One of the biggest contrasts that has struck me while at the farm is the difference in what “healthy” means, the fertility and abundance of the farm versus the sterility of our general society. It’s driven home for me how central sterility is in this country and the role it plays in our capitalist, single-use society.
Rishi pointed out in one of our lectures that very few languages outside of English has this semiotic connection between the Earth and unclean (i.e. dirt and dirty), and it has me thinking about how deeply health is tied to this idea of cleanliness in our society and how cleanliness translates essentially to being devoid of as many things as possible. Whereas at the farm, and increasingly in scientific study, we talk about health as a balance of what exists in the world, acknowledging that working with rather than against (the rest of) the natural world is an integral part of our health.
I’ve always thought how we handle eggs in the US is a perfect example of this broken process. In many other parts of the world, eggs are stored at room temperature. Here in the United States, the FDA requires that all eggs that are sold to be washed and sanitized to help prevent Salmonella. Except eggs, specifically dry eggs are essentially impenetrable against Salmonella, which…goes out the window as soon as we wash and sanitize them. Once an egg is wet, the shell becomes porous allowing for bacterial growth and the possibility of a number of pathogens to cross the barrier into the egg. It also destroys the cuticle which is the natural protective barrier produced by the hen when she lays the egg which is meant to protect against contamination. And then, because these eggs have been washed, sanitized, and their natural protective barrier compromised, they now require refrigeration to serve as a manmade substitute for the natural protection we just destroyed.
The ramifications for how we think of health seem far reaching — how many more products we buy, use, discard, and buy more of all in the name of cleanliness.
I think as a society we encourage processes and products that ensure sterility, which by default eschews symbiotic collaboration and re-use.