Sanitation and me

I’m getting a kick out of all the comments regarding the appearance of my baby’s toes alongside some nectarines in my ‘reenie post. I loved that picture—his big little-boy feet, his fumbly hands awkwardly attempting to manage the slippery slices, his squatting on the kitchen table, something I hardly ever let him do. That people would be revolted by my sweet baby’s stinky toes never crossed my mind. That it crossed theirs made me chuckle.

It reminded me of a post by David Lebovitz in which he photographed an elderly French woman make mayonnaise. Her hands were wrinkled and sun-spotted, the honest hands of a hard-working country woman. His photography was, as usual, superb. But some people were horrified by her hands (though those comments no longer remain on the blog). There was some black stuff—soil? chocolate?—under her nails! In deference to his sensitive readership, he removed the picture from the blog. I never even noticed her nails until I read the comments, and I was sorry to see the picture go.

I have a pretty high tolerance for dirt. This probably comes from our three years in Nicaragua where we lived in a multitude of homes before building our own—a house of dirt. (Am I sensing a theme?) While there, we witnessed/experienced the following:

*mice scurrying in and over food-laden pots
*delicious homemade cheese made from rennet that was made by soaking in a bit of dried calf’s intestine in some leftover whey
*fly-covered food
*chicken butchering in the middle of the kitchen
*babies without diapers that then peed on everyone and everything (of course)
*babies crawling on dirt floor and gnawing on leftover chicken bones that had been tossed down
*pigs in the house
*minimal, or no, refrigeration
*dirty milk
*a mother mouse (er, RAT) scrabbling through my hair in the dead of the night (eek!)
*street food
*fly-infested kitchens (you’ve never seen anything like it—don’t even try to tell me you have)
*dirty water

And while I’m on a roll, I might as well mention no car seats, no seat belts, scorpions, latrines, poopy potties, machete-wielding children, exposed wiring in showers, crazy bus drivers…

I learned that you can eat food off of some pretty dirty surfaces and not get sick. (And if you did get sick, which we did—well, it wasn’t the end of the world. Bodies heal. Not that I’m a fan of giardia…) I’m not condoning these things, or, worse yet, idolizing poverty, but it was made clear to me that dirt isn’t evil incarnate.

As you can probably imagine, my child’s feet on my kitchen table is quite mild by comparison.

And! Just for the record! I sweep the floor before we eat off of it, the dog does a great job of licking clean the plates, and I even boil the toothbrushes after using them to scour the toilet. Want to come over for supper?


  • Anonymous

    Highly recommend the book "Green Barbarian". It provides great motivation for NOT being a clean freak!

    Both my girls love to squat while *working*. My big booty would be on the ground.

  • Anonymous

    Hello, I am the original Anonymous commenter from your 'reenie post. I just thought that it was kind of funny and was trying to make a joke. (You can tell that I'm joking when I write like some hillbilly.) It seems that a few people thought that I was seriously grossed out. While I probably would not eat a nectarine slice off my kid's foot as some people suggested they might, I do think that we in the U.S. do have somewhat of a clean fetish. I think that a lot of the anti-bacterial soaps that people are using are going to wind up causing more harm than good in the long run. Even so, I think that taking reasonable precautions as far as washing hands with regular soap (and feet if one is going to be grape stomping) is probably a wise idea.

  • Karen

    can't tell you how much fly covered meat I ate in Haiti. And I decided that I probably ate at least a pound of manure. Love it!!! 🙂

  • sue

    I spent 2 years in Paraguay in the early 1980s. Oh the stories…hanging week old meat, 3 week old eggs, no electricity, communal drinking (with a straw) and eating with toothless folk, maggots, dirt, flies, chickens, dogs, mice (including one that mimics yours)…and living through it all. My kids were never sterile. Having your babe close by checking out the nectarines is priceless. And I love photos of old hard working hands… I hope mine have as much character in a few years.

  • Margo

    oh AMEN. I have never lived in the Nicaraugan dirt you described, but seriously, most of our American fear of dirt is ridiculous. Once I actually checked into some foodborne illnesses that the media was raving about and realized that the worst that would probably happen was a crampy stomach, maybe some diarrhea. So piffle.

  • Jessie and David

    LMAO! As a mother of active kiddos (11 mos, almost 3), who love to dig for treasure, I share your feelings of dirt. I am also a surgical nurse, so there is some inner conflict, I will admit. The hand sanitizer-soak everything in bleach-put your kids in a bubble- craze is getting to me. ENOUGH ALREADY. yayy for dirt!

  • Anonymous

    I think that when I made my comment on the other post I might have been a bit out of it. I don't think I even noticed the picture, just the other comments and thought that his feet were actually IN the cut nectarine slices. After seeing the picture I don't think it would bother me in the least.

    Sorry if my unnecessarily being offended offended you.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead

    I'm with everybody else… loved this post! This is the first time I've stumbled onto your site. Thanks for the chuckle! 🙂

  • The Frugal Hostess

    Me too, me too, me too!!!! Love this. I'm currently preparing my husband for the time when our not-yet-conceived offspring eats a big handful of grass or mud. I can already guess at the Purell Wars to come.

  • Susan

    Finally! If we would just get over all this sanitation business and allow our bodies a good dose of natural immunity-building, we would all be the better for it. I loved those toesies.

  • Maggie

    Ha ha ha. Add me to the "love this post" list. I agree that dirt doesn't kill people and I'd go further and say that too much cleanliness *can* kill people! Our bodies are not meant to be sterile–there are all kinds of good "bugs" that live in us and keep us healthy. (This is why, for instance, I drink raw milk–but that's opening a whole 'nother can of beans….)

  • Christy

    i, like kaytee, didn't even NOTICE those little toes….and, if I had, I wouldn't have thought about the fact they were close to the trays. I, however, PROBABLY WOULD have marveled at the little squat he was doing and the great amount of balance and flexibility that would have taken to do such a stance (and on the "edge" of the table, no doubt!) ;o)

    -and thank you for NOT posting pics of the chicken butchering in the kitchen…I most DEFINITELY would choose child feet ON nectarines!!!-

  • Kaytee

    That's so funny that people got grossed out. I didn't even think twice about your kid's feet so close to the fruit. I eat things that I drop on the floor all the time! Dirt doesn't kill people.

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