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Life, Men & Microbes

There is elite corporate history; and then there is history for the rest of us. . . The first can be known for how it flatters and degrades us at the same time; the second for how it connects with us on a daily level and makes our understanding richer.

In elite corporate history, Great Men use Powerful Forces to attain Great Results. These histories began with the bards hired at courts to memorialize the conquests of kings; one can easily see how the format of Great Men/ Great Results would result in a bigger payment from the king to the bard!

During the Industrial Revolution the person paying for the genre changed from kings to corporate owners; until our time when the people paying are the shareholders. One of Raw Tibicos’ first jobs was as a very junior equity analyst; which means that it was actually Raw Tibicos who had to open endless annual reports, all with the same photo of a CEO taken from somewhere at the man’s knee, giving the perspective of the company being lead by a literal Great Man. This was in the early 90’s, when people still felt that raiding pension funds, loading companies with debt, cutting benefits and eradicating investment in the future required an excuse!

The good thing about the Great Man version of history, (from the perspective of the man taking the money out of the company), is that in order to question the Great Man’s actions, one must question the very format in which the story is told . . .

Let’s do this, shall we? Let’s explore the alternative to the Great Man! Most histories, attempting this, begin slightly lower with everyday people’s lives. For a really different history, let’s go way, way, wa-a-y down the social scale, to depths often uncharted. As Soup&Kefir @RawTibicos was founded on the magic of microbes, let’s begin our history on a very, very small scale.

A teaspoon of soil has more microbes than there are people alive. Microbes vastly outweigh the total weight of humanity. Microbes are Elder Brother to mankind, and will probably be Surviving Sister. Healthy microbiomes in the soil process nutrients, act as information sources, and share goods with the plants we depend on. “As above, so below”, in our intestinal tracts, we all process personal “soil” with the help of our own microbiome. A healthy human biome processes nutrients, acts as information sources, and shares goods (sound familiar?) with its host? client? you. By contrast, an unhealthy biome does none of these things, allows cracks in the intestinal lining, and as an added insult, may actually manufacture toxins as byproducts of itself. To complete this circle – the plants we ingest become soil in the intestine, and historically, returned to the maternal soil source, to nourish new plants.

The capacity of the Earth, to grow, nurture and care for humanity – as well as all the other life – depends on the quality – not of Great Men and their Powerful Forces – but on the health of the microbiome. Destruction of the microbiome has resulted in a measurable, documented decline in the nutrient value of the fruits, vegetables and grains that mankind relies on – one the past hundred years. How much is this decline? If asked to guess, would you guess 20%? 50%? You would be wrong – the decline has been more than 90% – in many cases, over 95% of the minerals and nutrients in our food has disappeared!

Let’s go further. Most histories describe the rise and fall of nations and empires as having been the result of Great Men. The truth is – men might be doing great things – however their actions have zero predictive value! What does have predictive value? Soil. Oh, and one other thing – soil. Nations with strong, fertile microbe-strong topsoil thrive. Once that is gone – the nation falls. The secret of some cultures’ ability to survive thousands of years? You guessed it – it isn’t subtle planning, big weapons, or virtuous thought – it all depends on soil. Do you disbelieve me? I invite you to prove Raw Tibicos wrong!

We aren’t done yet – we can go further and deeper!

Healthy topsoil with a healthy biome => leads to nutrient-packed foods => leads to healthy, strong nations and cultures; each individual filled with his or her own personal strong soil filled with healthy biome.

Instead, we have the “green revolution”, where artificial nitrogen fertilizers have led to huge plant growth – but the plants lack nutrients and structure, and so are prey to disease and predation by micro-insects – and therefore require larger doses of poisonous insecticides. Is there a parallel? There is! Humanity, fed on food created by nitrogen fertilizers has exploded in number, but we are weak, nutrient depleted, depressed, and increasingly, require large doses of toxic chemicals and interventions. Hmmmm?

Comparing human growth to the growth of our food is an ancient idea – older than thinking about causes of population growth – which goes back only a few centuries, as far as we know. Readers are doubtless familiar with the work of Thomas Malthus, whose famous prediction was that given adequate food, populations increase exponentially, tragically outstripping the supply of food, which only can increase linearly. Malthus has fallen in and out of popularity in the two centuries since he wrote; the conclusion most supported by long-term evidence seems to be that occasionally, in the short-term, Malthus can be correct. Malthus, is of course, in the Great Man tradition. Modern thinking is now centred on more everyday decisions: each set of parents plans to have one or two children survive them. With high infant mortality, mothers have more children; when infants have a high likelihood of surviving, births decrease. Most of the population increase has occurred around the world in the generation where infant mortality dropped, but expectations of mortality had not yet caught up with the new reality.

