When Dirt Wasn’t Dirty

Sometime about 20 years ago, it seems, dirt became dirty. When I was a young boy the thing about dirt that concerned my mom was that it was a different color than my clothes. It never crossed her mind that getting dirt on my hands or in my mouth was bad for me, but it bothered her that my clothes would get dirty. Back in the 60s it was no big deal if you got dirt in you mouth. Remember the mud pie? If you have never tasted a mud pie it might be because you grew up too recently.

It is true that soil, nothing more than dried mud, is completely full of bacteria. There is also yeast, fungus and other single cell creatures. The composition of soil closely resembles the biological composition of your digestive tract. The duties of the bugs in you are practically identical to the duties of the bugs in the soil. Their main goal is to survive and pass their good genes on to their offspring. To facilitate that they need access to energy from the sun. Since soil life takes place beneath the planet’s surface this energy must be delivered to them by conduits to the surface, roots.

The life within you, likewise, counts on you to deliver energy from the sun via your own conduits to the surface. The bacteria inside you got there by you eating it. Mud Pies. The bacteria in you was living on a surface that it had colonized, let’s say a head of cabbage. That bacteria can live on that surface, or it can live inside of you. If it is inside of you then it can break down parts of the cabbage that your own digestive machinery cannot. Bacteria in the soil can produce things that plants cannot, plants can’t live without soil bacteria, you cannot live without digestive bacteria.

It is possible to be too clean. It is possible to be too sanitary. Eating lifeless foods add nothing to the army of beneficial bacteria within us. The chemicals in these foods, the dead processed foods that populate our pantries, not only kill the bacteria that would ‘spoil’ our foods on the shelf, but they also do so inside of us. While they are not poisonous in the short term food preservatives would tend to damage the bacteria that might be able to help us properly digest these foods.

In the not too distant past no foods had preservatives in them. The first preservative used was salt. Salt preserves by drying foods, which keeps bacteria from consuming them. Mold can still grow on salted foods, but it is controlled by cutting it away. Mold on cheeses is a good example. I, myself, have thrown away may pounds of cheese because of mold on the surface, when the block is full of perfectly good cheese beneath this.

Back before refrigeration and chemical preservation people just ate foods that still contained the bacteria eating them too. Meats were ‘gamey’ and more flavorful after hanging a few days. The natural processes we were competing with did not make foods inedible. They still do not. The smell on your pork that has been thawed in the refrigerator does not mean that it will sicken you. It means that the bacteria that also eat meats has eaten enough to create an odor. Is that a bad thing? Cooking kills bacteria. Thoroughly cooking that pork (smoking to 190, for instance) will render that bacteria harmless. The flavor of it will remain. Whatever it produced in its digestive process will also remain. A toxin from Botulinum bacteria will poison you, but there are not many others that do so.

The World Health Organization describes it this way:


Human botulism is a serious, potentially fatal disease. However, it is relatively rare. It is an intoxication usually caused by ingestion of potent neurotoxins in contaminated foods. Person to person transmission of botulism does not occur.

Clostridium botulinum produces spores that are heat-resistant and exist widely in the environment, and in the absence of oxygen they germinate, grow and then excrete toxins. There are seven distinct forms of botulinum toxin, types A–G. Four of these (types A, B, E and rarely F) cause human botulism. Types C, D and E cause illness in other mammals, birds and fish.

Botulinum toxins are ingested through improperly processed food in which the bacteria or the spores survive and produce the toxins. Though mainly a foodborne intoxication, botulism can also be caused by intestinal infection in infants, wound infections, and by inhalation.

So botulism can only produce toxins in the absence of oxygen. Food poisoning can occur, I have been poisoned by foods that I waited too long to eat. Cooked foods have been stripped of their natural bacteria. A host of natural bacteria are in competition with harmful bacteria until we cook the food. After food is cooked it is a blank canvas for bacteria. AT that point we must be vigilant. Our vigilance need not start at the soil, however. Eating mud pies would not make your kids sick. Eating natural foods should not make you sick. Eating raw foods adds to your natural defenses.

Fermented foods are the next best thing to raw. Fermented foods have been coaxed into producing a colony of bacteria that consume foods we like. Eating fermented foods, like KimChi or sauerkraut raw means that you are filling your intestines with allies in the fight against toxic bacteria. Knowing how to make your own ferments means that you can always have a pantry full of food that is more than food, but the medicine that nature intended you to eat all of the time. Its as close to eating soil as you can get in this day and age.

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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