this, Syndee McElroy, a physician based in Huntington, West Virginia said that the condition doesn't make "you eat live animals and drink human blood.”
Jan Bondeson, a historian at the University of Cardiff, said it's unlikely that we will ever see anything like Tarrare again. Not only has medicine improved - meaning that he would get treatment - but our interests have changed. “The working man’s pastimes were completely different,” he says. “Instead of sitting in front of the computer, they [used to] like brutal and unsavoury amusements like…watching Tarrare eat a cow’s udder. He was a product of his time.”
Technology ruins everything, doesn't it?