Why ‘Back-to-Nature’ Fundamentalists are Worth Studying

You, along with 100 percent of the other people who clicked on this article, are currently using an electronic device. So its safe to say that a life without modern technological luxuries would be quite a shock to most of my readers here, as well as those who watch Live Free Or Die, Nat Geo’s show about “wilders,” Americans who voluntarily return to natural habitats and surrender most technology from the 20th century on. Aside from showcasing interesting DIY crafts, Live Free Or Die spends most of its time exploring why people leave settled society to live in the wilderness, and the costs and benefits of doing so.

The choice is an intersection of personal preference and politics. Forgoing a life with modern amenities is a political statement – some of the “back-to-nature” cast members view their choice to renounce modern technology as moral, and look with disdain at the economic system that allows development and the destruction of wildlife to go largely unpunished. Others simply prefer this ascetic existence for various reasons ranging from a much slower lifestyle to its inexpensiveness. 

But while it may be enjoyable for a select few or politically admirable in certain environmentally conscious crowds, there’s a disconnect between the liberated rhetoric and evidence that returning to the wild can be a healthy decision. Everyone on the show has made a conscious decision to leave society behind and serve as a champion of such a lifestyle on national television. As back-to-nature cast members tell it, returning to the wild allows individuals to relieve themselves of the stresses or modern life, and live the healthier, stress-free lifestyle. This is certainly true, but most of these cast members are also swearing of human contact by living a life completely in the wild.

Here’s the problem: while many studies demonstrate that being alone can be unhealthy, scientists also understand the health benefits of living a life with more exposure to nature. Neither of these primary arguments study the idea of personal exile or sustained contact with nature, free of contemporary societal intrusions.

This is the contradiction. According to the Department of Agriculture, research shows that frequent interaction with nature can yield lower blood pressure, cholesterol and stress, and has been linked to longevity. However, studies of those who live alone and in relative social isolation show that limited contact with others increases a person’s overall risk of death over time.

Obviously, these aren’t dichotomous findings – somewhere there’s a middle ground, though we don’t currently know where it is. Is there a point at which too much nature depresses us? According to a study that the Atlantic reported on several years ago, natural environments have a unique constellation of features that sets them apart from man-made locations – even those with a significant amount of green space and lovely architecture. Is there a happy middle ground where exposure to a certain amount of nature while sticking to a modern diet is healthy? It’s difficult to say with the information that’s available.

The allure of a stress-free lifestyle in the woods has transfixed Americans since Walden Pond, spawning imitators with its promises of true rugged individualism. And while few of us are headed into the wilderness any time soon, perhaps studying those who do will better allow us to understand the true health benefits of nature.


  1. rosee miller-sharkey
    October 28, 2014, 4:28 pm

    I enjoy watching the people in the episodes that have gone to live in the woods. I am a nurse that was injuried in the SARS outbreak. Since then I have always wanted to go back living like my ancestors. I have a (SUGGESTION) for Amelia and Tony that are trying to grow a garden in the “”wild””. I am a gardener. The plant that they need to grow with just a few seeds is called AMRANTHUS- it is an acient grain. The leaves, stalk and all parts of this plant can be eaten. The grain can use to make bread, cookie, whatever.The part of the plant that becomes grain is large flowers. It has the most calcium of any thing known on the planet. Most of their nutritional needs would be met. It is planted in gardens as flowers for It’s beauty and unique look . Some plants look like Tony’s Dreadlocks. That one is called “”LOVE LIES BLEEDING””, there is also the “”TOWER FINGER”” These plants are grown in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, South America, USA for food. The Callaloo is grown in Jamaica which is a very costly dish. A bundle of Jamaician Callaloo in Canada cost $can20.00. It is all AMRANTHUS. It is unstoppable It will grow on rocks, your driveway. The colour and configrations are according to the PH in the soil. The people living wild dont have eat rotten meat if they toss a few AMRANTHUS seeds around it will grow and they will never go hungry again. It doesnt need special care or urine maintaince.

    Please try it. I have all type of seeds FREE FREE

  2. ann hancock
    buckinghamshire, great britain
    October 31, 2014, 9:33 am

    Surely it’s obvious that the “middle ground” is GROUPS of people living in an entirely natural environment??? (Or is there some rule that you have to “go it alone” in the wild?) AH.

  3. Lottie Coleman
    Kingston, Ontario Canada
    November 2, 2014, 3:37 am

    I have just recently started watching Live Free or Die & really enjoy the show. I have my favorites of course, but the fellow pictured above doesn’t fit with the rest in my opinion. Yes, he hunts for his food, but he also has a nice warm dry cabin to stay in & his $300 permed hair is really nice. At least the rest of the people on the show are truly living free.

  4. jackie payne sr.
    November 23, 2014, 10:18 am

    im wondering how do I build a bee hive