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The Waki Way - Living full-time in a motor home

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We always seem to get asked the same questions about living somewhat off grid in a motor home, to which the answers seem to spark a dozen more questions! So (to give our voices a rest!) here's the answers to our most frequently asked questions...

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Warning - this article may cause side effects...

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.netImage courtesy of freedigitalphotos.netPart 2 in the series Intensive Future: Progress isn't always a forward direction.

15th July 2016


This article has taken longer than I had anticipated to write, but I'd say the final result is worth the wait! As with any subject as complex as this one, every point I began to explain raised yet more related points worth including and it takes a lot to put it all into some order that makes sense to read – or at least I hope it does to someone other than myself! It seems that writing begets yet more writing and needless to say I now have many more series of articles expanding further upon these subjects, noted and waiting to be written...


My previous article took us into the life of the dairy cow and meat animal, if you haven't read it yet you can do so here. An important point to carry over from that article was the rising over-use of medications and poor quality animal feed that may also affect us as consumers. The main point of that article however, and this series overall, was really to question the ethics of our modern day intensive farming, since in our rush to produce more and more we seem to have strayed some way from our morals. Part 2 of this series is grounded in more physical concepts – things that can be scientifically measured and that have a real effect on our health.

I want to talk about the growing problem of the chemicals that surround us every day, and not just in the foods we eat. Of course technically, every substance in existence could be classified as a chemical... plants, rocks, even our own bodies are made up of an array of elements bonded together by physical concepts to create chemical compounds. In order to be alive we need chemicals to interact with other chemicals through the process of metabolism to produce energy for our cells and to remove chemical by-products. The instruction manual for our cells 'DNA', stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, and in theory even our very own thoughts and emotions are the result of chemicals! What I'm getting at for starters here is that chemicals aren't necessarily good or bad by themselves, however what is fast becoming a global problem is the over-use of synthetic chemicals that have no place in our bodily functions. We are being consistently exposed to these substances in our day to day lives and the effects they can have on us sure is a complex one!


Let's begin by looking at medicines, now bear with me here – you probably wasn't expecting a biology class but hang in there! Unless we're talking about herbal remedies, medications are synthetic chemicals, manufactured in a lab. As we've briefly reminded ourselves, chemicals are processed by the body through a variety of functions and depending on how the body recognises the chemical, and depending on what its current need is, the body will process the chemical in different ways. The intention of a medication is to cause a desired reaction (generally to reduce pain or other unwanted symptoms) and then to be excreted safely from the body, however it's not often as simple as that...

The body makes use of the chemicals provided to it as it sees fit. Our bodies are really a kind of sophisticated salvage and reuse system, taking whatever useful materials they come across from our food and the air around us to do the remarkable – repairing and maintaining a whole human being, cell by cell! Even more surprisingly not every cell working in our bodies is human, as our bodies have evolved to sub contract some bodily tasks to bacteria in a force approximately equal to the number of our own human cells! Still, even with the extra help, it's no easy feat to create 200billion plus of our own highly specialised cells per day (give or take since they're so tricky to count!) - especially when we often admit we don't give our bodies everything we know they need.


What shouldn't be.

Some substances have no use in our bodies for cell creation or energy purposes yet end up on board all the same. We expect that our bodies are able to recognise anything out of place and work to remove it but for many reasons that doesn't always happen, or at least not fast enough for there to be no adverse effects from its presence. Another point to remember is that some of the more unusual compounds can remain indefinitely to build up in our bodies over time because we lack the biological mechanisms to expel them.

