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Rachel Carson Redux

One reason why some modern environmentalists are reasonably concerned with the use of particular pesticides, herbicides and fungicides is NOT that direct exposure to any particular dose of them may be harmful to us, or even to other biological species. What they seem to reasonably worry about is that the way the food chain works is that small amounts of toxins which may be in the ground end up in more concentrated forms in insects which they are further concentrated when those insects are preyed upon by spiders, fish and birds, and then these toxins are further increased in density when these animals are eaten by larger predators and so on. In other words, even trace amounts of toxins can be found in high concentrations at the top of very long food chains.

Today let’s not discuss the biology here or the actual evidence to date on just how much damage these toxin concentrations have had on human beings since we started using herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Rather, let’s reflect on religion for a moment. For example, under the laws of Islam, laid down nearly 1,500 years ago, or nearly a millenium and a half before we started using industrial toxins, it appears that people were worried about toxins at the tops of food chains. Hence in Islamic law it is forbidden to eat pigs or dogs and predatory fish. Presumably these were not randomly chosen prohibitions but rather as a way to ensure actual human cleanliness, which had to be related to what might be dangerous about eating these particular foods. You can find similar prohibitions in other religions by looking at where the foods that are prohibited stand in the food chain.

This proves nothing of course, it’s just an interesting (to me) observation.

5 Responses to “Rachel Carson Redux”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    And ironically many of these same “progressives” (God, I hate that term) look down on us Catholics when we don’t eat meat on Fridays or Jews when they don’t eat pork, as we’re some kind of ignoramuses.

  2. Harry says:

    I did not know about the predatory fish part. It does make sense, though; people watched what these animals ate, and, pre-microscope, drew a conclusion.

    This was also pre-refrigerator days, a big problem if you were not an Aleut. One wonders whether Mike Bloomberg would have banned salty food for the homeless, which in those days meant everybody but royalty who owned all the land.

  3. Rod says:

    I can’t think of a fish that’s not a predator. Maybe whale sharks, which eat plankton, but plankton are animals, too.

    I have caught some big codfish, but I usually release them back to the ocean alive when I can. First, they can spawn hundreds of thousands of little codfish; second, older cod can have a lot of worms in them, and one winds up having to cut them out from any steaks or fillets. I’d much rather eat a 5-8 year old cod that’s clean of worms and that has not spent that much time eating fish that have eaten other fish. Yum!

    Pollock, on the other hand, grow pretty fast and can be 10 pounds or more in about five years. They also don’t spend much time on the bottom as cod (cod like to dine on Ipswitch clams). Pollock are just as yummy as codfish.

    As for dietary laws for Muslims and Jews, that’s what experience showed to be a healthy way to eat. Can you imagine what you’d do without your wind-powered generator and Energy Star refrigerator?

  4. chuck martel says:

    One of my best friends was the now-deceased Harry Pitka, one of the dog sled drivers that delivered the mail along the Yukon River and helped carry the serum in the celebrated run to Nome during the diphtheria epidemic in the 1920s. Once during a game of cribbage with Harry I observed that he had been a witness to the progress from literally the stone age to the rocket age. What, I asked, was the most impressive development that he’d seen in this time? His reply was instantaneous, “No doubt about it. Insect repellent. You can’t imagine what it was like before bug dope. Everybody was lousy, everybody had bedbugs. A little kid would be walking along and some woman would grab him and pick lice for a little while and then shoo him away. The next woman he went by would do the same. All summer we spent our time around a smudge, the mosquitoes were so bad. We couldn’t wait until freeze-up and relief from the bugs. Most people now can’t even imagine living without bug dope but I remember it well.”

  5. Rod says:

    Great story, Chuck.

    Jonah Goldberg wrote a story a while back about his visit to the North Slope of Alaska, where immediately upon opening the door of the plane he was riding in, he was assaulted by mosquitoes trying to get up his nose, into his ears and onto every square centimeter of his body. The reason why the caribou (AKA Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) flee to the north slope in the summer months is that they’re continually preyed upon by mosquitoes, bot flies and every parasite that waits all winter to be hatched into an environment that is about as remote and unfriendly to human beings as the Moon. The places where oil companies want to drill are the world’s foremost wastelands, not some Walt Disney happy forest where all the animals get along.

    Come to think of it, that would be a good place for Barack Obama to have his next fund-raiser and speech on “all of the above” energy policy.

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