Dirt – It’s the New Prozac
By Cam Mather
Eat my dirt! Or any dirt for that matter. It’s good for you. I was reminded of this talking to my neighbor Corky Corkum. He was over checking out the Dexter cows that my neighbor Alyce was boarding at my place. She rents the paddock and I get paid in horse manure. I’ve said it before, but I take a lot of crap from Alyce, and my gardens are grateful.
Corky, who is probably in his late 70s, was regaling us with stories, as people in the country often do. I relayed the story about a local potluck fundraiser that was being planned. When the health department caught wind of the plans, they suggested that the food should be prepared in an inspected commercial kitchen, rather than allowing people to bring food prepared in their own kitchens. While I understand that the health department wants to keep people safe, Corky was unimpressed.
He talked about growing up without refrigeration. They put their food into clay pots that were kept in the root cellar. This kept their food, including meat, cool. He was talking about venison (deer meat) and how much of it they ate. He said that from time to time the meat would get a fluorescent white mould on it, but his mother would wash it off and cook it, and as he pointed out he’s “still standing here today!”
Our society is becoming obsessed about things being sanitary. I’m not sure it’s such a good thing. There are lots of studies that show that kids who grow up in these ultra-sanitary environments often have immune problems later on because their immune systems haven’t had to deal with “dirt”. I also question our mass immunization programs. I’ve heard grandmothers talking about the “chicken pox parties” that their kids attended. If a kid got chicken pox they’d invite other healthy kids over to expose them. The idea was that you’d take your healthy kid over, and expose them to the chicken pox “bug” while they were young and healthy and strong. They’d get sick. Their immune system would go through all the standard processes it should… runny nose, sore throat, swollen tonsils and an all-out campaign by the child’s body to attack the invader. When it was all over the child would have anti-bodies to that disease and would have natural immunity. Chicken pox can have complications, but it’s better to be exposed to it while you’re young and healthy.
Getting jabbed with a vaccine needle circumvents many of the bodies’ natural defense mechanisms. I’m not encouraging people to go out and expose their kids to illnesses, but I’m suggesting that we should all stop being so obsessed about cleanliness and sanitation. Obviously if you’re preparing meat with the potential for e coli and all sorts of other nasty problems, this is a different matter, but I think we all worry too much about the day-to-day stuff.
A loaf of our favourite sprout bread got a bit moldy recently; probably thanks to all of the heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing. The mold was mostly on the crusts. It’s expensive bread and I really love it. So I cut off the crusts and ate it. So far, so good. In my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” I talked about testing how long canned goods last. I recently opened a can of mandarin oranges from 2005 and I’m still here. Sure their nutritional value was probably a little diminished, but they still tasted fine. I cut some mould off some cheese last week too. I know, the health department would say discard the whole block. If it’s really bad I toss it in to our compost and no doubt Morgan the Wonder Dog probably digs it out. If not Morgan, then the mother fox gets it. Nothing goes to waste around here.
In “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” I share an interesting article from a recent issue of Discover Magazine in which they reported that by injecting the soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae into mice, a set of serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain were activated. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter than controls your mood and drugs that control serotonin in the body are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. This suggests that simply inhaling M. vaccae while working in the garden can elicit a joyful state of mind. According to the study leader Christopher Lowry, “You can also ingest mycobacterium either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots.” I always experience an overwhelming sense of wellbeing in the garden, but I just thought it was the fresh air and time away from my computer. Apparently there is a scientific explanation for my elation!
So get out there and get dirty and stop washing your vegetables too well when you harvest stuff from the garden. Dirt is the New Prozac!
*Please note that this blog is an opinion piece and should not be taken as medical advice. If you decide to eat some moldy cheese and have crazy hallucinations like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” I cannot be held responsible.
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