From the Earth to Its Harvest (Environmental and Dietary Understanding)

Environmental Factors:

In different places in the world, there are different illnesses and diseases that can occur. This is a crucial part of healthcare that must be understood by doctors prior to treating patients. For example a doctor in the Dominican Republic would be more likely to diagnose Malaria while a doctor in Alabama would be more likely to diagnose diseases from tick bites if presented with the same set of symptoms. In the Dominican Republic there is a larger amount of the mosquitos that carry the malaria virus and it is therefore a more common disease. However, Malaria is less of a problem in Alabama due to the different environment and therefore would be diagnosed less often.


Tick bite

Another example of area specific diseases was called Kuru, which is only found in the New Guinea Highlands ( Kuru is specific to this area as a result of the cultural ritual of eating dead relatives, but the initial cause of the disease is unknown. However, the Kuru symptoms is very similar to a degenerative brain disorder. While Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is not common, there are roughly 300 cases in the United States a year ( With Kuru the incubation period is between 30-40 years, it is possible for an individual to contract the disease at a young age and then move to the United States before showing symptoms of the disease. A doctor would be very unlikely to diagnose a patient with Kuru without prior information about the disease and could easily misdiagnose the patient with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

As a result it is important for doctors to know about diseases that are specific to certain areas. This information is something that must be learned through a combination of being taught and through life experience. In some ways there are things that must be taught like the history of the region as far as the Kuru disease. Because it is not a common disease it is not something that a doctor would be likely to experience first hand. However for a doctor that grows up in an environment in which diseases are more common, they would be able to accurately diagnose certain diseases.

Dietary Factors:

The president of a local branch of Slow Foods once told me, “Food is something we have in common. Everyone eats.” This isn’t uncommon wisdom, but significant nonetheless. There are no exceptions to our shared need for nutrients. However, people approach nutrition in various ways for various reasons (some healthier than others). For the purpose of medical learning, I would like to think that nutrition is partially experienced and taught.

Early humans had the important job of establishing culinary understanding. It may sound fancy and illustrious, but it really consisted of trial and error. But with error came death (via poison, food fighting back, etc.), which teaches the living. Cooking with fire and different hunting methods were very important for the development of early humans, which made nutrients more accessible and less dangerous ( Therefore, all of our dietary knowledge had to be experienced first. Teaching would have to take place afterwards. In order for doctors or other professionals to educate others about nutrition, they should at least have some kind of direct experience (“Physician, heal thyself.” -Luke 4:23).

However, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” How obnoxious would it be if a doctor could only learn by experiencing things themselves (not to mention impossible)? Thankfully, as the internet so kindly reminds us, there are a lot people experiencing different things. Teaching comes in handy through compilation and distribution of the experiences of others. While experience may be vital, teaching is much more realistic and efficient. It would have taken a long time for you to understand that you can’t eat mac and cheese all the time when you were younger; your parents had to teach you by forcing you to eat vegetables. I’ll let you ponder the effectiveness of such a method.

-Emily Donkervoet and Kasey Marshall

1 thought on “From the Earth to Its Harvest (Environmental and Dietary Understanding)

  1. Ashley

    Great blog entry. It was interesting how you both agreed each factor must be both taught and experienced; however, environmental was more of an adapting process where has dietary habits were primarily taught. It is very much like life itself; we adapt to our surrounding and are taught the culture.


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