This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
I saw this on one of Razib Khan's latest posts:
It reminded me of the time when I stupidly told a college career counselor that I wanted to have kids in my twenties. She was aghast...what a waste of a promising young woman! Looking back, perhaps they should have named her title "Capitalist Life-Extraction Encourager." Graduating in a recession, I wasn't exposed to the glamor that masked the true nature of careerism in the past. I never had an expense account or nice business trips. Co-workers have told me of a golden age where we had expensive parties with ice sculptures and wine. Since I've started working all we've had are potlucks. There is no veneer of self development, there is "do this and do it as fast as you can." I do want I do because I want to make ends meet. Though I admit there are benefits to my job, it is not a source of fulfillment for me. I know that for me and many others "career" is just a company trying to extract labor from me as efficiently as possible and that an employer is no more reliable than the old structures it replaced. Falter or just be at the wrong place at the wrong time and they will discard you. I am leaving this cycle in the autumn, something I am lucky to do. My father did the same several decades ago, becoming self-employed.
Sometimes I read feminist writers in magazines like The New Yorker with resentment. They talk about women's careers from a position of privilege, the vaunted (and highly protected) few who make ends meet by speaking their mind with considerable personal and professional freedom. The latest irking was from Elisabeth Badinter, a French feminist writer (who also happens to be a heiress worth millions), who is aghast at the growing obsession of women with "naturalism". Maybe something was lost in translation, but it seemed like she was painting a straw man in order to dismiss very real considerations about reproductive biology.
I read the excellent mini-book Razib referenced, The Baby Chase: An Adventure in Fertility. Holly Finn is an accomplished woman who is trying to have a baby in her forties. She goes through expensive IVF and gets nothing in return. She tries to date men who are wanting to start a family, but they are interested in younger fertile women. She seems a little bitter:
Any credible conversation about female aspirations today, especially one that urges women to lean way into their careers, should also talk about children—and not just as an aside. Otherwise, we are doing to the next generation what was done to many of us: robbing them of a possibility.
But I get the feeling women in their twenties aren't forgoing childbearing because of careers anyway, particularly those of us who graduated in the Great Stagnation. I get the feeling it's more about not having any money or support. I've also been reading The Coming Population Crash, which discusses the fact that fertility is declining almost everywhere, but most dramatically in wealthy developed nations. He has a few case studies in the book of first-world women and their child-baring decisions. Most of the women, particularly those in stagnant developed countries such as Italy, say they simply do not have enough money for children.
I also think reforms to the work system have been fairly shallow. Holly mentions this
One of the primary culprits cited by Drago and Varner is what they call “the Ideal Worker norm.” “In general,” they write, “the ideal worker is someone who enters a profession immediately upon receiving the relevant academic credential, works his or her way up the career ladder by putting in long hours without interruptions beyond short vacations, and continues in this fashion until retirement age. The ideal worker can contribute financially to the family, but cannot make substantial time commitments to children or other family members without endangering his or her career.” The result? Working women stop having children.
When I'm looking at foraging societies, I'm noticing that women DO work. They contribute so much to their communities all while carrying their babies around and breastfeeding them. I would like to see work options for women that acknowledge that many women want to provide a level of biological fulfillment (breastfeeding, physical closeness) and be the primary caregivers to their own children. I would like to see similar work options for men. I was in a wealthy neighborhood recently for an appointment on Wednesday at around noon. It was creepy how empty the nicely-groomed yards and million-dollar houses looked. People are just getting their energy extracted in their prime to pay for stuff they rarely get to use. They aren't going to look back when they are 80 and think of those expenses spreadsheets they used to make or the code they used to debug. I'm sure there are people who are out there who are doing awesome stuff that they love, but I guess I am skeptical that this is more than a tiny minority.
And a dysfunctional bizarro-world dating culture. I must admit a spent some time on OKCupid and I was amused that interest dropped from several messages a day to none when I indicated I was interested in having children in the near future. To be fair, OKCupid seems to be a site for people interested in casual things, but that brings up the question of where people interested in serious things are supposed to go?
Biology carries on, but I certainly didn't know how rapidly fertility drops in the thirties until I saw this chart. Sex ed is so focused on NOT having children, that it was just not in my mind. I did know about infertility though, I suppose if you are my age the odds that your parents or their friends struggled to have children is pretty high. I knew before I saw this chart that I didn't want to be 40 on my first try like so many of them.
