I am a self-proclaimed germaphobe, for sure. The idea of dirty shoes crossing the barrier onto my pristine wood floors or freshly vacuumed wool rug at home sends me through the roof, as does the thought of dirt and mud soaked jeans from a day of playing outside finding themselves anywhere near my freshly pressed duvet cover. I simply like things clean – and neat. I have a multitude of reasons for this that I could share, but I’ll spare the exhaustive details this time.
Based on the fact that I enforce a very strict “no shoes rule” at home and would not be caught dead barefooted outside without a thorough foot bath before entering the front door, most people assume that my germ and dirt aversion translates to all areas of my life. Surprisingly this is not so. I am actually incredibly liberal when it comes to the disinfecting of food – in most cases, and I will explain. I have a tendency to pull fresh fruits and veggies right off the counter or even off the shelf, diving in with the bite of my teeth – no rinsing required. I have always been this way, in fact. The idea of a little extra dirt (along with some mineral rich soil) passing my lips into my gut simply doesn’t phase me. Granted, the food I do allow to pass my lips is certifiably local or organic and free of any pesticides, which must be why this is “okay”with my complicated psyche. The one area in the kitchen, though, where I do draw the line is with poultry. I honestly feel that chicken is just a big ball of poison, an accident waiting to happen. I thoroughly and obsessively disinfect whenever the bird is involved.
Thus, with my extreme germ aversion on one hand, and my nonchalant easiness with bacteria of sorts in the kitchen, Michael Pollan’s most recent publication in the New York Times truly fascinated me. We have all known for years how utterly horrific antibiotics can be, not only for us to consume as human beings, but also for the animals we eat. Yet, the idea of the fact that wiping out the good gut flora entirely may directly lead to systemic inflammation…yikes! Inflammation appears to be the precursor to EVERYTHING BAD these days:
“A growing number of medical researchers are coming around to the idea that the common denominator of many, if not most, of the chronic diseases from which we suffer today may be inflammation — a heightened and persistent immune response by the body to a real or perceived threat.
Various markers for inflammation are common in people with metabolic syndrome, the complex of abnormalities that predisposes people to illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and perhaps cancer. While health organizations differ on the exact definition of metabolic syndrome, a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 34 percent of American adults are afflicted with the condition. But is inflammation yet another symptom of metabolic syndrome, or is it perhaps the cause of it? And if it is the cause, what is its origin?”
After an in-depth read of Pollan’s piece, I am feeling a bit more at ease with the germs surrounding me today. Of course, a bit more worried as well, given the uber sanitary and anti- state of society. I am not saying, however, that anyone’s dirt laden shoes will ever be allowed past the threshold of my front door, but maybe I’ll wash my hands a little less frequently after petting the dog. Oh, and I’ll be sure to keep eating all my sauerkraut and drinking my kombucha with full abandon.