“Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” [Dr. Joel V. Weinstock] said. He and Dr. [David] Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Also helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat,” which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.
When Laura, my firstborn, arrived, a dear friend of the family then in her eighties invited both of us to tea. Before we left, she leaned over and told me, “You know they’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before they die!” She’d be happy to know that the medical experts in today’s New York Times agree, though she’d be shaking her head to think that people nowadays need to buy a book explaining Why Dirt Is Good.
The compromise for the insistence on handwashing before meals is that we have one dog, 20 cats, a herd of cattle, four horses, and three dozen or so chickens (joined in summer by collections of grasshoppers, salamanders, frogs, and the odd gopher). None of them in the house, though. No antibacterial soap in here, either. And in winter the kids wear their Baffin boots. Bare feet when it’s -39 C, even without the wind chill, is just too much to bear.