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Clean dirt and dirty dirt

Are we sicker because of our cleanliness?

It seems like sacrilege. Most of us have heard the phrase, "cleanliness is next to godliness." Hear me out.

Was my mother the only one?

From the earliest I can remember, my mother made a distinction between clean dirt and dirty dirt. Clean dirt was the dirt we played with and dug tunnels through in our back yard. Dirty dirt was the dirt that was contaminated by shit or rotten food, not so much animal shit, but human shit. As a kid and young teenager, I stepped in a lot of cow shit running barefoot on my grandfather's farm. I would quickly wipe it off in the grass and continue on my way.

Unlike other mothers (this was in rural South Carolina in the 1950s), my mother let us kids play in the rain. She thought the idea of getting a cold because of the rain (in the summer time) was mistaken. "You don't get a cold because you take a shower in your home. Why should playing in the rain be any different?" she would say.


All summer long, from the beginning to the end of our three-month summer holiday, I was continuously barefoot. I suspect that this, combined with the fact that, as an adult, I always went barefoot (sometimes with socks on) in my home, I've never experienced any problems with my feet.

Avoiding the dirty dirt

Even though we three siblings (I have a younger sister and brother) were generally dirtier than our school mates when it came to clean dirt, we were probably cleaner when it came to dirty dirt. 

My mother cautioned us to avoid or be very careful when using the the outhouse adjacent to the playground of our country school. She also told us not to share a sandwich or drink with others where we might become exposed to their saliva. 

I also suspect that our health may have been better because, with our family being poorer and my mother being careful on how we spent our money, I took peanut-butter-and-raisin sandwiches to school, not sandwiches with luncheon meat, like most of my classmates. Moreover, we didn't buy soft drinks since they were too expensive. We drank water or homemade ice tea.

The hygiene hypothesis 

Although some call it the 'microbial deprivation hypothesis,' the 'hygiene hypothesis' was first proposed by a Dr. D.P. Strachan in 1989. This hypothesis stimulates that the rapid rise in allergic disorders experienced by the developed countries in the last 50-60 years, but not experienced by underdeveloped countries, was a result of our "better" hygiene in childhood.

My one-man experiment

I've refined a bit my mother's guidelines. For example, I'm more careful in shaking hands. I will try to avoid touching my face until I have a chance to rinse my hands off afterwards. Today, having learned a lot more about nutrition and the immune system, my immune system seems a bit more robust than it is for many others. For example, I've been chomping down a raw clove of garlic every morning for several years now and, during that period, I've not gotten a single cold, whereas before I would get one or two per year.

In China and other countries I usually prefer the cheaper (dirtier) restaurants that my Chinese friends would try to avoid. If I'm interested in what they are selling, I never hesitate in buying from fast-food street vendors (I'm sure they never get checked by any health control officials).

At home, I never use soap to wash the dishes. I just rinse them off, usually with cold water, using my hand, if necessary, to brush off excess food. 

When I take a shower, I let the water run over my entire body. However, I only apply soap to my hair, my underarms, and to my pubic and crotch area. I suspect that this may have contributed to many people commenting on how good my complexion is for my age.

In my entire life, although I've been less than careful about what I've eaten (in terms of hygiene) than many others have, I've never had food poisoning and very rarely had diarrhea or constipation. Generally, there have been no problems with my stomach or digestion.

Although many factors contribute to one's health, I am the healthiest person in my age range that I personally know about (at age 78). For example, I don't take any regular medicines. And I have no aches and pains. In general, my body feels quite good and serves me well.

Aesthetics and looking good

Would you want to drink from this cup? Many would not. It might even evoke a feeling of disgust. For myself, there is no problem. The food stuff inside the cup is dried and I am certain contains no bacteria that will hurt me. 

If I have a guest over, out of respect for their sensibilities and and for things "to look good," I will spend a bit of extra time to clean more thoroughly the dishes that we will use together.

Also, I can appreciate that, for some people, it's a matter of aesthetics and beauty, not necessarily sanitation. They will feel that the extra time needed to keep things "clean" for beauty's sake is worth it. It rarely is for me.

Private note: it may sound like you might not want to be around me because I am so "dirty." However, in general, I've gotten no indications from my friends or my lovers (over the years) that any of them have experienced me as "too dirty."

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