The Horrific Story Of The Man Who Couldn't Stop Eating
The story of 18th-century French glutton Tarrare is so insane and horrific that it really does sound like bullshit. Then again, it's as well-documented as anything that happened at the time (he was examined by multiple medical experts who recorded their findings), and let's be honest, lots of the history we're living right now will also sound like bullshit in the future. And so, let's explore the story of a man so famous for his eating -- and reported cannibalism -- that we're still talking about it more than 200 years later ...
The First Course
Tarrare was born in the French countryside sometime in the 1770s. And right from the jump, something seemed off. The boy could fucking eat. So much so that his parents simply couldn't keep up. Young Tarrare was said to be able to put back a quarter of a cow -- that is to say, his entire body weight -- on the regular. Today you could probably feed him with a 500-pack of hot dogs from Costco, but in the 18th century French countryside, one has to imagine that food still had to, like, come from the ground and shit. So his parents did what any parents would do in this situation: They kicked his skinny ass straight to the curb.
Unbelievable, isn't it? But it's true. Tarrare really was skinny. Reports at the time painted a picture of a slender boy who looked like any other teenager. Oh, except for his mouth. Stretching freakishly beyond the width of a regular person with a regular face, his mouth may have been one of the keys to his success. However, success, as we'll come to see it in Tarrare's world, was defined by filling his insides with mounds of servings from nature's dumpster.
Also nobody knows what his real name was before "Tarrare." The word is said to have come from a French saying, bom-bom-tarrare, which was used to describe particularly violent explosions. Run the quick numbers on that nickname and you'll figure out that this was likely given to him because the dude's farts and shits were mental. So sure, he was hungry all of the time, his parents disowned him, and his face was super weird, but at least he's going to forever be known for the force with which stuff came out of his butt. So score one for Tarrare.
Taking His Show On The Road
Tarrare joined a traveling band of prostitutes and thieves, presumably so they could feel normal about their career choices in comparison to a kid with a Sarlacc mouth who was lugging around a hundred pounds of cow meat in his stomach. Being ensconced in such a group honestly sounds really badass, and is probably a huge upgrade from your parents when you're 17. But it meant that Tarrare had to beg and steal for food.
The thrill of plucking one loaf of bread and getting away with it is a hell of a lot less powerful, though, when you need to eat an entire county's supply of sourdough on the daily to satisfy the cocaine-era Stephen King novel going on in your stomach. And so he joined up with another traveling group, this one comprised of street performers, and became their freak eating guy. Finally, Tarrare could be paid for the thing he did best, and he'd no longer have to worry where his next meal (aka 15 regular-person meals) was coming from.
And it was with this group that Tarrare really started to hit his stride, adding a ton of weird stuff to his diet. He started off with corks, which he basically treated like Doritos. Then he grabbed rocks -- you know, the things every person on Earth is repeatedly told to not eat, despite how much they may look like Milk Duds. And he took it all like a champ.
OK, he took it mostly like a champ. Something happened to his guts that required a hospital visit and a buttload of laxatives, and Tarrare was able to use this time in a hospital bed shitting his brains out to think about other potential careers. Wait, actually, I'm seeing right here that this didn't happen. He instead asked the surgeon to fork over his watch and chain so that he could eat it to prove he was feeling fine. So don't worry, Tarrare was still at the top of his game.
A Glutton For Punishment
Being a great thinker, Tarrare decided to go to the one place everybody knows you just get to sit around and eat a ton of shit all day long: the military. He joined up with the French army, and though other soldiers would give him their scraps, it apparently wasn't enough. Tarrare fell ill and was put in a military hospital. It's during his time roaming the halls of the hospital that he found a sixth gear.
Bored and hungry, Tarrare broke into the apothecary and ate everything. He started reaching his hands into jars of medicine and had himself a French Revolution RX buffet. It's because of this feast that a surgeon working there at the time was quoted as saying, "Let a person imagine, all that domestic animals and wild animals, the most filthy and ravenous, are capable of devouring, and they may form some idea of the appetite, as well as of the wants, of Tarrare."
