Parasites have been coming up a lot in my life recently. Almost every day I am touching them, looking at them, talking to friends about them. Trying to understand what their role is, in me. Much of it has to do with the salmon we have been preserving; salmon are host to many parasites, but the one I have been paying particularly close attention to is a parasitic nematode this world calls Anasakis. They look like long, stringy white worms, I have seen them in the flesh of almost every salmon I’ve ever butchered, usually still alive, wriggling around. Humans are not hosts for them, they require a marine mammal’s digestive system to continue their life cycle. If a human eats the raw, fresh (drying kills them, there are no eggs present in the flesh, just obvious, living worms) meat of a host fish, they might not ever notice anything, or they might get nauseious and even puke up a clump of these little fellas. In any case, our bodies are not their chosen bodies. Salmon, of course, do carry other parasites that can inhabit our bodies. Like, say, tapeworms.
Yesterday I was slicing up the meat of a deer for drying, and found a few tapeworm cysts in it’s flesh. One way tapeworms reproduce is by migrating out of a hosts digestive system and into the muscle tissue, where they form cysts, a kind of egg almost, the intention being that when a carnivore eats the hosts flesh, the cysts are ingested and come alive in this new, carnivorous host, where they live in the guts and shed eggs via feces. I once butchered a large buck whose back muscles were completely infested with small, stringy white worms – possibly juvenile tapeworms on their journey to encyst.
How does one react? These are all parasites infesting creatures I ate, and continue to eat, raw. Is it disgusting? Stupid? I do sometimes freeze meat (14 days of freezing kills all parasites, says the USDA), or marinate it in salt water or a weak vinegar marinade when it feels just too graphically obvious there are parasites in it that will inhabit me, but this is mostly for phsychological reasons. The times I don’t freeze meat insure I am exposed to these parasites, and, to a certain degree, some of them likely inhabit me.
As they have inhabited humans, always.
Why are we disgusted at parasites? Is it their creepy crawlyness, hiding out in ‘our’ bodies (not theirs), stealing our energy? Do we just not like the idea of sharing our bodies? Or are there actual legitimate health problems that cause an instinctive reaction towards them?
One thing I can’t help but notice, and seems to be of huge relevance, is that many, possibly most, probably all, of the wild animals I have butchered have been inhabited by some kind of parasite. This leads me to believe that wild animals pretty much just live with parasites, that is the way. The remarkable thing is, all of these wild animals have been incredibly strong, beautiful, sensual, well adapted, vibrant creatures, capable of living in balance. Salmon, with anasakis larvae and tapeworm inhabiting their flesh, have a ridiculously strong life force – their whole lives essentially result in creating more fertility where they were born, bringing more beauty and aliveness to this earth. Deer are graceful, quiet, aware, strong, well adapted – with horrific tapeworms apparently robbing their bodies of energy.
Ten years ago, some white hunters in northern B.C. found the body of a native man in a melting glacier while they were hunting mountain goats. Scientists eventually analyzed everything they could about this person, who had died there between 300-160 years ago – his stomach contents, his hair, skin. He was traveling over a mountain range from the coast into the interior, barefoot, wearing nothing but a ground squirrel skin parka and spruce root hat, carrying some seal meat, crab, dried salmon, usnea, and a few tools. Drinking glacier water, eating blueberries. Got caught in a storm. He had tapeworms, fish tapeworms from eating salmon raw, dried or undercooked. What he didn’t have were any of the often severe nutrient deficiencies associated with tapeworm infestations in modern humans. He was hiking across an incredibly rugged mountain range, barefoot, after all.
Is it possible that in a healthy host, some parasites do not actually cause harm? Is it possible that some could even benefit their host, helping it live in a beautiful, sustainable way? It would, after all, be in their best interests to have a host that lives a long, healthy life, wouldn’t it? And what if we, the hosts, need them, in complex, subtle ways, in order to live in balance?
A friend actually got tested for parasites recently, after eating raw meat quite consistently for a couple years. Her doctor told her all she had was a very common parasite, she forgot the name, which even western medicine considers beneficial and essential to a healthy GI tract. There have been many studies showing that certain parasites cause shifts in their host’s immune system, make them less prone to certain allergies, more resistant to certain viruses and infections. It makes sense – it is the same force that drives salmon to enrich their ‘host’: the rivers, forests and oceans they inhabit and depend on for their continuation.