One fascinating yet tragic example of toxin retention was the terrible fate suffered by 'the Radium girls', a group of around 70 women hired to paint watch faces with luminous paint. These days we all know the dangers of radiation, but in the 1920's the Radium the glowing paint contained was new and the material hailed as safe – in fact it was being pedalled as a health supplement at the time! > Radium is not a substance that our body needs and that we don't tend to come across naturally, but the interesting thing is that if by some means it does end up in the body (such as by licking a paintbrush containing it like the ladies at the factory were encouraged to do) the body sees fit to send it to the bones which it then goes on to destroy. I know what you're thinking, we don't use Radium to produce our food so unless you're going to lick a few thousand luminous paintbrushes you won't be suffering the same fate as those ladies! Of course you are correct, I use this simply as an easy example of how the body can accidentally transfer and store disruptive toxins, that for whatever reason it deems fit for purpose somewhere in the body.

Radium isn't the only substance that can hang around in the body once it finds a way in but the build up of such toxins and exactly what they do to us is far too large a subject to go into in detail here so I'll save the nifty title of 'intracellular accumulation' for it's own series. If you really don't want to wait for that I would suggest looking up the sources and effects of heavy metals first (mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminium, and arsenic) since they're a more everyday exposure risk to many of us.

We've also all read the lists of possible side effects on the enclosed leaflet in some over the counter drugs when we're sick which is to be expected, we accept that there is often a price to pay. When we decide to take medication we figure that the risks of side effects are outweighed by the hopeful benefit of feeling better! Whether or not the medications commonly sold to us by pharmaceutical businesses are really as safe as they're made out to be is not the point of this article, that is also a subject for another day. My point is to highlight the sheer volume of synthetic chemicals we consume daily and the issue that many have no place in our bodies.


The unexpected unknown.

In the previous article I explained how our intensively-farmed food animals are often loaded with antibiotics and other medications to combat sickness and to ensure that as many animals as possible make it to slaughter. The same thing is also done to our plant crops to treat and prevent outbreaks of disease in the form of fungicides and the like. The higher the yield, the more profit the farmer will hopefully make which is especially poignant considering the way that supermarket prices are being driven lower and lower!

When we 'medicate' our food some of it will undoubtedly remain tied up within the very cells of the food organism which we then go on to consume. What initially looks like a sealed smooth surface on a plants leaf and it's fruit, is in reality covered with pores constantly moving air and water in and out, if you cover it's surface with a chemical some of it will work its way inside as well as being taken up from the soil through its roots - we can wash our food before eating but we cannot rinse every trace away. Of course these chemicals are tested in laboratories and deemed safe for consumption before being approved for use in our food, the safe quantities for use being determined and offered as guidelines at the point of sale but what consumers really end up with in the real world and the effects they have really cannot be accurately predicted. People each live very different lives from one another and consume differing quantities of medications and chemically treated food. Some wash their veg first and some do not, and so the actual quantities of ingested chemicals can vary dramatically from person to person as can any risk of interactions with medication or supplements they may personally be taking as well.

This TED talk by Russ Altman explains the tricky task of figuring out how medications can have different effects on our bodies when combined and just how powerful the effects can be. I highly suggest you give it your time before moving on to the next section...


The traces mount up.

I know what you're probably thinking; “So what if a teensy bit of fungicide ends up on or even in my tomatoes? I'll be fine since I'm not a fungus!” That's exactly what the corporate scientists reassure us, yet we also know that tiny things add up and we have no idea what happens when these growing numbers of chemicals are combined. When you really tally up exactly what we are exposed to daily it's easy to see how it could mean a side effect threat worth considering as carefully as a packet of medication.

Include with your medicated dairy products and meat, all the traces of chemical fertiliser, pesticides, fungicides, and preservative chemicals in your bread. Add to those sources the traces of the same pesticides and fertilisers on your vegetables and salad, and the extra pieces of fruit you try to eat daily to be healthier. Refined foods like cheap vegetable oil, sugar, and flour, can also contain traces of industrial chemicals since the processes involve chemically separating the desired compounds from their natural form. Some products, basically anything white, are even bleached to make sure that they're an appealing brightness to consumers.

These days it has come to a point where not only do we consume traces of production by-products and agri-business chemicals, our foods themselves include synthetic binding and thickening agents, synthesised vitamin compounds (to replace the ones lost during refining but never to be used in place of a varied diet...), and unnatural sugar substitutes as the very ingredients.

