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Leather Storrs: Organic Gardening and The Power of Poop

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


The subject of fecal transplanting seems a suicide intro for a food column. And yet, the very fact that we have progressed to a point where this practice is both plausible and sought after suggests a major disturbance in the force. 

A rapid rise in gastro-intestinal issues coupled with increases in allergies and food intolerance is being combatted with the theory that microbial diversity is the key to healthy guts. Moreover, the breakdown of the mechanism we use to process and move fuel through our human machine demands that we take a more critical and careful look at our fuel.

As far as trendy topicality, fecal transplanting nails the talking points. It gets all three “R’s”-reduce, reuse, recycle- it’s endlessly sustainable, often organic and it’s a folksy, low-tech solve to a spooky modern problem. 

Unfortunately, it is not a proactive solution, but rather a back end band-aid (…must… resist… poop jokes…) designed to address the damage caused by our flawed fuel and twenty first century lifestyle. I can see the New Yorker cartoon now. 

One haggard businessman at a 3 martini lunch says to his companion: “It’s o.k., I’ve got a freezer full of turds from a 20 year old aboriginal vegan.”

The central argument behind fecal transplanting is that healthy and diverse gut flora = healthy intestines, better resistance to infection and disease and a better ability to process raw material.  

A version of this concept was first and best explained to me by Doug Tunnel, the owner and wine maker of Brick House Vineyards. Tunnel planted the first organic vineyard in the state of Oregon and he continues to make extraordinary Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir from its fruit. 

I worked at Brick House for three years at the turn of the century and many of my thoughts about the politics of food were shaped by Tunnel’s teaching. After a day of driving a tractor equipped with two flamethrowers through the vineyard, Doug expounded on the reasons behind flames instead of Round-up as an herbicide (as if anyone needs a real reason to drive around with a fire breathing monster tractor).  

Biological diversity makes it difficult for one organism to gain a majority over others. Full spectrum herbicides wipe out broad swaths of organisms and drastically reduce an ecosystem's ability to self-govern. It is not a great leap to apply the same thinking to guts, or even society.

Research on the gut flora of different cultures proves an inverse relationship between technology and health. The more processed the fuel we put into our bodies, the less diversity we have in our intestines and the more likely we are to suffer from G.I. distress and food intolerance. 

Antibiotics, pesticides and Rudy Giuliani are all examples of threats to diversity. The difference in the farming example is that it is a pro-active approach rather than a reactionary one. Regardless, the ultimate message is a simple one: If you want to participate in a cultural shift towards health and biological sustainability, stop eating crap instead of swapping it.

Leather Storrs is an Oregon native who has served 20 years in professional kitchens. He owns a piece of two area restaurants: Noble Rot and Nobleoni at Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he yells and waves arms. He quietly admits to having been a newspaper critic in Austin, Texas and Portland.    


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