Every day, the internet seems to cough up a new freaky eater. There's Pakkirappa Hunagundi, who is compelled to take down roughly three kilos of mud and rocks a day, YouTube sensation Shoenice22 and his penchant for tampons, men who eat aeroplanes and even little girls in Scotland who like to work their way through every carpet and sofa in site. But for all these strange afflictions there was a man to whom they, and all others who crave the taste of items not from the traditional food chain, will forever pale into insignificance.
You might not have heard of him, but Tarrare, a young Frenchman from the 1700s, completely redefined the concept of eating. Born with some kind of metabolic disorder that was never diagnosed, he simply couldn't get full, and, in order to abate this raging appetite, would eat everything—literally everything—in sight, from inanimate objects to live animals.
Knowing he had a means to earn himself a career with this all-consuming affliction, and without the internet to fall back on to gain an overnight audience for his plight, a young Tarrare took to the stinking, shitty streets of Napoleonic France, nine-to-fucking-five, carving a name for himself as a walking freakshow who would consume everything and anything in his path.
"Let a person imagine," said a M. le Baron Percy, who studied Tarrare (only ever known by a pseudonym) while he was alive, "all that domestic and wild animals, the most filthy and ravenous, are capable of devouring, and they may form some idea of the appetite, as well as the wants, of Tarrare."
Born somewhere near Lyon in 1772, Tarrare was, like all good Frenchmen, a mama's boy and wolfed down anything Madame Tarrare could throw at him. By 17, though, he could—despite only weighing 100 pounds—eat a quarter of a cow in a day. His was a digestive system only a mother could love: one blessed with an incredibly large mouth, barely any lips, and permanently exuded a stench that would make any teenage boy's crevices proud. Other qualities included an ability to stretch his abdominal flesh right around his entire waist when he wasn't full and a pair of jaws separated by about four inches of space.
So what was to become of this walking Pez dispenser?
Tarrare's mother kicked him out once it became apparent the young lad was probably capable of eating her, so his cavernous appetite into the world and decided to make it his vocation. It didn't take long before he became famous throughout France for fronting a traveling troupe of whores, bards, and thieves. He'd warm up crowds by eating anything they threw at him—be that baskets of apples, corks, cheeky bits of flint or live cats.
Come 1792, the War of the First Coalition's engines started revving and this bottomless pit of despairing hunger was enlisted, seeing the young soldier spending much of his time as the regiment's bitch in turn for rations. His appetite could never be quashed. Obviously not getting enough to give his curious system what it needed, he was soon admitted to Soultz-Haut-Rhin hospital with exhaustion—a moment that would change his life forever.
Tarrare came to the attention of some doctors there, who, because they'd never seen anything like him before and testing the limits of his new, exotic appetite, had the guy skinning live cats before drinking its blood and eating its flesh before vomiting up its fur. Any rational group of men would, at this point, presumably run the other way and bolt the doors. But these doctors were cut from more inquisitive cloth and Tarrare was kept in the hospital and fed not just meals made for 15 people, but such delicacies as live snakes and eels. The live animal thing sent our hero on a bit of a dark turn, though, when he started drinking the blood of inpatients and was caught in the morgue attempting to consume a severed hand. When a 14-month-old baby (shudder) disappeared from the infirmary, he was immediately ejected.
Before that, and supposedly around the time they were getting Tarrare to eat the heart of a puppy, some bright spark deduced that his limitless appetite could be used for strategic ends. He was soon granted the pleasure of eating, then shitting out, a wooden box with a message inside in the company of all the generals of the Revolutionary Army, before being rewarded with 14kg of raw bull lungs for his troubles. He ate them straight away, covered in his own feces.
This penchant for coprophagia didn't tarnish Tarrare's future prospects, though. A "military genius," General Alexandre de Beauharnais, that thought it would be a smart idea for Tarrare—who was pretty much illiterate—to swallow and deliver a message to a captured French officer in Neustadt, even though the poor sod couldn't speak a word of German. Napoleon agreed, and off Tarrare went.
Naturally, the Prussians were like, "Who is this French idiot pretending to be a Teutonic knight?" and, suffice to say, poor old Tarrare was caught and beaten for 30 hours until he shat out the box. Ever diligent and ever hungry, he proceeded to eat his own shit, box and all, to conceal it from the enemy. It worked; he was released the next day and the contents of the note remained a secret. The Prussians were, apparently, too intrigued to kill him and too disgusted to keep him.
Four years passed with Tarrare existing in the shadows of history, until he died of tuberculosis in Versailles in 1798—an end brought forth after a prolonged bout of anal leakage. Ever the bag of tricks, Tarrare's autopsy revealed a stomach that pretty much filled his entire torso. His liver and gallbladder were the size of coconuts; the innards of a man who had truly embraced his life.
Nowadays, people speculate that Tarrare was brain damaged and suffering from extreme thyroid disease, but would it be such a departure to suggest that this man's appetite for the taboo was before its time? Could he have been an involuntary precursor to the kind of sensorily disorientating cuisine that Ferran Adria made famous? Tarrare was open to everything and, were he alive today, he'd have swallowed the barbecue before pulled pork even became cool. He'd have eaten the deep fryer before Dominique Ansel could get his Cronuts anywhere near it. The man didn't balk at eating a peasant, let alone peasant food, and leaves behind an encouraging legacy to live fast (eating everything you want) and die young (in an ocean of your own shit).
What a guy.