Are we our own worst enemy?

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Sunset in the West

Last month I wrote about the UN study that warned of the continued risk of global warming, climate change and my surprise that this issue wasn’t being taken more seriously. Since then we have heard from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the overuse of antibiotics and that it has created resistance globally. We have seen several celebrities promoting books or their own documentaries on healthy diets or the diabetes/obesity epidemic. Then finally on May 6th the White House released their report on climate change and how it will affect the different regions of our country. I view all of these issues interconnected and related to the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution made its way to America approximately 150 years ago. During this time we saw advancements in every area including transportation, medicine and technology. Within the medical realm Edward Jenner and his work on an immunization to eradicate the small pox virus began what became the foundation of today’s immunology. Later in the 1800’s scientists began to discover and implement the use of different antibiotics including the widely known and accepted penicillin. Around this time we saw major growth in transportation as well with the growth of the railway. The railway changed the way people and foods were able to move about the country. This new way of transporting food changed how and what people living in urban areas were able to consume. There were also the technological advances with machinery being able to complete tasks that were done by hand, many of these advancements continue to happen today. Don’t get me wrong I am grateful for the Industrial Revolution, if it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be able to sit here typing this on a computer while being able to stay at home and take care of my child in an air-conditioned home. I do think that the Industrial Revolution is what has caused a nation and world of connected yet disconnected people. Let me explain.

The railway* opened up the possibility of moving more people and food throughout the country. It also created challenges for farmers about how to get their food moved around while also keeping it safe to eat. This challenge became an opportunity for a middle man to come in and create a process to keep the foods safe. One process created was refrigeration which kept meat and vegetation fresh longer. Companies also started developing ways of processing foods with chemicals or salt that would help them last longer. This change in the food industry has created a society that is disconnected from the farmer and from the source of our food. How many people know that brussel sprouts grow on a stalk or that basil is a finicky herb that likes specific growing conditions? The majority of society wants to walk into a grocery store and get what they want for the cheapest price they can. There is little thought into the challenges that a farmer might have in growing things. The pressure for farmers to produce large amounts of food at a low cost has also created growing practices that require tilling of the land. Something that few people may realize is that when you till the land it releases carbon dioxide, one of the major contributors to climate change.

As scientists progressed through this revolution, society has enjoyed many advances in medicine which helped us live longer and more comfortably. One of the dramatic changes was the development of antibiotics which helped to keep people alive if they had a major infection, but they also became widely used for minor infections or as protection against getting infections. Also, because of the demand on livestock farmers to produce more for a lower cost they have used antibiotics to help keep animals healthy until they are slaughtered, this means that we are ingesting small amounts through our foods along with anytime we are prescribed them. In the World Health Organizations recent report this overuse of antibiotics has now created a situation where simple infections are no longer treatable. The report sites that gonorrhea is untreatable in 10 countries. Scientists have also worked on chemicals to help farmers combat weeds and bugs to help increase their crop sizes. Just as microbes have changed to avoid destruction by antibiotics, weeds and bugs are adapting to withstand the use of pesticides and herbicides. It seems that humans are the only ones not adapting to our changing world.

Humans have made huge advancements in the world developing faster better ways of transportation, and communication. We have improved our medical opportunities helping people that once would never have a full life be able to experience years of health. Unfortunately we aren’t working with our planet to help us continue to grow. No matter how fast a plane can fly, or a computer can operate they will never replace our need for fresh water and food. The medical community is never going to create a way for us to survive without natural nourishment. It is time to take back responsibility for our health and the health of our planet. We need to help the earth to heal by allowing farmers to use organic practices. We should also try to slow down and grow a garden, spend time in nature. We also need to give our bodies time when we are sick to heal naturally. By working with our environment we can evolve along with the microbes and planet around us.

* Countryside Magazine – Food and the fast track – by Jerri Cook Volume 94 number 5, 2010

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