Infant mortality would seem to contradict the idea that soil health is important – as nitrogen fertilizers and the attendant pesticides, herbicides have wreaked havoc on soil microbiomes – infant mortality has gone down. Let’s get deeper on this subject:

Any parent can confirm – feeding infants is hard! Breast feeding, which is so natural and evolved, is far more difficult than one can guess. Breast feeding an infant not only provides the best nutrition, but the action helps an infant’s palate and jaw grow to the correct shape. As with anything of great value, there is a learning curve – infants must learn to latch on correctly, and the sucking takes effort – necessary effort, as it is the action of muscles that pulls the palate and jaw into shape. Dehydrated, malnourished or drunk babies will have difficulties. Further, mothers must have enough nutrition to make milk, enough time to suckle their babies, enough peace to allow the milk to come, and enough maturity to bring this all together. None of these many factors can be taken for granted!

These difficulties caused the rise of the profession of wet nurse. A wet nurse is a professional baby feeder, a woman who had demonstrated the ability to bring infants through the crucial first two years. We do know that wet nurses were common in the Enlightenment, in Europe – concurrent with, or more likely – the cause of the population boom at that time. During the Enlightenment, wet nurses came from a family located near by, a family usually known for generations to her employers. Historically, Jane Austin and her siblings were sent out to a local women for nursing; the Austin family was known for having a high survival rate for its children. Compensation in the form of household help; food, probably clothing and other tangible help was given, as well as probably a wage.

This system broke down during the Industrial Revolution, and here is where we return to our theme of the microbiome. Alcohol has seven calories per gram – higher than sugar, at 4 calories per gram – or whole wheat flour at 3 calories per gram. Sugar was expensive, and flour gets insect infestations, plus needs labour to make it edible. For these reasons, for the hungry many, especially in cities, easy-stored and relatively cheap to buy alcohol became a food staple – not only for adults, but also for cows, and for babies. Cows can be kept alive (but not healthy) on the spent grains left over from distilleries – and babies can be fed, and kept quiet and docile (but not healthy) – on a diet of rags soaked in alcohol. For a world focused on efficiency, and not at all concerned about healthy microbiomes, this seemed like a good solution. Populations, fuelled by alcohol, continued to rise. In fact, one could call this the first wave of the “green revolution”, tied to the bodies of people, rather than plants.

Unsurprisingly, mothers objected to wet nurses who substituted alcohol for breast milk, and were unimpressed by the results of nursing provided by women fed on a diet of alcohol. Equally, the milk provided by sick, but alive cows, fed on the spent distillery grains, killed many infants. Must one mention that alcohol, as a disinfectant, and lacking fibre, is murder on the intestinal biome?

Wealthy families set up their own dairy herds in the country, and paid railroads to bring them fresh country milk, grown on the still healthy soil in the country. Middle class and poor families advocated for governmental succour – governments turned to corporations – and corporations responded with products – nitrogen fertilizers, baby formula, pesticides and herbicides, and the sterilization necessary to produce food in one place and time, while consuming it in a totally different place and time. The history of this time is also the history of Great Men, using Powerful Forces to attain Great Results. What is forgotten during the subsequent explosion of corporate profits, is the vitality in the soil, in the food, in the people and in the planet itself.

People are not used to thinking of themselves as creators of soil, or of alcohol as being parallel to nitrogen fertilizers, or to thinking about our food in context of the health of the soil, the cow, the wet nurse, or even the agricultural labourer. Could we be asking the wrong questions? Neo-Malthisians talk about the carrying capacity of the earth. Parents who have healthy children and an expectation of seeing them survive, have less children. People, plants and animals with healthy, nutrient-rich food consume less calories, and are sickly less often than when given nutrient-poor food. If it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a Great Man to enter the kingdom of God – would our lives, and the lives of those we care for – be easier if we gave the microbiome – (which, although greater in size than mankind – can certainly fit through the eye of a needle) – shall we give the microbiome for soil, cows, infants and adults what it needs to be healthy, happy and productive?

If you like this series of articles, please do support the work by purchasing @RawTIbicos products, here: soupkefir.ca — even you don’t like this writing, please consider purchasing, anyway, as twenty-five years is a long time for testing; many of the products are extremely good!