The aversion to eating shit or coming in direct contact with it, has protected billions of us through the ages against deadly diseases. Some say it is instinctual, but it hasn’t always been like this.

Marquis de Sade, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In “120 Days of Sodom” written in 1785 by Marquis de Sade, Madame Duclos, the novel’s premier storyteller, relates many episodes of sexual acts where people defecated on each other and ate each other’s turds. This aroused the sexual desires of her audience who in turn would perform her filthy stories.

Depictions like the ones in “120 Days of Sodom” had plenty of antecedents albeit less repulsive. Using urine and human ordure as medical remedies, flinging feces at others for fun, eating it for pleasure or salvation were all documented habits of pre-Sade’s days.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Sodabottle

During the late 16th century, Dr. Zacutus Lusitanus recounts that he knew a woman who had tasted her feces by accident and soon it became her favorite food to the point that she could not stand living without it.

Themadchopper, Antoine-François Callet, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Feast of Fools, rooted in the Roman Saturnalia, was a carnivalesque religious celebration to rid the environment from the devil’s evil forces. “The celebrations included obscene jests, songs and attitudes. They had carts full of ordure which they threw occasionally upon the populace.”

Fecal smells played a key role in medicine. Up to the year 1760, shit was spread on the streets of Madrid because it was believed that the air enriched by fecal substances was healthy for humans.

When the bubonic plague hit London, authorities open the city cesspools to let the fecal air combat the plague air in order to eradicate it. We used to think that illnesses were transmitted by bad odors in the miasma or air. Powder, sulfur and smoke were used to disinfect the air from elements that caused diseases.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Christian Franz Paullini, the 17th century German physician developed a “Copropharmacy” or a pharmacy based on feces. For example, he prescribed the “Goldsalbe” which consisted on “fresh human feces placed on abscesses, especially on the sick breasts of a woman in childbed.” He also prescribed the use of the patient’s own ordure or that of a boy, internally, as a cure for dysentery. In the 1990s that would have been the malpractice case of the century.

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped. Public domain.

Today, “Fecal Microbiota Transplant” (FMT) is a medical procedure in which fecal matter is collected from a donor and placed in a patient, by enema or by ingesting a fecal pill. It is used to heal Clostridium difficile infections and other autoimmune diseases.

Today, there are stool banks in the USA, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. They accept and store poop donations from healthy people for future FMT procedures.

In the web of life, the wastes of one animal are the food source of another. Insofar as many fruits and vegetables are fertilized with manure and many of the creatures we eat, have eaten feces of other creatures, we may coincide with Dr. Paullini who wrote that we are all shit eaters (“Dreckfresser sind wir alle.”) This is one more rendition of the web of life or the nutrient cycle.