My confidence in the wisdom of the free marketplace hit a new low yesterday when I went out shopping for clothes and ran into the newest in a long line of products designed to serve the needs of clean freaks: anti-bacterial socks. That's right, there are now socks that kill bacteria. The label says that it's to help keep your feet from stinking, but think about it -- by the time your feet start to smell, the rest of your body is going to be pretty rank too. So what are you going to do, wear an anti-bacterial ensemble, selected from your Lysol-treated wardrobe? You know, life is sometimes stinky, and there's not really anything you can do about that.
Nonetheless, some people seem to want to make the world completely sterile, and that's why we have all these anti-bacterial products. People continue to buy this stuff even though it's been proven not to work very well. For example, it's been shown that anti-bacterial soap doesn't get rid of bacteria any more than does a wash-down with good old Ivory soap, and hey, that stuff is 99.9% pure. Can you get any cleaner than that?
I'll admit that bacteria can be a problem. A tiny, but seriously threatening, minority of bacteria can cause illness in humans and we ought to take reasonable precautions to avoid infection. The question is, what kind of precautions are reasonable? Is it reasonable to disinfect every possible place where germs might be hiding? If you're going to get sick, you're going to get sick and there's not a whole lot that you can do about it. There are, right now, bacteria crawling all over the outside and inside of your body, and you'll never get rid of them all. If you do, they'll just come back. The only solution to this threat would be to immerse the entire planet in Listerine, and I don't think that would be a very good idea. We'd all have mediciney breath for years.
You know, I'm making it sound as if anti-bacterial agents are a recent development, and that's not fair. Anti-bacterials have been used by people for a long time, probably even longer than recorded history.
I was browsing through a really good book the other day, called the Indian Herbology of North America, written by Alma R. Hutchens. It turns out that people from all around the world have been using onions, garlic, and other related plants as antiseptics for ages. Upon reflection, this actually isn't all that surprising. Where do you think all those ideas about garlic keeping away vampires and other evil spirits came from? Those funny Eastern Europeans knew that garlic could help ward off disease. Garlic was eaten, of course, but it was also applied to wounds to help them heal. It was even worn around the neck, and as silly as it sounds, this may have done some good. According to Ms. Hutchens, some research has shown that the oils of an garlic bulb can have an antiseptic effect even in the air that surrounds it.
What's really surprising is that the Romans, who are responsible for so many of our modern conveniences, had their own version of the anti-bacterial sock. Roman soldiers were in the habit of putting a clove of garlic in their sandals before a day's march. With each step, more oils were released, saturating the sandal and penetrating the sole of the centurion's foot, from where it was taken through the blood stream to all parts of the body. Well, you can bet those guys didn't get athlete's foot.
The best thing about this natural antibacterial agent is that it reproduces itself. There's no need to run off to the grocery store every time you hear the pitter patter of those little bacterial feet headed your way. This fall, you can start your own garlic patch. Just buy a couple of garlic bulbs from an organic food store (you don't want to get garlic from ordinary grocery stores because they spray their bulbs with chemicals that inhibit growth). Carefully separate each bulb into individual cloves without damaging the inner protective skin too much, and plant the cloves pointy-side up an inch or two deep in cultivated soil in a sunny location. Next spring, these cloves will sprout their leaves and start to make new bulbs. By this time next year, you'll harvest a year's supply of garlic to use however you want. Re-plant cloves from the biggest bulbs, and each year you'll get more and more garlic to keep those nasty germs away and make good pasta sauce to boot.
But what will you do with all those anti-bacterial socks? I know what I'm going to do with mine. I'm going to make them into sock puppets and form a new theatre company called the obsessive/compulsive players. You never know, we might just hit the big time and land a role in a commercial for anti-bacterial frisbees.
Copyright Jonathan Cook
About the author I am a consultant living in Memphis, Tennessee, but eager to get out of town as soon as I can. The biggest news of my life is that I am soon to become a father, thanks to the hard work and morning sickness of my wonderful wife. Does it get any better than this? I guess I'll find out soon!