Usually I’m firmly committed to the underlying principles of modern biology; natural selection seems like a perfectly fine way for happily adapted creatures to come into being.

About an hour ago, one of my offspring was with me in a public place with a well-traveled cement floor, onto which he accidentally dropped his gum. He picked it up and popped it right back in his mouth. Just now, this same small human organism refused to eat a piece of lettuce that had been in the same bowl with a cherry tomato. (I refuse to disclose whether I got him a bowl of pure and delightsome lettuce).

Shouldn’t this sort of behavior have been bred out of the gene pool a long time ago??


  1. O you humanists of little faith. From an evolutionary perspective, childhood filthiness appears to be protective, training the immune system for healthy adulthood. My favorite study in this vein is one that examined the association between asthma and manure exposure among Teutonic schoolchildren. The upshot is the more crap on your mattress, the less asthma you got.

    Some friends of my wife took this so far that they removed their children’s shoes whenever they went to a petting zoo. So the bigger question is how evolution would select for parental squeamishness about eating garbage off the floor.

  2. My family is prone to allergies, and my mom is a cleanliness germ freak. My dad whose mom didn’t follow any of our practices of practically sterilizing the whole kitchen after meals, and of tossing out food at the slightest hint of a possibility of spoilage, had a cast iron stomach, never got food poisoning, and didn’t have allergies. So I believe it’s true, what the studies say, that childhood filth is protective. However, I can’t eat things now that are at all iffy without getting sick, so naturally I don’t. I don’t think I can bring myself to feed my children bad food either, so I trust I can leave it to their natures to expose themselves in babyhood, by licking the floor and so on, as babies are wont to do. =) My floors are not sterile like my mom’s.

  3. For those of you who haven’t seen this, the baby mop


    is a great way to get your child involved in cleaning your home at an early age. =)

  4. Well, the exposure to germs = less asthma didn’t work in our family. Our house isn’t a pig sty, but it’s been known to harbor a few dust bunnies, we never use hand sanitizer, I always thought colds not a big deal and was a believer in the 5 second rule unless the kitchen floor was really dirty. However, 3 out of our 4 kids have asthma and our 3 year old was just admitted to the hospital for the 2nd time this winter b/c of a severe asthma attack due to a runny nose. Now I find I’m having to become the draconian clean freak just to keep my child out of the hospital.

  5. As far as natural selection, I wish nature would breed little boys who cared about personal hygiene. My son thinks wiping his own bum is gross. When I refused to wipe it b/c he’s more than old enough to take care of it by himself, he decided the preferred option was to not wipe it.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I think the five-second rule is one of the great creations of modern man. I had actually never heard of it until a returned missionary explained it in his welcome home talk over the pulpit (in the context of some story that involved a dropped Oreo cookie, IIRC). But I inherently if ingorantly had been applying its principles for many years. How wonderful to know I was not alone in this.

  7. any mouse says:

    we’re fond of saying, “it’ll boost her immune system.” some things don’t phase me, but others do. don’t touch a thing in a public restroom, but go ahead and eat off our family room floor.

  8. My brother is a microbiologist. He likes to horrify us with stories about how nothing will ever, ever, ever be clean, and hey, did you know right now that bite of food you are taking probably has 27 pieces of poop on it and so on and so on and so on. I prefer to live in ignorance, thanks very much.

  9. Meh. We’re all biological bits and pieces anyway. Poo and dirt are just a part of the cycle. Broccoli on the other hand, that’s a different thing all together.

  10. Some argue that the rise of allergies and related health problems are due to not being exposed enough to microbes as children. Thus the noted correlation between clean living and allergies. So it may well be there is an evolutionary reason for this, although it is speculative.

    (Whoops — see someone mentioned this. I believe that part of the issue is also the cross section of microbes exposed to as opposed to dust bunnies and the like: i.e. a dirty house isn’t quite the same as living on a farm)

    One could also argue that the child’s tendency to do this forces adults to teach it which thing ensures a teaching of what is clean and unclean. Although, to me at least, this seems like not that compelling a reason.

  11. I wish nature would breed little boys who cared about personal hygiene. My son thinks wiping his own bum is gross.

    That’s funny. I reckon in his own way he does care about hygiene, just not how he’s supposed to.