I still have to admit, though, that having a 100 foot long tapeworm living in my guts isn’t appealing.
Presumably fish tapeworms were a near universal ‘affliction’ for the indigenous people living all along the northwest coast, wherever salmon was a major (or minor) food, yet when researchers look, they find that the people living here before civilization, as a whole, had little or no tooth decay, their skeletal structure in general was ideal, most all of the chronic diseases and cancers of modern society were absent (refer to ‘Price, nutrition & physical degeneration’). They did not suffer from deficiencies, despite the parasites inhabiting them. On top of that, they lived in balance with their land bases, as part of them.
Now, when a modern industrial human gets fish tapeworms, they usually don’t notice them, but if they do, it’s often because of severe nutrient deficiencies ( B12 deficiency, anemia etc.). I suspect that periodic cleansing, taking strong anti-parasitic plants internally, and a diet free from processed foods, grains and high amounts of sugars, allowed the indigenous people here to have fish tapeworms inhabiting their bodies in a way that was not pathological, that was balanced and symbiotic. If a modern diet has an unbalancing effect on our bodies, it must follow that whatever parasites are inhabiting us would be knocked out of balance also. So one way of ‘dealing’ with parasites, and this is the one I advocate, is eating traditional foods – excluding grains and large amounts of sugars (that includes fruit sugars, honey, maple syrup etc.), foods that knock our bodies out of balance, and are the foundation of this culture that knocks everything alive out of balance.
Still, there are parasites that the indigenous people of this land would get very sick from. Like, say, trichinosis – a parasite that inhabits the flesh (skeletal muscle tissue, specifically) of omnivores (bear, raccoon, seal, cat etc..), sometimes fatal to humans when ingested, hence warnings to always cook the meat of such creatures very well, while the meat of herbivores is commonly eaten rare or raw totally safely.
Many cultures had/have strict taboos against eating bear, likely related in part to trichinosis. Others had taboos against eating bear flesh (where the parasites are), but would still hunt bears for their fat, which would be rendered (cooked) for storage anyways. Yet Bears, raccoons, cougars, wolves and sea lions, incredible, powerful, amazing creatures, live amazing lives while inhabited by trichinosis. Like us, they are omnivores, but something allows them to live amazing lives with trichinosis while we, even if healthy, get sick or die….
Slicing up salmon to dry a couple weeks ago, pulling stringy anasakis worms out of their flesh, still alive, a friend and I discussed what we should do about all of these parasites in our food? Why not cook it all? Cause cooking meat (red meat in particular) causes it to become carcinogenic, way less digestible – and not as storeable. Eating cooked meat you are guaranteed to be ingesting something that is in some way bad for you, whereas eating it raw, you are guaranteed that you are eating something good for you, that humans have eaten forever, that *may* give you parasites, which might not affect you in a bad way, depending on the creature you are eating and your health in general. Freezing is a good option if you really want to reduce you chances of infestation, that is if it’s below freezing outside, or you live with electricity. I don’t, and, eventually, humans won’t, so it isn’t a long term solution. I jokingly said to my friend: ‘we could just microwave it all, I bet that would kill the parasites!’ And it’s true, it would – in fact until all of this earth, and our bodies, have been irradiated, parasites will continue inhabiting us – they are everywhere – and we will continue seeing only a tiny glimpse of what they are, as part of who we are.
WHAT WE DO:
We usually eat the meat of herbivores raw, dried, without any anti-parasitic measures. Like I said before, though, if it is just too obvious there is a huge amount of parasites inhabiting a creature, we do something to ease our minds – these are all methods of eliminating parasites from you food, though I would only apply cooking and freezing to omnivores:
-freezing 14 days
-marinading in salt water or vinegar water (exact proportions I do not know)
-drying kills some parasites (anasaki, possibly others) and reduces viability of many it doesn’t
-fermenting kills some parasites, if there is a signifigant change in the ph (acidity) of the meat.
-sprinkling salt on meat, provided it is sliced thinly enough
Eat traditional foods, what your ancestors ate, or what makes sense in the bioregion you currently inhabit – too many visits to the cake dumpster and those-who-inhabit-you will go crazy!