The chemicals we use to wash our clothes, disinfect our homes, and help run our cars and industries can be absorbed through our porous skin on contact. We wash our bodies and our eating utensils using harsh chemicals and absorb their residues too, a trace here and a trace there...

The chemicals which find their way into a drain go on to enter the water cycle of the Earth itself, returning to us in the bodies of fish. Pollutants in the air are carried back down to us in rain. Even the water from our taps has had yet more chemicals added to it, to sterilise (chlorine) and medicate (fluoride) - now the traces are really mounting up! Our bodies lack the vigour and satisfaction we feel deep down that we should have, and so we reach again for yet more synthetic cures and pick-me-ups. Our skin and hair is so sick we have to slather on chemical creams and petroleum based toxic products which we of course then also absorb! How many traces is that?


Is your head swirling yet? Perhaps you feel a bit sick? I did warn you that this article may cause side effects... ;) Reading the last section may have left you feeling a little like Alice, having tumbled down a rabbit hole of horrors with no idea what you should do next or how you're even going to get out of there – I've felt that way multiple times throughout my journey so far. I did say at the start of this series that they might change your life, this chemical-intensive reality is difficult to swallow – figuratively and literally!

Don't worry dear reader, I won't abandon you here - I'm writing this series because I came from a position like you and it's taken years to discover the truth and a way out, and now that I have I want to help others do the same.


What did we do?

We made a decision to cut out as many artificial chemicals as we could and switched to an Organic lifestyle. The great thing about considering an Organic lifestyle is that it can be undisputed as a safe food choice. I can say that Organic food is safer because the chemicals under fire are quite simply not involved, and no chemicals = no worries to even debate. The alternative is to use the produce of Intensive Agri-business' and organisms developed by chemical corporations, always accompanied by the ongoing debate of whether any of the products are truly safe for our consumption, not to mention the terrible damage to the environment they're used in. Personally I think the answers have already been found. Despite some terrifying results on trials with mice, clinical studies still struggle to prove and predict exactly what really happens to us humans when exposed to individual or combined chemicals because it can take a lifetime for the traces of these chemicals to build up and for the problems to begin to show but they're there all the same.

If you haven't guessed it already we feel better than ever before! ;)


Remember the 'hired help' bacteria? In a way I think we should stop thinking of our bodies as an individual organism, and more as a 'we', an extremely tightly knit team working towards the one purpose of being a human! Like any successful organisation 'we' depend on maintaining a happy workforce. Anything we consume can also affect the 'workers' so we must take better consideration when deciding whether a chemical is 'worth it' to us overall. We owe it to our body-teams to feed them with as many useful nutrients as we can and at the same time limiting the number of unnecessary chemicals that will cause it damage or extra work.

Of course, nothing in life is ever quite so simple! Food production and farming methods need to radically change and that will take time and money, and even if we each switched to a completely Organic lifestyle today we are still likely to come into contact with some chemicals day to day through air pollution and other sources outside of our control. The difference would be that the overall traces of unwanted chemicals will be substantially lower, allowing our bodies to do their jobs as nature intended relatively unhindered - and the sales of better products (and the losses on environment harming ones) will send a louder message to industry than any petition on the topic. So what is the future? That, is for us to decide...


Thank you very much for reading, and for sticking with me through my rambling crash course in biology and ethics! Next week we'll push on to part 3 the final part of this series 'Killed by convenience' where we shall hold a magnifying glass to industrially processed foods and investigate just how different they can be from the same foods prepared from scratch in our own homes.


We welcome discussion on this extremely complex topic, so please leave a comment in the section below!

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About us:

My name is Sarah and in 2011 my husband Ryan and I decided to buy and re-fit an old motor home - we named it Waki and now live in it full time in the UK!

We live neither on or off-grid, rather somewhere in between, and are not the first and I dare say not the last to choose this way of life... read more>> 

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