Notice that as you age the gap between "pregnancy regardless of outcome" and "pregnancy resulting in a healthy child" widens. Age and the nature of IVF later on conspire to increase the risks of health problems and birth defects.
Holly warns: "The first thing I tell women ages 26 to 34 is: Start having babies. I know it’s not polite or funny. But I don’t want others to go through what I’m going through now." Yikes. But this is real. Take a look at that chart and start thinking of how you want to gamble. Maybe you don't want to have children at all, but if you have even an inking, it's important information. Men, if you are interested in having babies, you need to look at this too, though you guys seem to have more leeway than us.
I didn’t want to settle at 25. I wanted adventures. I just didn’t imagine their cost, and how I would struggle to keep paying it.
Recently I've been reading lots of papers and working through data on violence and pathological conditions during the paleolithic. I think there is a tendency to view paleolithic hunter-gatherers as brutes or angels. I admit I've fallen for both betrayals. When I was young I thought of historical progress as being a march away from our natural brutish Hobbesian condition. Then I read things like The Worst Mistake by Jared Diamond and became sympathetic to the idea that instead, hunter-gatherers represented humans living as they were meant to, avoiding the physical and mental neuroses of the present. Having taken up study of the paleolithic more seriously at an academic level, I'm now of the opinion that while both stories are nice, they are just a vain attempt to deal with the utter chaos of both the present and past, where progress is actually non-linear and highly variable. I've seen skull casts from the paleolithic that are beautiful in their perfection and those bashed in by clubs. I've read polemics on both sides such as Sex at Dawn and War Before Civilization.
One thing I've read with great interesting is Robin Hanson's series on foragers. One provocative post tries to map modern liberal values to foragers. Unfortunately, I think it paints a rather unrealistic view of foragers. Another example is this feel-good article about how great hunter-gatherer parents are and how we should be more like them:
Natural birth: If you want to up your chances of rearing an empathetic, well-adjusted kid, you might try to give birth as our ancestors did: naturally. Research shows that various medical interventions can inhibit important “love hormones” like oxytocin from being released during labor and delivery, interfering with the mother-baby bonding process. These hormones help provide moms with the energy and instinct to nurture their children, says Narvaez.
Breastfeeding: When possible, moms should breastfeed their infants—for a long time, says Narvaez. Ideally, for two to five years. A child’s immune system isn’t fully formed until around 6 years old, she explains, and breast milk lays its building blocks. The World Health Organization recommends that babies nurse for at least two years.
Lots of cuddling—and no spanking: Along with the nutritional value of breast milk, kids develop a sense of wellbeing from the positive touch that breastfeeding involves. Narvaez advocates near-constant holding and cuddling. “We know that positive touch has benefits to brain development, hormone-functioning, and appropriate social interactions,” she says, noting that babies’ brains are only a quarter developed at birth. She also encourages co-sleeping, and she cautions against spanking.
Responsiveness: Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t likely see much value in letting a baby fuss or cry. You can’t “spoil” a baby, says Narvaez. Parents should aim to meet a child’s needs before he or she gets upset. “Kids who have really responsive parents tend to be more agreeable, and they tend to develop a conscience earlier,” Narvaez says. “This responsivity helps the child regulate. Gradually, the baby learns to calm him- or herself down.”
Many adult caregivers: Our early infant ancestors benefited from being cared for by mom, dad, and other adults who loved them. Surrogate parents also help to share some of the burden of parenting, helping to prevent exhaustion.
Free play with kids of varying ages: Needless to say, hunter-gatherers weren’t separated into age-specific play circles, exposing them to kids at different stages of development—and thus, enhancing their own growth. And studies show that children who don’t spend enough time playing are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health problems.
The whole thing seems rather euphemistic to me, coddling both moderns and presenting a noble savage view. It only lists "nice" things. Trolls in the comment section pick this up immediately. Where is the mention that paleolithic babies didn't go to daycare to be cared for by an unrelated adult alongside 10 other unrelated babies? I suppose that can't be mentioned, along with the reason why most modern women don't breastfeed very long (because most work long hours and most workplaces don't allow children), because it's illiberal and doesn't fit with the feel-good advice.
What about the big-Is: Infanticide and infant mortality. I feel these are played down too much is these discussions despite the fact they really are the major difference between modern and ancient babyhood. Maybe forager mothers got to breastfed their babies and spend a lot of time with them, but they died in alarming numbers. Sometimes they died at their mother's hand- foragers didn't worry about raising sickly or developmentally-disabled babies because they often simply didn't raise them. Infanticide often also occurs because forager women DO work and they can't carry more than one baby on their back. This is called birth-spacing infanticide.
