I don’t usually pay any attention at all to dietary advice. I just eat whatever I feel like eating. But I got interested in Dr Joel Wallach when somebody left a comment with a YouTube link of him speaking someplace. I ended up watching the video, and the other 8 videos accompanying it.
Wallach had been a vet, and he said that domesticated animals were fed very precise quantities of minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and so on in pellet form. It was the result of a century or more of careful experimentation. He said that a great many diseases – like scurvy, rickets, goitre, anaemia, beri-beri, pellagra – were Nutritional Deficiency diseases. They happened when diets lacked key ingredients. And they were cured by providing the missing ingredients. And many of these ingredients were minerals. There were, he said, 9 minerals that plants needed to be healthy, but 60 minerals that humans needed.
After working as a vet for many years, Wallach also got himself qualified to practise human medicine as well. But he was scathing about doctors. He said that people who ignored medical advice – eating eggs and butter, smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky and not doing exercise – had better health than the ones who took medical advice. He said that the advice of the medical profession was pretty worthless, because doctors themselves only lived on average to the age of 58. He also said that the Japanese, who (against medical advice) were heavy smokers, and who also (against medical advice) ate a lot of salt, had the highest longevity in the world. He said that in the USA 300,000 people a year were killed by medical negligence, and 3.5 million killed, injured, or infected through medical malpractice.
I guess that the reason that I took notice of him was that I eat eggs and butter, and smoke cigarettes, and drink whisky, and do very little exercise, and it’s heartening to find someone who says that there’s nothing wrong with doing that. And also because, given the war they’ve launched on smoking and drinking, my opinion of doctors has plummeted in recent years. Though not quite as far as his. He called them ‘quacks’. Which oddly enough, is what my father used to call them.
There wasn’t quite perfect, eye-to-eye agreement, though. He regarded frying food as a good way to kill yourself, because margarine and oil was full of free radicals. And, well, I fry stuff quite often. And while I like eggs, I don’t eat six of them every day like he does.
He said that the people with the highest longevity in the world were the Hanza(?) from the Karakorum mountains, and the fact that they watered their plants with mineral-rich glacier waters probably explained their longevity. He also said that adding wood ash to soil had long been known as a way of increasing plant growth and health. And they did this too. Ash, he said, consisted of the minerals present in the burned plants.
I got interested in wood ash at this point, and did a bit of investigating.
Generally, wood ash contains less than 10 percent potash, 1 percent phosphate and trace amounts of micro-nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc. Trace amounts of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, nickel and chromium also may be present. Wood ash does not contain nitrogen. The largest component of wood ash (about 25 percent) is calcium carbonate, a common liming material that increases soil alkalinity.
It then occurred to me that cigarette ash is most likely made up of the same set of minerals. In fact, maybe a lot more, given the “4,000 chemicals” that are supposed to be present in tobacco smoke, and that I could probably use my own cigarette ash as a fertilizer for the plants I’m growing (I think I may actually do this).
I’d just begun to start thinking of cigarette ash as a valuable source of minerals, when I came across reports of cats eating cigarette ash, and pigeons too, and even people.
As I toddled around my grandmother’s living room, my cousin would carefully prepare an ashtray as if it was a savory plate of appetizers and she was Rachel Ray. Pushing cigarette butts to one side and sifting ashes to the other, she would call me over, a smile spreading across her five-year-old face, and say, “Eat this.” I happily obliged, licking a tiny finger, then eagerly plunging it into the smokers’ repository before I carried the delicacies to my lips. I continued, with her urging, until the glass bowl was spotless, and filters of L&M’s, Kent’s, and Kool’s were all that remained. She would move on to the next table with an ashtray, repeat the process, and wait patiently as I finished my hors d’oeuvres. This ritual went on for months before we were found out. The tell-tale grey ash lingering around the mouth of a two-year-old, the curiously clean ashtrays devoid of burned cigarette remains, and the carefully sorted filters eventually caught the attention of the adults.
…Forty-some years later, I can still remember the tangy, sweet taste of the melt-in-your-mouth delights.
So that’s what an ashtray tastes like: tangy, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth. And perfect for children. Worth remembering if anyone ever says that somebody ‘tastes like an ashtray’.
But I also thought that, since cigarette smoke consists in part of suspended particulates, these were probably ‘fly ash’. And as such it will be mineral rich, just like cigarette ash or wood ash. And when you inhale cigarette smoke, you get a low dose of a whole range of minerals, as well as nicotine and niacin and carbon monoxide and all the other goodies Rose tells us about.
It wouldn’t just be in tobacco smoke, but also in wood smoke, and probably coal smoke too. People who live in smoky environments are probably getting a mineral supplement to their diets. And when you take the smoke and its minerals away, they start getting nutritional deficiency disorders. Dr Joel Wallach reckoned that Alzheimer’s was a physician-generated deficiency disease. It hadn’t existed prior to 1979.
Anyway, I was quite impressed by the motormouth Dr Joel Wallach. He seemed to have the facts at his fingertips, and as a veterinarian he was coming out of an interesting left field. But how do you judge? How can you really tell if somebody really knows what they’re talking about?
Easy. You study the necktie that they’re wearing.
And the necktie that Dr Wallach was wearing, I felt, was a tad garish. In fact, it looked like a piece of Abstract Expressionism that might have been produced by William de Kooning or Jackson Pollock or maybe Joan Miro. Heck, it was almost a Vorticist necktie. And it was surrounded by an alarming number of lapel buttons too.
So, sorry, no chance that I’ll start eating six eggs a day anytime soon. But don’t take my word for it. Go take a look at that necktie yourself.