Book Review: Farmacology by Daphne Miller, M.D
I first heard about this book as I listened to NPR’s People’s Pharmacy on the way to the Farmers’ Market early on a Saturday morning. They were interviewing the author and it sounded intriguing enough that I went straight to Amazon and bought the book. The book describes Dr. Miller’s hypothesis that our health is intimately connected to the farm. She traveled to seven different types of farms and tried to make the connection between health, the food we eat and how it is grown and prepared.
The book started strong with her visiting Lane’s Landing Farm and Jubilee Farm. She observed that healthy soils are teeming with life. Soil is not just dirt. It is full of microbial activity that works in conjunction with plants to keep them healthy and growing. It is important for farmers to tend the land in such a way that soil life and diversity is preserved. The use of fumigation, chemicals, and pesticides tends to destroy soil microbial life. She asserts this also may be true in the human body. Our bodies depend on a huge diversity of microbial life to be healthy. As with soils, it is all too easy to compromise this diversity of microbial life with antibiotics, strange foods, antimicrobial products, and even lack of contact with nature. The food we eat from farms that focus on soil health contains microbes specific to the soil it came from, and this is a good thing! These microbes all may become a part of our own microbiota. They play a role in keeping us healthy. The soil microbes also help move nutrients into the crop, which also may make the food rich in diverse nutrients gained from the land. She used a patient named Allie to make this point.
Allie had been sick with fatigue and a host of vague debilitating symptoms that no doctor seemed able to cure. Allie had been eating frozen dinners, take-out meals, energy bars, and handfuls of supplements. Dr. Miller had Allie begin shopping for seasonal produce at a local farmers market as well as join a CSA. She also began buying local sustainably raised meats. Dr. Miller encouraged Allie to not be too compulsive about scrubbing the produce, with the reassurance that getting a little bit of the microbes from the soil into her system might be just fine. Over time, Allie was healed. As a scientist, I scratched my head and considered this. It is impossible to say exactly why Allie got better. It may have been an improvement in her gut microbiology or it may have been simply the change in nutrients when she started eating real food. It also may have been that when she switched to real food it eliminated a host of strange unnatural ingredients that often come in the processed foods she had been eating. Probably a little bit of all of it played into this story. In any case, eating real food from local sustainable farmers and ditching processed foods is always a great idea, and time after time results in people talking about how it changed their health and life.
From there, Dr. Miller went on to visit several other farms and it made for a fun read that generally supported her point of the connection between the microbes from the farm and health. However, by the end of the book she had wandered into some strange territory that did not seem to apply. For example, she discussed urban farms in the Bronx. Although I am thrilled the Bronx has urban farms, the connection between the health of those farms and human health was not as strongly supported. By the end of the book she had wandered afar and visited a farmer who grew plants to distill hydrosols for face and body products. It was interesting, but a little off of her original topic. What started as a very enlightening idea of synergies between farm and health eventually turned into just a fun story.
Regardless of the meandering ending, I liked the book and recommend you read it. Her main ideas are dead on, and I agree we are all too disconnected from the earth, foods and probably even a little too sterile. We need to get dirty. People need to eat real food. Farmers need to tend the soils. Right on!
Eat Your Veggies,