Historical Evidence of Human Recognition of the Relationship between Soil Quality and Human Health.
Thomas Sauer, National Soil Tilth Lab, USDA-ARS, 2150 Pammel Dr, Ames, IA 50011-4420
That humans have long recognized the impact of soil quality on human nutrition and health is readily apparent in the historical records of numerous cultures. Human attitudes toward soil were shaped by their degree of understanding of how their personal survival and/or their culture’s prosperity depended upon productive soils. Examples from art and literature of Mediterranean cultures, for instance, illustrate a very high regard for productive lands. Conversely, poor soils were often equated with chronic malnutrition and “weak” or inferior races. Nonetheless, such attitudes did not necessarily lead to good soil stewardship. Even the most advanced cultures were unable to enact effective measures to protect what they recognized to be a vital resource, often with dire consequences. Later, in the New World, soils were exploited, depleted, and abandoned as pioneers moved on to settle new areas. Soils suffering from physical, chemical, or biological degradation were typically described as “tired” or “exhausted”, inferring an interesting parallel between human symptoms and soil condition. Even as late as the mid-20th century, farm publications urged farmers to be good stewards as “good soils = good health” implying that care for the land would result in a healthier and happier life for them and their communities. Today, increasing interest in organic food production practices and source of origin labeling are the modern manifestation of humans’ recognition that soil quality affects food quality and human health.