Hubris of Man

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Here we are, in the 21st century, and we are just these days coming to terms with the importance of the bacteria that have lived within us and on us for our entire evolutionary history. There are, on average, 100 Trillion bacteria living in an adult human being–even the really clean ones. That is 10 microbes for every human cell in your body.

Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, suggests that we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.” This humbling new way of thinking about the self has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked. Disorders in our internal ecosystem — a loss of diversity, say, or a proliferation of the “wrong” kind of microbes — may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections.

New York Times, May 15, 2013

Some microbes are just along for the ride. Some have vital functions to perform and assist us in living a healthy life. Some are dangerous and damage us, but they are relatively few. The point here is that the cataloging of microbes is a study that is in the very beginning of it’s infancy. No one anywhere knows what they all are, or what they all do. They are notoriously hard to examine, because they exist within us, and if taken out of this environment they change, die, cannot function normally–because they are not in their normal environment.

Another place where there are more microbes than host cells is in the soil. Even the soil in your yard contains so many and so varied microbes that it is impossible to determine the roles that they play in plant life. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are living people on the earth. Every single type of living creature in that teaspoon of soil has a vital role to play in it’s individual ecosystem. We have no idea what that role is. It would not be wrong to assume that the role of many of these microbes is the equivalent of the role that our own intestinal bacteria play, they metabolize and digest nutrients that the plant cannot. Their duties are performed at the outer surface of the plant roots, where our own microbes do theirs at the internal surface our intestines. We don’t know any more about the duties and responsibilities of soil microbes than we do those that reside within us.

That is why this story drives me nuts…

These Salad Greens Keep Growing on Your Kitchen Counter

Each package of greens is grown in a greenhouse in Utica, New York or Newark, New Jersey, in a compostable soil mix in a recyclable tray. Although the growing method and soil mixture are a trade secret, Washington describes their process as a mix between hydroponics and traditional agriculture. The plan is to become certified organic in the future. Growing indoors eliminates the need for any pesticides, and a targeted irrigation system relies on less water.

There may or may not be a benefit to growing salad greens hydroponically in a soil-like mix that is a trade secret. One thing that is certain, however, is that the soil and liquids that these plants are grown in is not what they have evolved to expect. We all know that we can keep plants in pots in our homes for years. We have no idea if the nutritional value of those plants is compromised by their living in potting soil in our homes.

We can eat just about anything living. We can live for quite a while eating food that resembles nothing that ever lived, and contains no living material at all. We are beginning to find out that when we live like the potted plant and only eat foods that are delivered to us processed and dead that we do not thrive. We live, but we get fatter and fatter, sicker and sicker–much like our transplanted house mates.

Nothing is free. Growing plants in hydroponic environments and in potting soil costs something to the plant, and up the food chain to us. Nothing would happen that would be drastic because of it, but over time–perhaps a lifetime, you could expect that your own internal microbe collection would suffer by being disconnected from the expected microbes that you should be eating in your natural foods. Eating even living plants that are far-removed from their natural environment is a change to your micro biome.

I am not saying that eating living plants is in any way bad. The article above though talks about traditional agriculture as though the dirt that is on real food is a bad thing. I don’t look at soil as filth, it is a necessary building block of life, and all good things start there. There is filth and pathogens in the world, and sometimes they end up on grocery store vegetables and fruit. They are the exceptions, far from the rule. The beneficial things found on real food grown on real farms in my neighborhood are far and away more beneficial than the noxious ones are dangerous.

I don’t fear the dirt and germs that are in real food from a real farm. The germs on the California vegetables, well, some of them are going to be bad. The trucked in foods are grown in close proximity to livestock that are themselves not living in the way that nature intended. The result is meat and plants that are each covered in things that are not according to nature’s plan. Fresh vegetables are better than dead processed foods, but are not as good as the foods grown in your local farms.

Eating the optimum food is harder to do. Currently our system is set up to deliver us crops and meats that are grown the cheapest, even though they are from a thousand miles away. Its really easy to go to the grocery store and pick through what is on display there. It’s a bit harder to get food from a farm that may be only a dozen miles away. That food will also only be available in one of nature’s seasons. These hydroponic foods will be available even in the dead of winter. Nature did not intend for you to have access to all foods all year long, so perhaps eating lettuce in the winter is not really a health concern for us. Eating these things can be seasonal.

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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