In other words, "Damn, this dude eats like a horse AND a bear. Also, DAMN."
Instead of running Tarrare out of the hospital for casually eating all of their life-saving drugs, the surgeons decided to perform some studies on the skinny young beast. With the heart of a true showman, Tarrare had to give his new buddies something to remember. That's when someone handed him a live cat. I'm going to keep this short because holy shit, that's a living animal, but he ate the damned thing, and half an hour later, he barfed up the cat's hair and nothing else. And so Tarrare's transformation into an X-Files villain of the week was complete.
After opening the set in front of his doctor friends with a banger like Eating Whole Cats Alive, Tarrare just had to keep the jams coming. In the time he was studied, he's reported to have eaten everything from puppies to a dinner meant for 15 German laborers. He swallowed a live eel without chewing. The doctors noted that his stomach, when empty, was comprised of so much loose skin that he could practically lasso it around himself. They also wrote that "He often stank to such a degree that he could not be endured within the distance of twenty paces."
Again, these tales aren't outlandish bullshit from the playbill of his freak show, but from the notes of trained scientists.
From Stomach With Love
But there was a war happening, and the surgeons needed to come up with a reason to keep their study going. The answer to that was simple: Use Tarrare's body as a vessel for espionage. After a successful test, a plan was hatched to feed Tarrare a box containing a note with privileged information, sneak him behind enemy lines as a Prussian peasant, and get the note to an imprisoned French officer. Despite all of this being such a hilariously bad idea, Tarrare accepted. He threw back the tummy note and rolled behind enemy lines.
He was captured almost immediately.
Yes, somehow, the Prussian troops took notice of a man with a nightmare face walking around not speaking the same language as everybody else. Scared and with spy things inside him, Tarrare spilled the beans. His captors chained him up in a bathroom and anxiously awaited the code brown. And when he finally passed along the message and some poor soul had to retrieve it, they were infuriated to find that the note said basically nothing of any value. It was simply a test to see if Tarrare's asshole could be a viable weapon of war.
Tarrare's captors were angry because they waited for this creepy guy to shit out a message that was of no value, and Tarrare felt betrayed to have wasted his talents on such an insignificant letter. The Prussians then led Tarrare to his execution, and let him get right up to the point of being convinced that they were going to kill him before having the kind of laugh that only fake executions and true human terror can generate. He was released and allowed to return to France.
Tarrare's Final Course
Tarrare returned to his homeland absolutely over it. He didn't want this appetite anymore, so he went back to a hospital and begged the doctors to find a cure for the black hole swirling in his guts. They tried everything that doctors in the late 18th century could, from filling him with tobacco to filling him with opium. But no matter what they tried, nothing was sticking. Tarrare was now just hungry and stoned.
Though, by staying in a hospital, Tarrare found himself back in his sweet spot where he could roam around in the middle of the night and nibble on things he really shouldn't be nibbling on. Convinced that they would not find a cure, Tarrare "relapsed" and started drinking the blood of other patients, and enjoyed a few bites of morgue corpse too. For some reason, other people in the hospital wanted to kick him out. Prudes.
Yet the doctor who was studying Tarrare didn't have the heart to do it. There was still so much exploitin' to do. And then a 14-month-old baby went missing, and I don't want to point fingers, but it might've been the corpse-chewing guy.
Tarrare would fall off the map for a few years, until resurfacing and dying at a hospital in 1798 due to tuberculosis. They did an autopsy, maybe to see if there was a family of hungry gremlins living in there, but all they found was a hugely oversized stomach and a whole lot of infections. That's actually as far as the doctor made it, because he found "the stench of the body insupportable," and despite his role as a professional cutter-opener of smelly dead people, this one was a step too far.
Tarrare died as he lived: an absolute marvel that defied all explanation. Though there have been many other famous gluttons in the past, there has seemingly never been one as insatiable and as capable of really fucking up some "food" in the way that this guy was. So the next time you're looking at the last chicken wing in a plate of 40, think about Tarrare and throw that shit down the hatch.
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