The Good Earth
Confirmation bias is defined as “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” We all do this, to a greater or lesser extent. So I’ve been happy to read lately about the importance of the microbiome, and the role of bacteria in promoting good health. According to the National Institutes of Health, “The human microbiota consists of the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut; the human microbiome consists of the genes these cells harbor.” Am I being too scientific? I interpret this to mean that you can have a dirty house with lots of pets and small children, and it will make you a healthier person!
This thought flashed through my mind the other night as we were having dinner, with the dogs lying underfoot and the cats prowling around. When we first moved to Sonoma County back in 1994, I was violently allergic to almost everything – cats, horses, dust, pollen, mildew – it was so bad that I thought we’d made a big mistake and might have to move back to San Francisco. But over time, and with the help of acupuncture, I got better. At least I think it was the acupuncture. Once a week for about three months I would go and get needles stuck in me, lie there for about an hour (usually I fell asleep), and drink a muddy herbal concoction every morning. Maybe it was the nap, but all I know is that the allergies subsided to the point that I’m no longer allergic to cats, and my sneezing is confined to peak pollen season.
When we moved to Kenwood we collected a ragged assortment of farm animals – chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, a cow, plus two dogs and two cats. Life was a mess back then, and I’m convinced that I am now a United Nations of microbiota. Our kids, too, seem to have made it to adulthood allergy-free. Must be that farm living!
But you don’t need to live on a farm to expose yourself to germs and bacteria. Take Alec’s car, for example. It’s a virtual germ-mobile, with the added benefit of being a closed system for the most part. In that car are the remains of countless lattes, morning buns, popcorn, old newspapers, hay bales (seriously), and just plain dirt. He’s getting a good dose of bacteria just driving around town. Why should he ever go to the carwash?
But seriously, people have gone overboard with all the anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers, which, in fact, are counter-productive as they kill 99 percent of germs, leaving that last one percent to morph into super-bacteria that can’t be controlled with most antibiotics. Plain old soap and water do a great job without destroying the whole ecosystem.
Earth Day is April 22, a good time to consider how we interact with and impact the planet. It’s a good time to get dirty cleaning up our creeks and roadsides. And you can relax knowing that the dirt you track inside isn’t going to kill you. It might even be good for you.