Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Herd About It?

by Ana Grarian

This month’s Harper’s Magazine has an article on GE , PCB’s, and why the Hudson River will never be clean. Depressing I thought, but I have to read it. In perusing the index for a page number I spotted an essay by Wendell Berry. Ah! A little balm for my soul to make up for the GE article. I read Berry first.

Berry quotes a section of Faust. Faust has asked the devil to make him young again. The devil has the witches brew up a potion. Faust complains that it is vile. Isn’t there a better way to remain young? The devil assures him it’s simple.

There is a natural way to make you young. . . .

Go out in a field

And start right in to work: dig, hoe,

Keep your thoughts and yourself in that field,

Eat the food you raise . . .

Be willing to manure the field you harvest.

And thats the best waytake it from me!

To go on being young at eighty.

Faust complains that that is hard work and he just is not suited to living that kind of life. The devil says

“Well then I guess we need the witch.”

And we’ve been chasing the witches ever since. Pills for this and that, fabulous(?) new foods that are “heart healthy” while loaded with chemicals, sugar fat etc. Health clubs that slenderize our wallets.

Faust was written two centuries ago. Tolstoy wrote of the positive effects of work on the body and mind in the last century. We are willing to espouse the idea of physical exercise by buying gym memberships and expensive coat racks disguised as exercise equipment. We worship sports figures who must exercise to maintain their jobs. Even the UPS driver has been portrayed as a sex symbol because his “buns” are kept fit by walking, climbing and lifting all day. But we stress ourselves out so much by working for, or to pay the witches that we are not exercising ourselves. Mostly because it is something we must ADD to our lives instead of being a part of our lives.

I am certainly not immune to that. Since moving to town I don’t get anywhere near the exercise I once did when caring for a large house, big lawn and gardens, livestock and pets. I bought a pedometer to see if I was getting in my mediocre 10,000 steps. On days I work I just make it, especially if there is shelving to do. On other days no – especially in bad weather. It’s just too much effort to go out and walk for miles just to walk. Boring!

We think that our longevity has expanded because of our “modern” life. In fact the statisticly increased longevity of folks in the US is mostly due to decreases in infant death. It’s not that we’re living longer – it’s that more of us are living to old age.

Perhaps we could get there a little more healthy if we fired the witches and grew our own potions. Soup is good for the soul and body. Gardening, cooking and eating together is good for you, the family, and the community. Doing it without the witches brew of chemicals is good for the earth.

By AFarmer

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RS Janes
14 years ago

Another good one, Ana. I read somewhere that the human lifespan is still basically what it was in Bibilical times — about three score and ten, or 70 years — and there have been plenty of old folks around throughout the centuries, but the averages were skewed because you had so many die in infancy or at a young age from disease. The average lifespan in the US in 1800 was about 35; the average now is approximately 75, and it’s mostly due to improvements in sanitation, food storage, and antibiotics.

I hope we do get society off of all these pills and potions, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The unfortunate tendency in this country is to think if one is good for you, two is even better, and it’s corollary in reverse — if two is bad for you, don’t take it at all. As in our politics, frequently our scientific and medical conversations come down to unnuanced, black-or-white debates.

On a slightly different note, my ex-wife and many women I knew 40 years ago would drink a glass of wine occasionally to relax or settle their stomach while pregnant. It was no big deal, some doctors even recommended it, and all their babies were came out fine. Then came the hysteria regarding alcohol and pregnancy that was hyped out of proportion by the media, based on studies that had high numbers of extremely heavy drinkers, including women who drank such things as Sterno. Not surprisingly, these heavy drinkers also bore large numbers of children with birth defects. Suddenly American doctors, responding to the media hysteria, commanded their pregnant patients not to touch a drop and today a pregnant woman is made to feel like a criminal if she should order a glass of wine at dinner. Just another example of our lack of proportionality these days, and the medical estalishment and the media treating us all like children.

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