Bacteria Are Us

I’m catching up on my reading, and slowly getting through the New Yorker Food issue from Nov. 22. I’m fascinated by this article called “Nature’s Spoils” by Burkhard Bilger. Unfortunately only the abstract is online, so in case you missed the article I’ll share what I found most interesting.

The article says that we’re completely made up of microbes, bacteria – that “The human body isn’t besieged; it’s saturated, infused with microbial life at every level. ‘There is no such thing as an individual,’ Lynn Margulis, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me recently.”

His article makes a point, quite eloquently, that I’ve heard before – oversanitization has backfired and made us more prone to disease, which is why – theoretically – people in developed countries are more likely to have autoimmune diseases. (You may remember me writing about that with hookworms, a treatment based on this theory.)

The article starts out focusing on a group of people in South Carolina who dumpster-dive for all of their food, “underground food activists” who aren’t afraid of a little mold, and in fact welcome it. But there is a big difference between fermentation and rot, and as the article goes on, he also points out how dangerous rotted food can be: “Basic hygiene and antibiotic overkill aren’t hard to tell apart at home, but the margin of error shrinks dramatically in a factory. Less than a gram of the bacterial toxin that causes botulism, released into the American milk supply, could poison a hundred thousand people,the National Academy of Sciences estimated in 2005.”

Food will rot unless it’s not exposed to oxygen, in which case it will ferment.

One good example of this is sauerkraut, which he says retains Vitamin C and actually creates Vitamin B as the cabbage ferments. The author also points out that unwashed fruits/veggies are dangerous, because of the danger of possible runoffs, but that foods like sauerkraut by comparison are impressively safe.

So – what does that mean for me, and for others with autoimmune conditions? Should I start eating sauerkraut, miso and kefir? Is it too late for me, but I should make sure to feed it to my daughter? I definitley want to look into this more.


2 responses »

  1. Yes to kraut, miso and kefir, and big yes to kimchi. It’s Korean spicy fermented cabbage, and there’s anecdotal reports that it may have contained the spread of bird flu in South Korea. I have no illusions that it’s made out of magic or anything, but the minute I feel run-down, I have a big bowl of kimchi & pork soup, and it always makes me feel better.

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