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Jewish World Review May 21, 2002 / 10 Sivan, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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The perils of nature | What is so great about nature? Since the beginning of time, mankind's quest has been one of overcoming the ravages of nature. To find heat where there was cold, food where there was hunger, shelter where there was only exposure to the elements.

Later, man looked to medicine to cure or alleviate the ravages of injury and disease, and education to overcome our natural ignorance. The industrial age led to mechanization so that the natural limits of man's labor and his ability to travel great distances increased exponentially, and the technological age has done the same for the mind.

Man's eternal striving to conquer or at least tame nature means that today people are living lives twice as long as they did just 100 years ago, and except in the darkest recesses of the world those lives aren't just longer but healthier, better-fed, and more prosperous.

So why is "natural" back?

There is the notion, which has actually gone in and out of fashion for at least the last 30 years or so, that "natural" is somehow superior to its alternatives. Today that idea is "in" with a vengeance.

For example, the market for organic foods continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I'm supposed to buy the expensive "organic" baby food for my 11-month-old, and feed her brother and sisters "natural" Tysons chicken (because "I can" the ad says), and I should certainly pick up some organic breads and vegetables on my way to the checkout counter. Such foodstuffs carry the cache of being nutritionally superior.

But I wouldn't touch any of it with a 10-foot pole. For one thing, "organic" has a pretty imprecise definition, so who even knows what's in that stuff? For another, one favored "natural" fertilizer for the organic crowd is cow manure, which can be loaded with the deadly E.Coli bacteria. And I never again want to come home from the grocery store having mistakenly bought organic lettuce (meaning no chemical pesticides) only to find it crawling with bugs.

I don't worry about theoretical, minute amounts of pesticide residue on food, which has never been shown to cause illness but which does allow food to be produced abundantly and cheaply so that folks can consume varied, more healthful diets. I do worry about the food that's - gulp - natural.

Of course the ultimate in natural may be the growing "home-birth" movement - no doctors, certainly no medication, and lots of friends standing by, even watching. The Associated Press recently reported that for a small but expanding contingent, "unattended" births are the rage, meaning that no midwife is even present.

Sure, some folks may not cotton to calm, protected births in hospitals where the mother can relax and enjoy herself because a safe medication relieves her pain and doctors are standing by to attend to life-threatening emergencies. But those who feel they are somehow superior because they tortured themselves with a "natural" home birth would do well to remember such births were the way of nature in the past, which is why mothers and their newborns so often didn't survive them.

It seems that some people just get excited about doing things the hard way.

Where I absolutely positively draw the line is in organic makeup and skin treatments. I mean, if there was ever a time and place for chemicals, this is it! But Health Magazine reports this month that the "green movement" has hit the cosmetics counter big-time. According to a poll conducted by the magazine, some 83 percent of women prefer "all-natural" products. (Though perhaps it goes without saying that these women couldn't define what that meant.) Health Magazine reports that "natural" cosmetic stores like The Body Shop are booming.

Fortunately, even the magazine admits that the organics might not look as good or as "natural" as their synthetic counterparts, and that the lack of preservatives in organic makeup can mean it harbors call kinds of dangerous - though natural - bacteria and fungi.

"Natural" is everywhere. From the kind of energy we use, to the kind of homes we build, even to the material used in today's breast implants, natural is "in" - no matter if it doesn't work nearly as well, is more scarce, makes things much more tedious or even dangerous, and/or is a lot more expensive.

Yep, since man first walked the earth, he's been trying to get away from nature in things large and small. Which only makes this generation's strange attachment to "natural" so obviously. . . unnatural.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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