Of course, this varies quite heavily among foragers. In the data I've seen, infanticide rates range from 1% in the San to 11% in some Australian Aboriginal groups to 67% of female babies in some Inuit groups.
And then I'm reading Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, where he presents some convincing data that it doesn't really matter whether or not an upper middle class parent chooses co-sleep or not, since nature matters more than nurture. I'm not entirely convinced by all his data, but that deserves its own post. Either way I do believe in some of the precepts listed above, but I'm playing devil's advocate because it irks me when I see the paleolithic or foragers used in just-so feel-good narratives.
I was going to just do one big post on this subject, but the amount of information out there is so extravagant that perhaps I'll do several. I suspect this topic doesn't get much air because well, most bloggers don't want to relate personal anecdotes. And really, there are no really good solutions to this issue.
If you are anything like me, in high school health class you were taught that things were pretty bad for women and then suddenly they invented The Pill and it freed us to enjoy sex without worry.
Like many women I was given the pill before birth control was even on my mind. Doctors routinely give it out to make menstrual cycles "more regular," fix PMS, cure acne, and for other non-birth control reasons.
This troubles me and now that I know better I would make sure that any daughter I have isn't handed the pill so casually. There are so many types of hormonal contraceptives and so many conflicting studies that it's hard to say that the pill is a bad thing. But given how little we still know about human reproduction, I'd rather not take it unless I have to. When I stopped taking it many frustratingly persistent health problems I struggled with went away.
I think because there aren't very many good alternatives for birth control, some of the problems with the pill are swept under the rug. Women deserve to know about them.
So here are some good sources I've been reading:
Some letters from a study on long-term mortality. Here are some good quotes (nulliparous means women who have never had children)
"Deaths increased three times more in “ever” takers under age 30 than in young “never” takers. GP observed “ever” takers had significant increased mortality rates compared with “never” takers for all circulatory diseases, cerebrovascular disease, other circulatory diseases (thrombosis), and violence (perhaps reflecting previously increases in mental illness and marital break ups in “ever” takers). A much vaunted ovarian cancer reduction depended on 14 deaths in “ever” takers and 29 deaths in “never” takers and 75 deaths in each group in the full data set. Whether these women were taking fertility drugs or HRT, which can increase the risk of ovarian cancer, is unknown.2,3"- Dr. Ellen Grant
"Troubling trends of increased morbidity and mortality among OC users v. non-users are also apparent when considering the subset of women who constituted a small minority of users in this study cohort, but who predominate among current users, namely, young nulliparous women."- Dr. Joel Brind
"The results of this large study are really welcome and promising to highlight long term safety of oral pills which are the most effective method of contraception and save many women's lives from complications of unwanted pregnancies-" Dr. Sharma
"It is surprising why the authors did not give greater importance to the fact that such a huge proportion of participants (one third) were lost to follow-up. Usually, a great restrain is needed when interpreting a cohort study attaining a retention rate lower than 80%."- Dr. Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez
"It is now surely inconceivable that any medical scientist who has some understanding of basic mechanisms could believe that widespread hormone use, especially of progesterones, is not a major health problem."- Dr. Ellen Grant
Here is among the most interesting letters:
Hannahford et al. (2010) report convincing evidence for reduction in mortality from several forms of cancer and other disease in women who have used oral contraception compared to never users. However, they also find a higher rate of violent death among ever users, and that the rate of violent death increases with longer duration of oral contraceptive use, but they are unable to explain these intriguing results. I suggest that recent evolutionary insights into human partner choice may provide a clue.
There is evidence that use of oral contraception alters women’s baseline preferences for men[2,3] such that pill users prefer men who are relatively similar to themselves at loci in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). One consequence of being partnered with relatively MHC-similar men is that such women express lower sexual responsivity toward their long-term partner compared with women in relatively MHC-dissimilar couples, reject sexual advances from their partner more frequently, and report having had more extra-pair partners. Other evidence points to MHC- similar couples being more likely to experience problems conceiving children, and having less healthy children due to lower MHC-heterozygosity. Cumulatively, these effects could have real impact on the quality of spousal relationships[3,5].
