Fertile Health: Parallels Between Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Medicine

Author: Didi Pershouse

“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” –Wendell Berry

In the mornings before work, I jump in the river, and walk barefoot back to my clinic, looking for wild edibles and medicinal plants along the way. I live in my clinic these days. I moved in to save money when gas prices spiked, and the economy collapsed, but it has turned into a delightful low-carbon, über-local health-care experiment. I only pay one heating bill, one phone bill, and one electricity bill. I see patients with my dog by my side while my two boys are at school. Patients walk through my kitchen on their way in and out of my small office, and sometimes, after I’ve been talking to them about the importance of the microbiome, I offer them a taste of real sauerkraut, raw milk or kefir—all brimming with good bacteria. Twice a week I offer sliding-scale, group acupuncture treatments in my living room, where the mammalian comfort of patients taking naps near each other seems to be an added bonus to the healing process. In the evenings, I teach classes on personal and community resiliency, deep self-care, and peer support for community leaders. I have spent the last seven years writing about sustainable medicine, and trying to define (and bring into practice) what a truly sustainable health-care system would look like.

This is not a simple thing. In order for people to be healthy in the long term, nearly every other aspect of life comes into play. When people thrive, you can generally look around and see that the natural environment around them has been well cared for, their relationships are solid, they have abundant, nutrient-dense food to eat, a just society to live in, and they are living in relatively peaceful times. We now also know that we rely heavily on communities of beneficial bacteria in and on our bodies for physical and emotional health, immunity and even proper development.

The microscope, the telescope, and the deep-sea camera have helped us to rediscover that we are part of a vast interdependent web of relationships, and whatever happens in one part of the system affects the whole.   This means that there is no such thing as “human health” apart from the rest of the planet, there is only health. When I use the word “medicine” I mean something much more profound and far reaching than medical care practiced by, and for, humans. The planet itself has become something like a field hospital, with new species limping in each day, and others going extinct.

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