Part IV: Children of the Soil

Chapter 14

During a lecture to the British College of Surgeons, McCarrison described how, in the course of more than two years, his rats fed on the diets of the more vigorous and well-developed Indian races never fell ill. But the British Medical Journal, in a leading article on McCarrison’s address, concentrated only on the diseases which diet would help to prevent and completely overlooked the astonishing fact that the radiant health of a group of people could be transferred dietarily to a group of rats, simply by diet. Doctors, used to textbook explanations that pneumonia was due to exhaustion, chills, a blow on the chest, the pneumococcus microbe itself, weakness in old age, or other illnesses, were unimpressed with McCarrison’s finding that, in every case, his Coonoor laboratory rats had fallen ill with pneumonia because of faulty food. The same was true for diseases of the middle ear, peptic ulcers, and other afflictions.

By following the practices of the Indians, who used no pesticides or artificial fertilizers but returned to the land carefully accumulated animal and vegetal wastes, Howard was so successful that by 1919 he had learned “how to grow healthy crops, practically free from disease, without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statisticians, clearing-houses of information, artificial manures, spraying machines, insecticides, fungicides, germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern experimental station.”

Howard was further astonished that his herd of work oxen, the ordinary power unit of Indian agriculture, when fed only the produce from his fertile land, never came down with foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, septicemia, and other cattle diseases, which frequently devastated herds of the modern experimental stations. “None of my animals were segregated,” he wrote; “none were inoculated; they frequently came into contact with diseased stock. As my small farmyard at Pusa was only separated by a low hedge from one of the large cattle-sheds on the Pusa estate, in which outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease often occurred, I have several times seen my oxen rubbing noses with foot-and-mouth cases. Nothing happened. The healthy, well-fed animals failed to react to this disease exactly as suitable varieties of crops, when properly grown, did to insect and fungous pests–no infection took place.

Rodale’s campaign began to challenge the usual view of people living in the cities and suburbs of the United States–and this is the vast majority–that soil is a static, inert substance. He challenged the use of the word dirt as a synonym in English for soil. The former is used to mean something mean, contemptible, or vile, whereas soil is alive and clean.”