It is not unreasonable to suspect that such effects could also influence rates of intimate partner violence. This is the most common cause of nonfatal injury among women and accounts for more than a third of women murdered in the US. Furthermore, ex-partners are a key risk factor, which could further emphasise the risk for pill users if the behavioural effects of pill use ultimately influence rates of marital breakdown[3,5].- Dr. S. Craig Roberts
As you can see there is still a bit of a debate on how exactly hormonal contraceptives impact women's long-term health. A debate I was totally unaware of when I was on them...
And more and more stuff still comes out every year showing unintended effects. An interesting, but inconclusive study last year found that hormonal contraception can change a woman's brain structure. I could definitely write separate posts on how the pill effects nutrition, future fertility, bone density, inflammation, heart disease risk, hypertension, libido, mood, and that's the tip of the iceberg. I can't promise a series, but this is a topic that definitely interests me.
Context and Variation has a good post about The Pill from an anthropological perspective.
The second health issue I want to mention is the potential increase in systemic inflammation with the use of hormonal contraceptives (one of my other undergraduates, Katherine Tribble, found this article for our lab's weekly journal club). Morin-Papunen et al (2008) looked at women at thirty one years of age in the Northern Finland Birth Cohort, born in 1966. They grouped these women into levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device (IUD) users, oral contraceptive users, and no hormonal contraception use. Morin-Papunen et al (2008) found oral contraceptive usage was correlated with increased C-reactive protein concentrations -- this is a biomarker for inflammation that is associated with cardiovascular disease. Compared to IUD users, oral contraceptive users also had more insulin resistance, higher blood pressure, raised lipids and insulin levels, despite having a smaller waist and lower waist-hip ratio (a larger waist or higher waist-hip ratio is often associated with these results). Further, most of these results actually strengthened when factors like BMI, household income, and alcohol consumption were controlled for. Another interesting point, third generation hormonal contraceptives, which are lower concentrations of synthetic hormones than the second generation, actually had higher serum levels of insulin, CRP, total cholesterol and other lipids, compared to users of second generation contraceptives.
Based on my own research, I think it's not a good idea to use The Pill for anything other than birth control unless all other options have been explored. As birth control it is the most effective, which leaves women who don't do well on it or who would prefer to take a precautionary approach with some tough choices. There is some evidence that non-oral methods like the Nuvaring are better, though actually there are some disturbing studies on the patch and Depo. Women in marriages/long-term relationships for whom a pregnancy wouldn't be the worst thing might want to explore fertility charting (this isn't your mom's method, significant research and improvement has been done on this method in the last decade) or withdrawal (possibly just as effective as condoms).
I think an issue is that it's considered silly to think about children in your twenties. But just because you'll change in the future doesn't mean you shouldn't think about it at all. If you are trying to live close to the species optimum as possible in the modern world, you will probably make different choices.
A few interesting things:
Really great conversation between John Hawks and Kathryn Clancy, both physical anthropologists. Apparently Clancy is gluten intolerant. She also studies fertility. I suggest reading her blog. Also tantalizing is that Hawks has a grad student studying autoimmune differences between farmers and foragers.
Some great posts by Dr. Clancy:
- Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady: EXACTLY why doctors need to start reading about evolutionary medicine. Almost all doctors seem to think that iron-deficiency is part of being a woman, but that doesn't make sense evolutionarily. Turns out, it's no normal and doctors who think it is often miss the true cause, which is internal bleeding.
When I was a freshman college I had iron issues. Just like in the post my doctor gave me iron pills, which absolutely destroyed my stomach. Finally a better doctor found out I had a GI bleed. Now why do so many people get GI bleeds? In my case it was from taking NSAIDs, which is a fairly common cause.
Great new post at Evolutionary Psychiatry about ADHD and diet. I need to post about "food allergy tests" some time, since I get so many questions about them. The unfortunate thing is that most are very inaccurate. Unethical doctors (usually naturopaths, which doesn't help their reputation) market them as accurate and I've gotten emails from people saying they are allergic to absurd combinations of food like kangaroo, banana, and cinaamon buns (just kidding). This causes people to avoid perfectly good foods. Dr. Deans mentions these tests in her post
There were a couple of interesting wrinkles. The kids were all tested for IgG antibodies to food, supposedly helping one sort out food intolerances. These tests are widely used by doctors and para-professionals alike to diagnose food allergies, but when you get down to it, there is not a lot of evidence these tests tell you much about what you might actually be allergic to. IgG antibodies simply mean that somewhere along the way your bloodstream was exposed to food allergens. To be honest, I think people with tons of positive IgG food allergies have leaky guts, that wheat and poor gut biome are reasonably likely culprits, and the foods that show up in the IgG test are a random sampling of what happened to make it through the leaky gut. In the INCA study, the kids were carefully rechallenged with their IgG + foods, and their symptoms of ADHD seemed to have nothing to do with the IgG test. So I'm right ;-) (maybe).
