Miller (Family Medicine/Univ. of California, San Francisco) steps outside medicine’s orthodoxy to explore the connection between sustainable farming and healthy living.
The author, who examined diets in traditional communities in The Jungle Effect (2008), has now traveled to family farms around the United States to learn how the principles of sustainable farming apply to integrative medicine and healthy living. Impelled on her journey by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie’s The Soul of Soil (1996), the author spent time on a biodynamic farm and an aromatic herb farm in Washington, on a bison ranch in Missouri, with an egg producer in Arkansas, at a winery in California’s Sonoma Valley and in community gardens in the Bronx. Working hands-on and also picking the brains of the farms’ operators, Miller observed farmers taking a holistic, or “whole system,” approach to their work that she has found to be too often missing in the modern practice of medicine. To illustrate how her broader, more integrated approach to treating patients differs from the common reductionist approach, the author includes revealing stories of her experiences with specific patients. At the end of each farm visit, she sums up the lessons learned. For example, the winery’s pest-management approach suggests to her that cancer should be viewed more as a chronic challenge to be contained rather than as an invader demanding total eradication by the use of harsh treatments. The egg producer’s handling of his flocks of chickens suggests a variety of techniques for reducing human stress. Miller also includes her whimsical hand-drawn maps of each of the locations where she spent time.
While aimed at general readers, the author’s message is also appropriate for physicians and is made palatable by Miller’s persona and the avoidance of preachy smugness.