The Irregular Case of Tarrare: The French Spy Who Ate Everything

Jubril Lawal
4 min readSep 30, 2021

Eating disorders are common, and are tedious to treat. With the affected person seeking help through therapy and support groups, this makes it manageable to a large extent. However, a story unlike no other is Tarrare or “France’s greatest Eater”, as he is commonly referred to as. He lived an astonishing life filled with many ups and downs. However, his story does not have a happy ending.

The Story Of Tarrare

Unfortunately, this happened a long time ago, so there are no pictures to show you how Tarrare looked like. What I do know is that Tarrare LITERALLY ate anything in sight. And by anything, I mean anything. I bet that if you named any food you like, he has eaten its variant of his time.

This man was born in the rural part of France sometime around the 1770s. He was a frail looking boy of average height, but his skin was said to hang around his sides. He had jaws the size of a rugby ball, and he was quite proud of this. To earn a small amount of money, he would fit 12 hot, hard-boiled eggs in his mouth.

As you would expect, his insatiable hunger became a burden on his mom and dad. They would wake up to find all their food (both raw and cooked) eaten up. Some sources even claim that Tarrare ate food that weighed as much as him every day (by this time, he was 17 and weighed 100 pounds). His family could not take it anymore, and kicked him to the streets.

To find food, he desperately joined a circus. The showman of the circus would make him gorge down baskets of apples, oranges, and bread. The showman took a step further, and made Tarrare eat baskets of stones, rats, and even live animals.

Tarrare was said to have smelt “to such a degree that he could not be endured within the distance of twenty paces.” After eating, Tarrare would stink up the whole circus and his surroundings, and would collapse after most of his acts.

Street Performer Tarrare

Tarrare was no fool, so he left the circus after a while. He bought food with all he earned he got from the circus, and started performing on the streets of Paris. As you would also expect, people were highly amused with his eating capabilities and he became an overnight success.

He suffered an intestinal obstruction by 1788. Luckily, he was treated at a local hospital around with him with laxatives until he made a full recovery. He even showed he felt better by eating a doctor’s wristwatch.

Tarrare eating everything

The War and What It Meant For Tarrare

When war broke out in France, his luck quickly ran out. He was drafted into the French Revolutionary Army. Who can guess what happened next? He became a burden to the military because of his insatiable hunger. Although the military provided him with four rations, Tarrare would still be uncontrollably hungry.

He would wait for his colleagues to scrape their leftovers into the garbage. He would then secretly, but swiftly eat from the garbage can. He would stuff heaps of leftovers in his pockets and hurry off to his dorm. After a while, this caught the attention of the Military hospital, which admitted Tarrare to a mental hospital. They performed experiments on him, testing his capacities by presenting him with big, live animals. He ate them all (the animals, not the military members)!

Naturally, they wanted to use Tarrare as a military weapon. They asked him to eat secret documents concealed in special containers, and asked him to travel to enemy lines. He did this successfully the first time, and they gave him his reward of 30 pounds of bull organs (I hope they didn’t give this reward to soldiers too). He ate his rewards on-the-spot, and with relish.

Eventually, Tararre was arrested by German forces. He was tortured until he confessed. They tortured him further for espionage. It turned out that when the “secret content” was purged from Tarrare’s stomach, it was found out that he was given a dummy message. His mission, unbeknownst to him, was to find out how guarded the German border was.

A Life-Long Scar

After that ordeal he got a lot of PTSD. Tarrare was sick of his ailment and sought out a cure for his disease. The surgeon-in-chief of the hospital agreed to help him. The surgeon tried using several methods such as opium, ingesting vinegar, eating massive quantities until he couldn’t walk, and then subsequently controlling his diet.

It is common knowledge that medicine in that period was wonky, so that obviously didn’t work. He would frequently sneak out of the hospital, and fight with dogs with scraps of food. He was kicked out, and no one heard from Tarrare for four years. After four years, Percy (the surgeon) got a phone call from a letter from a hospital in Versailles. They told him that Tarrare was critically ill because of a golden fork he ate two years earlier.

I’m sure you already know that the fork had nothing to do with Tarrare’s illness. He was wrongly diagnosed with Tuberculosis, and a month later, France’s Greatest Eater died an excruciating death.

When they performed an autopsy on his body, it was found that Tarrare had a massive stomach, liver and gallbladder. Predictably, they didn’t find any golden fork.

This bizarre story has dumbfounded physicians for centuries since. Now that he is long gone, it seems that their curiosity, like Tarrare’s hunger, will never be satisfied.



Jubril Lawal

Creative writer trying to change the world in my own little way, one word at a time.