OVER 7,000 strong and growing, community farmers’ markets are being heralded as a panacea for what ails our sick nation. The smell of fresh, earthy goodness is the reason environmentalists approve of them, locavores can’t live without them, and the first lady has hitched her vegetable cart crusade to them. As health-giving as those bundles of mouthwatering leafy greens and crates of plump tomatoes are, the greatest social contribution of the farmers’ market may be its role as a delivery vehicle for putting dirt back into the American diet and in the process, reacquainting the human immune system with some “old friends.”The rest is HERE.
Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us. As nature’s blanket, the potentially pathogenic and benign microorganisms associated with the dirt that once covered every aspect of our preindustrial day guaranteed a time-honored co-evolutionary process that established “normal” background levels and kept our bodies from overreacting to foreign bodies. This research suggests that reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.
In a world of hand sanitizer and wet wipes (not to mention double tall skinny soy vanilla lattes), we can scarcely imagine the preindustrial lifestyle that resulted in the daily intake of trillions of helpful organisms. For nearly all of human history, this began with maternal transmission of beneficial microbes during passage through the birth canal — mother to child. However, the alarming increase in the rate of Caesarean section births means a potential loss of microbiota from one generation to the next. And for most of us in the industrialized world, the microbial cleansing continues throughout life. Nature’s dirt floor has been replaced by tile; our once soiled and sooted bodies and clothes are cleaned almost daily; our muddy water is filtered and treated; our rotting and fermenting food has been chilled; and the cowshed has been neatly tucked out of sight. While these improvements in hygiene and sanitation deserve applause, they have inadvertently given rise to a set of truly human-made diseases.
There were no fast-food joints when I was a kid, especially not in New Orleans where good food doesn't happen fast, anyway. In my early NY years, there were only Nathan's Hotdogs and the rare Gyro stand if you wanted to grab something on the go. Even street vendors were scarce back then, except at Christmas time the carts offering fresh roasted chestnuts and giant pretzels (often burnt) were all over 5th Avenue near Rockefeller Center, the skating rink, and Central Park South near the Plaza. Part of the smells of the season.
At the restaurant today, I see many people (child and adult) with peculiar allergies; many I had never heard of before. Ever hear of anyone allergic to Dill? Ginger? Olive oil? Me neither. And the rise in Gluten Free diners is, at least to me, disturbing. I cannot imagine life without huge chunks of delicious, fresh-baked bread. The real deal, not that marshmallow, over-processed fluff labeled as bread.
I love the Farmers Market because I can see the dirt clinging to the veggies and even the strawberries; everything is firm, fresh and has its original aroma. That is worth the extra pennies I pay.
What are we (have been) doing to our foods? It's a good question.
And so it goes.