Sunday, April 22, 2012

earth day

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Today is Earth Day and instead of my annual screed against plastic, that all pervasive material that does not biodegrade but only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces causing birds and fish to starve to death, creates islands of trash in the oceans, fills our landfills to the point where our trash has to be shipped out elsewhere, and leaches toxic chemicals into the food and drink stored in them; we're gonna get dirty.

But first...

We already recycle everything...plastics # 1 – 5 and 7, paper and cardboard, aluminum and tin and steel and glass. We compost our kitchen waste. We take our own shopping bags to the store. We buy products in glass containers preferably. We wash out and reuse ziplock bags. We don't buy products that are over packaged and the two of us still end up with a large size grocery store plastic bag of trash about every four or five days and most of it is plastic or is coated with plastic.

OK. I had to get a little one in there.

This year I'm thinking more about the earth and our connection to it and how, as we separate ourselves from it more and more, we suffer physical and emotional ailments. I've thought for a while now that the human race is going insane from this modern life and our immune systems are suffering. Surrounded by concrete and buildings and artificial lighting, we spend our days and nights in artificially conditioned air, rarely coming into contact with the natural world.

Oh, the cities have parks and green spaces and the occasional tree studded along the sidewalks but mostly we only see them as we zip by in our cars, our lives too rushed to take the time to stand amongst the beauty of nature, barefoot, in actual physical contact with the planet, to breath in the scent of growing things.

We seem to have forgotten that we are not separate from nature, that we evolved out in the natural world and that our health and well being is still dependent on continued contact with the earth.

We prevent our children from playing outside out of fear of injury or lack of time to supervise them, we discourage them from getting dirty. We tamper with our food spraying it with poisons or genetically modifying it or adding chemicals and colors that were never meant to be ingested. We sterilize our environments with anti-bacterial cleaners. We eschew any kind of physical labor or exertion preferring a machine to do the work. We pump pollutants in the the very air we breath and the water that is essential for life.

The result is that although we have conquered certain diseases like small pox and polio, we have seen cancer, asthma, allergies, autism, diabetes, obesity, and depression, among others, skyrocket. Our immune systems are compromised. We are living longer but are we living healthier when we have to take a handful of pharmaceuticals everyday to maintain the balance of life?

Finally, studies are being done to show how dependent we are on the natural world for our health and well being, something that I have known instinctively, something that we should all know instinctively.

In the last several years I have read articles about studies supporting the importance of contact with the earth. Most basically is our immune system. We need to be exposed to bacteria and dirt to be healthy. It is how our immune system builds up it's defenses to disease and illness, how it learns to ignore germs and pollens.

The lungs of toddlers who don't go outside to run and play and instead are kept quietly indoors do not develop fully and are much more likely to develop asthma. Children who don't go outside to run and play and get dirty have weakened immune systems and tend to get sick from every bug they meet. Girls especially are at risk of this because while our society expects boys to go and rough and tumble in the dirt, we expect little girls to be clean, quiet, and lady-like.

Another recent study has shown how important dirt is to our emotional health as well. There is a bacteria in the soil that helps produce serotonin in our brains. Working in the soil, getting dirty, gives us a natural high. We feel better about the quality of our lives and are happier. Working in the soil has always been my favorite part of gardening and now I know why. But even a simple romp in the park will help you with the beneficial effects of dirt.

Most important is how we have adulterated our food supply. It wasn't enough to turn our food into a chemical soup, now we are genetically modifying it to disastrous results. Study after study is linking GMO foods to infertility, immune system disfunction, accelerated aging among other things. Europe has started banning GMOs but unfortunately the US is still being bought by the GMO big business.

So go outside today. Embrace your Mother, literally. Get dirty and start a garden. Boost your immune system, eat real food, be happy and healthy.

Remember...refuse, reuse, recycle.

links to previous earth day posts and anti-plastic rants:

links to articles referred to above:


  1. I, for one, get plenty of dirt in my life. And so does my grandson. He loves to go into the garden and chomp greens right off the plant. Like an animal. He gets so dirty here and we laugh and laugh.
    We have gone deadly wrong in the way we live, most of us.

  2. a strong piece ellen . . . i'll drop this on my class tomorrow so thankyou! steven

  3. I celebrated the 1st Earth Day cleaning a small park as a high schooler with 4 friends.Since then I have expanded my horizions to include all my daily living.

  4. i totally agree on the antibacterial kick. i think we definitely don't let our immune systems build up natural defenses.

  5. This is a great post Ellen.
    Have you heard of the new treadmill desks? I saw a thing on it last night and it looks like such a great idea. Rather than sit at your desk you stand or even walk using a treadmill.

    They don't even recycle here, which is a little distressing after having been in the habit of doing so in California. It's still legal to smoke in stores and restaurants. In apartments also. Crazy. I've tried delicately mentioning it a few times but I get looks that could kill.

  6. Just come across your blog for the first time. What a lot of good sense!

  7. I was just having this conversation with a young mom
    she won't let her child touch anything natural, it's absurd

  8. When our parents and grandparents looked at happy, dirty kids who needed a bath, they said we'd eat a peck of dirt before we died. And now some pretty slick marketing trumps all that.

  9. I should have read this yesterday - but I was in the garden earthing up my potatoes!

  10. You took a few of my favourite themes and ran with them. Very well, too. :)

  11. Excellent post, Ellen. I suspect that you're preaching to the choir, though.

  12. Great photo of everyone touching the dirt. I was covered in dirt yesterday, the bath was pretty good too!

    I was thinking about your plastic posts. When I was in Japan last, I found some beautiful ceramic bowls. They were cheap and they all had lids. I bought them to put leftovers in. No more Tupperware!

  13. Actually, we don't do any of these things you rail against so eloquently. We recycle, reuse, eat fresh food and we definitely get dirty.

    I feel very sorry for kids growing up in air-conditioned environments, never allowed to play outside, living on junk food.

    But it is a choice parents have made, for themselves and their children. I can't see it changing anytime soon.
    Convenience is all.

  14. Ellen,

    I do hope you have pretty much recovered from the snake bite. I am sending along my good wishes.

    I recently joined Magpie Tales and posted an earth day prosey poem about the environment that Dana (the Bug) enjoyed. She left your blog address and said I should visit. I am glad I listened to her. I love what you have posted here and I agree with all of it. I would only add, that if you cannot get outside to garden, buy locally grown foods. In Canada we have trucks importing food from Chile and Mexico at our local supermarkets. But there are also local choices..... and farms around!! Thank you Ellen... and the Bug for the inspiration. I will be out gardening tomorrow. =D

  15. I read your "V" post first, and see we're close in age, which is to say, we still remember what it was like to live in a sensible world.

    I went through childhood barefoot in summers, free to roam as I pleased by foot or on my bike - helmetless, and with only a caution at night to come home when the street lights came on. One of my school chums would eat a spoonful of dirt for a nickel. We tried to remember to wash our hands before dinner, but we hugged each other without thought and shared our germs freely.

    In short, we weren't afraid of the natural world. I've never used a hand sanitizer and I don't wipe down grocery carts as though Typhoid Mary just was in the neighborhood. Of course I take reasonable precautions, and keep a clean, if untidy, house. But I'm really rather put out with the hordes of bureaucrats and "experts" who spend their time trying to scare us to death, and then offer up truly inane solutions to non-existent problems.

    Oh, my. Well, I do have this button, and I guess it got pushed. ;)


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