When I look back at all the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life, I can clearly remember a moment when I consciously overrode what my gut was telling me. Our “gut” used in this respect seems more like a mystical, spiritual force that may or may not truly exist (although looking down I can see mine does!). But it should be remembered that our actual guts are filled with living organisms whose importance to the health of our entire body has been undervalued if not downright ignored. Which reminds me of all the living organisms in the soil that also get ignored.
We organic gardeners and farmers know all about “the living soil” (also the name of the preeminent book by Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association in Britain). But it was only while listening to a radio interview with Martin Jack Blaser, M.D., professor of internal medicine and microbiology at New York University, that I learned there is a similar secret universe of organisms inside of us called microbiota. These germs and bacteria, which we have been trained to think of as bad and dirty, are actually essential for our survival and keep us healthy. Dr. Blaser has joined the ranks of doctors who believe our overuse of antibiotics and hand sanitizers (and even C-sections) is leading to the rise in asthma and obesity around the world.
Think about it for a minute. Whatever sympathetic reason you may think is why farmers give their animals regular doses of antibiotics, the real reason they do it is because it makes animals grow fat without having to feed them more food! It’s the cheapest way to increase the weight of an animal so that more profit can be made per pound while at the same time keeping the cost of production low, and the price you pay lower still. Every time we dose ourselves and our kids (and our animals) with antibiotics, we are killing—and potentially causing the extinction of—bacteria that are essential to our survival and health. The truth is this is the exact same thing that happens when we spray synthetic chemical herbicides and fungicides on our soil.
In other words: Super clean = super dead. Which is ironic, actually, because I’ve heard that the new buzzword for healthy organic food is “clean food.” Hey, I like clean food as much as the rest of you (and even more, I love a clean house). But perhaps it’s time we redefine what clean really means and acknowledge that all those cute little invisible-to-the-naked-eye microbiota in our guts and mycorrhizae in our soil are trying to tell us something. They should be our new best friends!
Here’s what my microbiota have told me in the past and have been right about: Real organic butter is better for you than margarine. Hand sanitizers are a chemical hoax that do more harm than good. Antibiotics should only ever be a precious last resort in case of emergency.
This also appears in the October/November 2012 edition of Organic Gardening magazine