Yesterday I was listening to KCRW and a study was being discussed that compared the differences in child health between homes that had dishwashers and those that hand-washed their dishes. The study out of Sweden showed that homes with the lesser germ genocide had children with 50 percent fewer allergies. It’s part of the “hygiene hypothesis” that says people in developed countries are getting “too clean” and as a consequence our children are not being given the opportunity to have their immune systems develop to their fullest.
From my perspective as a child who grew up outdoors, eating dirt, playing in the mud, climbing trees, tasting mustard grass and lemon weed, I have to believe that this over-sanitized, plastic-wrapped society we’ve developed is bad for children on several levels. When Billy Murray and I would go creekin’ after a winter rain, and then come home and eat Vienna sausages that we roasted in my family’s fireplace, it was all an adventure that exposed us to lots of different germs.
It was a different time, for sure. We would go for breakfast at a place called Millie’s. It opened at 4 or 5 a.m. to allow the police to have a place for breakfast and was a friendly place, so friendly that you would go behind the counter to get more coffee, serve yourself, and even pay your own bill out of the cash register. Millie’s is still around, and I hear that it’s changed but a little since the good old days.
I was reminded of all this as I sat in Zabie’s Neighborhood Caf√©. It’s a wonderful place that is a local Santa Monica hangout with great food, is a clean restaurant, and has reasonable prices. Walking into the warm restaurant the first thing I notice is the samples of zucchini bread on the counter, looking across the counter into the dining room I see the sign of all good neighborhood places ‚Äî cops. If cops are eating there, odds are good that it has reasonable prices, large portions and strong coffee.
I really enjoyed my breakfast at Zabie’s ‚Äî except for one thing: a frozen brick of butter on hot toast. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine. I know it’s some health inspector’s idea of disease prevention, but it’s annoying to me to have this mini-brick, wrapped in paper, that could be used to build a butter igloo that wont spread, and only rips my toast to shreds.
Throughout Europe butter is left out in butter bells, on tables, under glass, on counters and there is not mass die-off of humans from room-temperature butter. In my own home I have a habit of leaving butter out ‚Äî it makes it easier when cooking ‚Äî and much to my critics’ dismay, I’m still here.
What’s the upshot of all this? We used to be a society that was more concerned with being honest in our community, than with the complete eradication of anything that could possibly expose us to germs, which it turns out, is not actually in our best interests. Some of those kids with asthma and allergies may be a product not of genetics and exposure to harmful substances, but the opposite, overprotective parents and lack of exposure may be creating the very problems that we are trying to avoid.
Our health department makes regulations to protect us, but maybe they’re so overprotective that they are actually hurting us. It’s possible that we could be a bit more like our forebears, who, lest we forget, did come from the time of eating raw or semi-cooked meat, that had communal cooking as a way of life, and where soap was not even a thought, let alone anti-bacterial.
We’ve been convinced by marketers, ad men and overly officious government agents that we need them to protect from all types of dangerous creepy crawlies, but the reality is that we are much tougher and more durable than they would have us believe. We should be more focused on bringing back the humanity to our world that allows for people to have neighborhood cafes where they share stories, pay their own bills and have soft butter.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.