As noted previously, one of the reasons the Nearings left urban life with its many trappings and conveniences was to maintain and improve their health. Scott was 49 years old when they made their break for the Vermont wilderness. Helen was 20 years his junior.
The Nearings saw very clearly that the typical modern lifestyle was inherently unhealthy. For the urbanized masses, work was becoming more sedentary and separated from fresh air and sunshine. Furthermore, the corporate-industrial system was spraying food with synthetic chemicals in the growing, and adulterating the food with chemicals again in the preserving and processing. In their “Good Life” book, the Nearings write:
Among the vested interests that have come to the fore in the modern world there are those who deliberately devitalize, drug, and poison the population for profit. Perhaps it may seem absurd, in this day and age, to write about deliberate poisoning. Most people associate the poisoning of food with family feuds in the Middle Ages, with primitive warfare, or with an occasional bit of spite-work perpetuated in a fit of anger or jealousy. Research shows the words are more applicable today than they were in the days of the Borgias.
Poison, says the dictionary, is “any substance which by reason of an inherent deleterious property tends to destroy life or impair health when taken into the system”. Any food product which tends to destroy life or to impair health therefore may be listed as a poison.
Among the many poisonous foods that are commonly consumed, the Nearings list: white flour, white sugar, polished rice, oleomargarine, canned foods, puddings, cakes, and anything with artificial colors, preservatives, and flavorings. Alcoholic, caffeinated, and carbonated beverages also fall into the poisonous category. Here are a couple more pertinent quotes from the book:
Food processing, poisoning, and drugging is undermining the health of the American people as well as yielding large profits to the individuals and corporations engaged in processing, poisoning, and drugging.
We are equally convinced that the immense sums spent by the food processors, drug manufacturers, and pharmaceutical houses for advertising, propaganda, lobbying, and other types of “public relations” are having a deleterious effect on the well being of the American and other Western peoples.
Helen and Scott wrote those words 56 years ago. They stated that Millions of people in the United States [are] more or less helpless victims of the food industry. It was true then. It is even truer today.
With those things in mind, the Nearings decided they would no longer be victims. They determined to not consume the poisonous food of the industrial providers. They would modify their diet to eat whole, fresh, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. And, being vegetarians, they never ate “the cooked carcasses of beasts, birds, or fish.”
All of which means that they didn’t eat the overwhelming majority of foods found in any modern supermarket. Such foods were seen as part of the “corporate market economy.” And living the good life was a declaration of separation and independence from such an economy.
Beyond the matter of health, those readymade and poisoned foods were seen as completely superfluous. They quote Mark Twain: Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries. Then the Nearings add their own insight: A market economy seeks to ballyhoo and bamboozle consumers into buying things they neither need nor want.” It was true then. It is even truer now.
All of this leads us to the question: How did they survive without all the “good” modern foods?
Well, they actually managed to survive quite well. Scott lived to be 100 years old, and Helen to 91. Both were healthy and active to the end. It is reported that they did not go to doctors, did not have any sicknesses, and were on no medications.
Helen writes in her final book ("Loving and Leaving The Good Life") that, with age, Scott grew physically weaker. When he could no longer carry in their firewood, he decided it was time to go. He simply stopped eating and starved himself to death, at home, while Helen cared for him through the “final episode.” It was suicide by starvation, which, frankly, I find shocking. Helen died in an auto accident while driving herself to town several years later.
The point is, these two people were remarkably healthy and physically productive, and for far longer than the average modern man or woman. They attributed much of this vitality and longevity to their diet. They attributed it to Scott’s “horse chow” mix.
Oh, but look.... time has run out once again. I’ll have to tell you about Scott Nearing’s Horse Chow in my next essay.
CLICK HERE to read the fourth and final essay in this horse chow series.
CLICK HERE to go back to the first essay in this "Horse Chow" series.