A Holistic approach to Health

As pandemic controls drag into another season, having dominated two summers and one winter, with every expectation of persisting into a “4th wave”, we are compelled to comment on the overwhelmingly countercultural sentiment that you, our customers, express to us. Almost daily we receive emails with links to sites voicing opposition to the forced closures, the mandated wearing of masks, the talk of “vaccine passports” and so on.  Recognizing the sharp divisions of opinion that exist, even within close families, we have been trying to stay neutral and not to offend anyone.  But the question of why our customers seem to skew towards an opinion that is not held by the majority of others in the mainstream keeps us wondering.  We decided that rather than staying silent, it would be good to outline the rationale for an alternative approach to health – the same mode of thinking which informs our method of farming and spills over into our views about human interaction with the natural world.  Viruses are, after all, part of the natural world, (leaving aside for the moment the possibility that this one may have been engineered in a lab – that would get us off-track) This is only a proposal.  You don’t have to agree with it to buy Zettel Family Farms meat!

In an earlier newsletter, I told the story of my conversion from farming with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and drugs to organic methods. The division between these two radically opposed systems of management stems from a fundamentally irreconcilable way of thinking about and perceiving the environment around us.  For this proposal, let me refer to the one as “reductionist” and the other “holistic”. The reductionist method of inquiry is to identify a specific problem or obstacle, analyze it and develop interventions to manage the situation. In farming this is simple; weeds are a problem – spray them. 

"...the grand failure of true reductionist science is that it fails to step back and look at the big picture”
Ted Zettel
Pioneer in Organic Farming

Pests of all kinds cause disease in plants and animals – develop chemical solutions to eliminate the pests.  Soils become depleted and yields are dropping – import manufactured and mined nutrients to boost production.  While all these interventions emerge as effective remedies for the immediate difficulty in the short term, the grand failure of true reductionist science is that it fails to step back and look at the “big picture”.  Manipulating each little piece of the puzzle independently, without regard for how the specific intervention will change the whole system leads to spectacular systems failure in the field of agriculture; soil degradation, water pollution, loss of genetic diversity to name just a few examples.  And in the human sphere, we have out of control health care costs incurred in the inevitable failure  of trying to fix the downstream damage caused by eating bad food.  Forgive me for the acknowledged oversimplification.  Bad nutrition is not the only cause of our pre-COVID human health disaster – there is also lack of exercise, mental stress, breakdown of the family etc..  But all of these, it could be argued, have their roots in reductionist interventions as well.

So how do we define the alternative “holistic” or “ecological” approach?  It’s more complicated.  It begins with a foundational belief that the natural world is good, and that if we minimize our interference in what we observe to be the natural processes and cycles of the ecosystems within which we function, we can do well.

We are part of the natural world, and our well being is, in complex ways that are not well understood, intimately tied to the sustained flourishing of the other organisms involved.  As I learned when I began to study “ecological” farming, the very ground we walk on is a marvelous web of interrelated species; the microscopic soil fungi, bugs and worms that digest plant residue, aerate and mix the minerals and make available all that is needed for the life of plants. The holistic thinker recognizes that human life is dependent on processes that we don’t understand, many of which we have not even identified or begun to investigate.  Given this undeniable truth, we arrive at the imperative to walk softly, with respect; to work in cooperation with what little we know about how the ecosystem functions and to try to “do no harm”.

You could say that the default reaction of reductionism is intervention, where the prevailing response of holistic science is respectful caution. This is the earthshaking shift that came about when we converted to organic farming 40 years ago. 

Now translate the reductionist vs. holistic way of farming to the field of health, disease and medicine; in particular the response to a virus.  Mainstream medicine, perhaps the most reductionist of all fields of modern practices, is now running the show.  Their default is intervention.  A modern urban populace, radically removed from and ignorant of the natural world, is easily convinced that this virus poses a deadly threat and that we must take every precaution to avoid being “infected”.  The focus is exclusively on stopping the spread of the germ and precludes any analysis of the collateral damage caused by draconian suspension of freedoms.  Doctors and scientists who see it from another side, who question the effectiveness of trying to stop a virus, or those who propose preventions or treatments, are sidelined and even demonized as purveyors of “disinformation”.  There is no hint of opposition to the prevailing narrative allowed in the mainstream media.  All hopes are pinned on the saviour – the vaccine!  Modern medicine to the rescue!

It is not hard to see how the situation rankles those of us with a little deeper insight into how the living world is made up.  We know that our health depends not primarily on intervention with drugs, but on good food, a healthy lifestyle, a good attitude.  For us, the downside of forced social isolation is a much greater evil than the potential catching of a virus.  We are not prone to panic and are more likely to see that of the many dangers which might harm us, this one is pretty well down on the list. We are fairly confident that natural immunity is going to be our saviour from disease, and if not, then we prefer to place ourselves in God’s hands rather than go along with a fear driven, experimental intervention.  We are skeptical about treatments in general and have lifetimes of experience exercising the “do no harm” ethic, having our holistic mindset vindicated over and over.  We are accustomed to swimming against the stream.

“We … have lifetimes of experience exercising the ‘do no harm’ ethic, having our holistic mindset vindicated over and over.  We are accustomed to swimming against the stream.”

Personally, I am more alarmed by the censorship conducted by mainstream media than by our government’s knee-jerk panic reactions.  Science relies on the free expression of opposing theories.  This is how we come to deeper understanding – through dialogue.  Why do I have to go to Rebel News or Rumble to find out that a prominent virologist at the University of Guelph thinks the vaccine is unsafe?  

When mass demonstrations involving thousands of people are purposely not reported on, we have a problem.  Whatever our approach to science, medicine or our own personal health, we should be very careful about sliding into a state where only the prevailing ideology can be spoken publicly.  On that note, I would love to hear more from you – our customers.  Dissent is welcome.  Dialogue is good. Let’s talk while we still have the freedom to do so.

Posted in Education.