Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005
Pass The Potatoes Please
Change of direction tonight.
Last night I attended a meeting of the local gardener's club. I know, I know - the ultimate irony. I have one heck of a big brown thumb. I kill cacti. I kill everything in sight. But I wanted to attend because I had already talked briefly with their guest speaker and was fascinated by some of the things she had to say.
The woman's name is Dr. Ruth Wood. She is a retired agriculturalist and a big proponent of organic gardening. And the things she reported have staggering implications.
The topic was dirt.
Yup, dirt. Soil. Earth. Whatever name you want to use for it. According to Dr. Wood, with all that's been done over the years, we've really farmed away topsoil and are now cultivating the substrata. That means all of the nutrients in the soil have been depleted, which in turn means that all those oversized, nice-looking vegetables you're eating contain as much as 38 percent less nutritional value than the same vegetables grown organically a hundred years ago.
Dr. Wood's thrust was that the diminished nutritional values contributed to, if not outright caused, countless degenerative diseases. She quoted one scientific study after another, gave out the titles of books, the names of researchers - over and over again, research shows that the absence or severe reduction of key and trace nutrients results in disease.
There's another factor that she didn't address except in passing, if her report on reduced nutritional values is true. In order to obtain the same nutrient content as we'd have consumed a hundred years ago, you have to eat proportionally more food. Gee... I'm sure that has nothing to do with the fact that the American public is more overweight every year.
The most common fertilizers now in use are those that incorporate nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Now granted, those components do feed plants. But Dr. Woods asserts that they're only a small part of the materials that plants need to develop into the nutritional package we need to eat.
And how did science settle on that chemical triad as the holy grail combination for fertilizer? A German scientist (can't remember his name, sorry) burned plant material and tested to identify the chemical makeup of the resultant ash. It contained - you guessed it - nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. That experiment determined the direction of agriculture for years and years, declaring those were the necessary elements for growing crops.
Here's where things took a twist that had me researching further tonight - and being surprised by what I found. Dr. Wood cited the Hunza people of Pakistan, reputed to be of extraordinary vitality and living to unimaginable ages, saying that they thrived without anything artificial and were as a result virtually disease-free.
That, folks, isn't true. The claims of extreme longevity have never been substantiated and are generally believed to be false. There have been claims of people who lived to be 200 years old and women giving birth into their 70's. Not true, according to anything verifiable. In fact, when there were attempts to verify ages, researchers discovered octogenarians whose ages "jumped" eleven years in a two-year period, and sons (or grandsons) who assumed their father's identity and reported age. Families repeated the same names even to siblings.
Also not true are the claims that these folks lived free of diseases. In fact, they experienced the same kind of parasites and sicknesses as are common in most poor rural areas: dysentery, ringworm, impetigo, tuberculosis, scurvy, and more. They lose their teeth early. They barely subsist on a sparse diet that alternates between heavily vegetarian in summer to mostly dairy in winter and forced fasting in the springtime before their crops mature. Where the average American consumes over 3000 calories a day, the average man there consumes about 1900. That's not because of any high and mighty goal to lose weight, but because that's what the land provides, and no more.
Infant mortality is high, as well - as is again typical for rural parts of an impoverished country.
The dysentery, by the way, is blamed on the practice of spreading raw manure on growing vegetables. Any fecal matter needs months to "cure" before it's used for fertilizing food crops, and even then should be integrated into the soil prior to planting to reduce the risk of contaminating fruits and vegetables. And I think it's pretty common knowledge that no matter what, you always wash fruits and vegetables prior to eating them.
Now, that's not to say that Dr. Wood had everything wrong. I found several reports online - citing multiple specific sources, not just "studies say" - that confirm the decline in nutritional quality accompanying the overuse of chemical fertilizers. And I likewise several reports concurring that declining soil quality is becoming a serious concern with regard to agriculture and erosion.
For what it's worth, I think we're going to eventually have to strike a happy medium: chemicals to control insects and parasites and disease, and organic principles applied to the extent that we restore appropriate food values to our food.
That way we'll only have to worry about wiping out mankind at the behest of whatever deranged megalomaniac we've elected to office at the time.
Before - After
In the grander scheme of things, no soul can truly be replaced. Each one of us has a place in the universal tapestry. We each contribute our own color and texture. When one thread is snipped too soon, it distorts all the threads around it. Other lives can unravel and tear. If the wrong thread is ripped away, the whole fabric of life becomes dangerously fragile.
- LeiLani, aka Radiogurl aka Bright Opal (1957 - )