Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"We are not entirely human, germ gene experts argue"

Maybe calling someone germy is not necssarily an insult. This article in Reuters suggests that we are bacteria and bacteria is us.

"We may not be entirely human, gene experts said on Thursday after studying the DNA of hundreds of different kinds of bacteria in the human gut...
...Bacteria are so important to key functions such as digestion and the immune system that we may be truly symbiotic organisms -- relying on one another for life itself, the scientists write in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Funny, I’ve been thinking about that lately, about our collective Western fear o’ germs. I was visiting a Korean American friend, and in celebration of my arrival, she’d made a big-ass pot of kimchi stew. Kimchi, as Rex Reed the film critic more of less racistly put it, is

"a mixture of raw garlic and cabbage buried underground until it rots, dug up from the grave and then served in earthenware pots sold at the Seoul airport as souvenirs."

Kimchi, like other fermented food, doesn't go "bad." It just gets more sour. There is a whole putrefaction theory that has been circulating vis a vis pasteurized milk--unpasteurized milk retains all enzymes etc., and thus becomes sour when it ages, but not putrefied. Anyway, about the kimchi stew, my friend kept it out, unrefrigerated, and there was even meat in it. I noticed that with each reheating and eating, it became more and more delicious until I was basically requesting to eat it three times a day for the remainder of my stay.

My mom used to make me feel that if I left some hardboiled egg out of the fridge for 15 minutes before I ate it I'd automatically give myself salmonella. My thinking, however, is changing on that. I read in a macrobiotic cookbook that when chopping organic veggies, one only needs to rinse off the cutting board, not scald, soap and bleach it (as I'd normally do). I have done this rinsing thing for going on 6 months and no food poisoning symptoms yet!

Per my previous bird flu column, we see that the unhealthy/healthy question might lie more not in the germs/no germs dichotomy but in what kind of germs we are talking about. It seems if you have more of the delicious good bacteria (probiotics) in your system, the bad bacteria don’t get a chance to flourish, hence us kimchi-eaters who eschew the flu vaccine (more on that later) might have the last laugh.

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