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The Problem With Purity

Dec 10, 2007
This may be a strange topic for someone who runs a natural health-oriented web site to be writing, but I want to discuss the possibility of being overzealous about "purity" in one's diet, and life in general. I recall watching the comedian George Carlin, whose seemingly absurd outbursts often have a ring of truth, telling the audience why you are better off eating junk. He also reminisced about swimming in the filthy Hudson River as a child (as an aside, the Hudson is one rare case where it's actually cleaner now than the 50 or so years ago when Carlin was a child). Carlin's argument, keeping in mind that he is doing a comedy act, is that he developed resistance to pollution and impurities compared to people who avoid such things. While I would not take this argument to an extreme, I do think there is some truth to it.

I am all for eating a natural diet consisting, as much as possible, organic ingredients and practicing healthy habits in general. When I speak of being overzealous, I mean having the mindset that any of a usually long, often ever-increasing list of "bad" things will make you ill, even in small or moderate doses. There are some rigid diets, for example, that forbid consuming any sugar, animal products, white flour and most commonly consumed carbohydrates, caffeine or alcohol. Some raw foods advocates will tell you that you should only eat, predictably enough, foods that have not been cooked.

Add to these dietary restrictions notions about electromagnetic pollution coming from cell phones and power lines, second hand smoke, environmental pollution coming from cars and industry, the uncertain quality of much drinking water (including bottled) and what can we do? Many of these factors are virtually impossible to avoid much of the time. Others that we can avoid, such as the dietary ones I just listed, can result in a quite rigid way of life where one has to live a fairly isolated and insulated existence in relation to most of society.

To compound this rigid attitude, many people who aim for a very "pure" way of life also avoid television, the media and other potentially corrupting influences. Now I am not trying to advocate any of the products or behaviors that such people are trying to avoid. For the most part, you are better off without them. What I am questioning is the wisdom, practicality and even ultimate health benefits of trying to be completely pure or perfect. I don't have the statistics on this, but I have observed that many proponents of very strict dietary regimes, such as macrobiotic, vegan and "100% all natural, no exceptions, ever" diets often live average, sometimes below average life-spans. Could it be that having a basically relaxed and unstressful attitude towards life is even more important than what you eat? This is my suspicion. I mean this within reason, of course. You still have to pay some attention to what you eat, how much exercise you get and other common sense lifestyle choices. If you study the eating habits and lifestyles of traditional people who tended to live long lives, such as the Hunzas, you find that, in addition to living very active lives physically, they ate a fairly omniverous (as well as natural) diet. You really cannot find any traditional diets that are as strict as those advocated in many modern books on the subject.

This topic reminds me of a very good but not that popular film by the name of Safe, directed by Todd Haynes. In this movie, Julianne Moore plays a troubled Los Angeles housewife who develops an extreme sensitivity to various environmental contaminants. As the film progresses, she becomes more and more sensitive until, by the end, she literally has to live in an isolated bubble. Now this movie is somewhat ambiguous about whether the problem is a toxic world or an oversensitive person, but I think the answer is both.

We have to come to terms with the fact that world is simply not completely safe or pure. It never was, and probably never will be. If we cannot avoid all impurities, perhaps it makes sense to, on the one hand, consume high quality foods and supplements, live as healthy a lifestyle as possible in terms of exercise and other beneficial practices, but on the other hand to have a kind of relaxed and perhaps even fatalistic attitude about the impurities that will inevitably intrude on us. This, rather than an unrealistic policy of strict avoidance, may give us more resistance to them or even allow us to live in harmony with them.
About the Author
Larry Christopher is a writer and researcher on many topics, including cultural issues, metaphysics and alternative health. You can find more information and resources on natural health and wellness at http://www.naturalhealthchoices.info
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