Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Post-Pasteurian world

As a long-time fan of food writer Michael Pollan (read more here and here), it was inevitable that I’d read his latest, Cooked- A Natural History of Transformation (short summary: it’s great) and while there I stumbled upon an excellent paper in Cultural Anthropology by MIT scientist Heather Paxon that describes a viewpoint that is becoming more persuasive the more I understand it: the bacteria and microbes that surround us are nearly all friendly.

A tiny, tiny number of microbes are unfriendly (and make no mistake, a bacterium like Listeria monocytogenes, is extremely unfriendly), but the entire national regulatory system tries to kill these small bugs, at the expense of the vast majority of microbes that are friendly – and necessary.

Whereas Pasteurianism creates in citizens expectations that the state will ensure a safe food supply, such that “food panics” throw into doubt “the state’s ability to regulate business and bodies” (Dunn 2007:36), post-Pasteurianism questions whether state regulators have only the interests of citizen-consumers at heart.

Your body was designed to live among many different microbes. The friendly ones, in fact, are partly responsible for protecting us against the unfriendly ones. When you kill every microbe, with scorched-earth tactics like broad spectrum antibiotics or even with pasteurization, something else is lost too, and it’s important not to forget that.