A Op-Ed piece in the New York Times “Dirtying Up Our Diets” by Science and Archaeology reporter Jeff D. Leach (also writer and founder of the Human Food Project ( The premise of the article is that the rise of allergic and autoimmune disorders is due, in part to the dirt that once encrusted both our food and us. We’re too clean.

I’m partly to blame as well. When I teach fitness classes that involve hand weights, I encourage my participants to wash their hands afterwards because, “You don’t know where the weights have been.” Most don’t wash their hands. They go straight for the hand sanitizers that have been hanging on the walls since the SAARS epidemic a few years ago,

We are washing away the friendly bacteria as well – the ones that build up our immune systems. As a result of hanging out in pristine and overly protective environments, my grand kids have allergies. One is even allergic to cold weather and breaks out in hives when the temperature dips below freezing.

I should know better. When I first got my degree in archaeology I secured a position on an archaeological project at a little village in Vancouver called Musqueum. I realized before I began that there was an epidemic of smallpox that ravaged all of the indigenous populations along the coast. I also knew that I had avoided anything resembling smallpox vaccinations when I was a kid. I always snuck off to the boiler room to hang out with the school janitors when vaccinations were administered.

I went to the doc and ordered a vaccination for myself, as smallpox is a virus, and I thought, since so little was known about viruses, I thought I might dig one up.

The vaccine made me so sick that I missed the first two weeks of the project. My arm swelled up so it resembled one of Popeye’s, I was sensitive to light, and I had a fever complete with cold spells.

The late Dr. Charles Borden, the father of British Columbia archaeology, said, “How the hell did you grow up in a coastal city without getting your shots?”

I had no answer.

I found it interesting that it is an archaeology writer who would found an agency dedicated to eating dirt. I once wrote a piece “LET THEM EAT ROCKS”( that at least had some people believe that rocks may be a food source. Why not dirt?

Most things in archaeology have to do with dirt. Before I noticed that the surfaces of artifacts might have important chemical residues on them, archaeologists used to delight in putting stone tools in their mouths and licking off the dirt. They always told me it was so they could see the edges, but I suspect it was a little healthy snacking.

While we dug at Musqueum, the kind people at the Musqueum Golf Course Clubhouse let us have lunch in the café – provided we did all we could to hose off our protective crusts of mud before entering. I suspect we kept the staff and guests astonishingly healthy – but only the ones that would get close to us.

In the summer, I wore sandals to the site. We would never get away with than now, as there are rues of compensation. Once a kid came up to me and pointed at my feet. “Do you dig with those?” he asked.

I worked on a site in the resort town of Crescent Beach – also near Vancouver. It was a midden site with a living floor in it. Protruding from the floor was a 80 foot western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla. )We thought that If I could bore a small hole in it, we could get a profile of the growth rings and find the age of the tree, that would give us a hint of the minimum age of the site.

The tool I used was a increment auger. One screws it into the tree at chest height . When it hits the centre, one inserts a long springy steel blade called a spoon. Hopefully the spoon would fit all the way down the length of the auger. Then the spoon will pull out a core that would be taken to the lab, X-rayed, and he rings counted using a photodensitometer.

I was about to extract the spoon when one of the many vacationers asked what I was doing.
I told him.

“Well what’s that stuff coming out of the trunk?”

“There’s nothing coming out,” I said. “But in a minute, if I’m lucky, the core will be.”

“Why don’t you JUST take a look,” he said.

I did. There was a stream of hot syrupy pitch gushing out of my auger. It had taken the spoon and the core with it, which was lucky. Unluckily, I had to unscrew the auger while the sweet liquid gushed all over me.

I had a chemistry professor explain that chemistry all boiled down to stickiness. That afternoon I became an entire chemistry set. I was covered with dirt, twigs, a few deer bones, several ancient fish bones, twigs, and an artifact.

I suspect the event gave me enough resistance to withstand a half century of autoimmune diseases.

Mike Broderick WAS the Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he FOUND employment for people with physical disabilities.


He remains an active ambassador with the Vancouver Board of Trade and a member of the Labour Task Force of the Burnaby Board of Trade He does some work as a field Archaeologist and is a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at or at 604-464-4105

If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates .

Apparently 22% of companies in the Greater Vancouver area will be hiring within the next month. Get your resumes ready.


2 Responses to “HERE’S MUD IN YOUR PIE”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Your theory is correct. I think that the more I stay inside to protect my allergies, the more allergic I get. Bah Humbug!
    Great story, funny and full of interesting facts. How did you get that tree sap and other stuff off of you?

  2. mikebroderick Says:

    In chemistry, one earns that like dissolves like. Turpintine is a solvent made from tres, therefore turpintine it was. If you’re ever in a position to remove large quantities of pitch from your body, keep the turpintine away from your eyes

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