Our Love Affair With Microbes

Lee Smith

We gaze at each other from the far corners of the universe. We are adversarial friends. Microbes bring disease and foodborne illnesses. Given half a chance, they make the world moldy, and fungus reminds us of athlete’s foot and icky toenails. Mites make for nightmares. Yet, without their relatives, humans would die. The friendly beasts are our closest friends and partners in life.

Years ago, children never thought about the unseen critters of the world. Filthy little heathens, we brought home tadpoles in glass jars, swamp moss in our hair. We pushed and shoved each other in the mud and ate an occasional worm. Even city kids snuggled with the family dog and, every once in a while, someone’s little sister wedged cat poop up her nose. We caught bugs. We played outside in our bare feet. We got cuts and bruises and snotty colds. We never washed anything, preferring our apples straight from the tree and tomatoes pilfered from the garden. We, quite literally, imbibed in life.

We were happy, dirty and full of life. Then we learned there were two of us – the human part and the microbe part. One we loved and the other we realized was the enemy – the bearer of colds, foot fungus, pimples, and more scurrilous tiny beasts that delivered bacterial infections, food poisoning, weeping sores and diarrhea. We forgot about their friendly counterparts that kept the bad guys in check.

So, we developed anti-microbial bathmats, towels, sponges. Soap was no longer good enough; we needed super soup that wiped all surfaces, even skin, clean and fresh. We scrubbed the air with deodorizers and promoted paint that “kills infection-causing bacteria.” We gave up wooden cutting boards and developed processed foods that even bugs wouldn’t eat. We became clean, too clean for our own health.

We couldn’t understand why wooden cutting boards harbored fewer pathogenic organisms than stainless steel. What with colonic cleansers, sterile food and anti-microbial potty paper, we finally did get our intestines spotlessly clean. Children played inside, took up computer games and didn’t need a bath every day. We took this as modern-day health.

We also started to die and not easily. We were becoming more susceptible to infections, allergies exploded and, in some cases, people couldn’t digest food. For them, death was imminent.

We learned, or at least started paying attention to the fact that only one in 10 cells in the human body are actually human. The rest belong to colonies of yeasts, molds, bacteria and other living creatures that live in a symbiotic relationship with us. Without healthy mites living on your eyelashes, you would quickly go blind. As for the colon, very smart doctors found a cure. Poop pills. Oh yes, you could save your life by swallowing six or more pills the size of horse suppositories filled with carefully cultivated feces, helped down with a healthy covering of lubricant.

The alternative is to rediscover a much healthier form of living. Let kids play outdoors, chew on a blade of grass and catch frogs. An occasional mud pie eaten by an unsuspecting sibling bribed with a shiny quarter isn’t the end of the world. Play with pets and hold a baby bird in your hand, garden and kiss a horse.

And, as important as anything, eat natural. Fermented foods are life-giving because they are high in probiotics – the good guys, the nine out of 10 friendlies we need to live that don’t like the pathogenic bad guys any more than we do. Yogurt, fresh pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, natural-aged salami, fermented beverages and cheese. Raw milk cheeses are high in probiotics and have been eaten for thousands of years. Even pasteurized milk cheeses are full of probiotics. Learn to like funky rinds and big flavors. Relish the blue crunchies in blue cheese. Go read the article about probiotics and a new cheese company called “The Probiotic Cheese Co.,” starting on page 55. After attending a lecture about probiotics given by Dr. Mark Windt and meeting his wife, Roxanne Barnes, I started to become a believer.  That and the fact I never, ever, want to eat a poop pill. Hand me a piece of aged Cheddar and the jar of pickles, please.


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