Facinating post on using infant closeness as an incubator. The fact that this had to be re-thought of speaks to the medical profession's disconnection with our evolutionary heritage. In foragers, a baby away from a female relative's body is a dead baby.
Reminds me of something I've been musing on for awhile. Evolutionary applications to modern social life sometime seem like they were invented by bros. Lots of papers on how promiscuous humans are, men are different from women, why men like attractive women blah blah blah. But what about the stuff that doesn't jive so easily with modern life? Like the importance of breastfeeding, the fact that optimal fertility occurs when a woman is relatively young, that that non-relatives don't do as good as job taking care of children as kin do? These are not ideas people want to accept because they are so against modern cultural norms.
I said I'd go to bed, but then I read something interesting. Lately there has been some discussion in the comments here about what level of body fat is healthy for women. Is it healthy for women to be as lean as men should be (below 18% body fat)? Some authors say yes. After all, don't women in third world refugee camps have babies all the time?
Turns out it's more complex than that. Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives is my go-to reference on this sort of thing and lo and behold it had some answers on this matter.
To a great extent, reproductive hormone levels are set during development and reflect resource availability while a girl is growing.As we will see with regard to fetal development, a maturing system (the reproductive system in this case) reads cues about the environment to assess future conditions and adjusts levels of hormones and other components of the system to match the expected conditions. If a girl develops in a health-rich environment, her system "expects" that environment to be stable, but if she experiences short-term deprivation fo food, for example, her reproductive system may down regulate to wait for the expected better times.
Wenda mentions some rare examples of famines in first world countries, like the Dutch famine in WWII, where fertility levels completely crashed. So it's theorized that each woman has a "set point" established while growing up that determines her body's response to food intake.
Ammenorhea is a complex condition. Lots of long-distance runners suffer from it(which makes me doubt that women participating in persistence hunts was ever part of our evolutionary history)...but others don't. It sounds like a cliche, but everyone is different. For exercise-induced ammenorhea, it's not just body fat that's a factor, but cortisol and probably quite a few other hormones.
I would note that many advocates of low body fat for women are men. My own opinion is that this is foolish and will lead women to disordered eating. The only body fat that you want to avoid is visceral fat. I guess if you don't want to have children and care mostly about being super lean you can do that...but don't pretend it's healthy or natural.
Lassek and Gaulin also argue that hip and buttocks fat are the primary sources of fatty acids that are passed from the mother to the fetus during gestation and the infant during lactation. These long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids play a major role in brain development. Thus, they argue, hip and buttocks body fat does not just signal overall energy availability for pregnancy, but also signals that the essential fatty acids for brain development are in sufficient supply. Does hip and buttock fat correlate with cognitive abilities? IN an examination of the third NHANES study database, Lassak and Gaulin found that high amounts of hip and buttocks fat relative to waist size (a low waist-hip ratio) was predictive of women's own and their offspring's cognitive performance. They refer to this fat as "a privileged store of neurodevelopmental resources.
I think other people refer to it as "my humps"
Edit: some commenters got the idea that this is about being "fat", which is it not. I mention that visceral fat is a highly unhealthy possession, and it is. Ideally a woman should have a relatively flat belly (unless she is pregnant), but not worry about ample hips, buttocks, or breasts.
Great book on raising healthy children using real food!
So far the best book about how evolution has shaped women's bodies. Chock full of interesting info.
Nina Planck's Real Food is an excellent primer for ditching industrial crap and eating wholesome nourishing foods, so I was excited to read Real Food for Mother and Baby. No, i'm not planning on having a baby anytime soon, but if you are planning on having a baby ever, it's important to start planning when you are young. In this book she makes the point that when you are having a baby, it is drawing on fat stores laid many years before. What kinds of fats do you want going into your future children?
Nina Planck is of the Weston A. Price school of thought and is not a paleo dieter, but since there is no paleo baby book currently and WAPF has some intersection, lots of this advice might be useful for prospective paleo parents.
Her fertility chapter is particularly good. Her four fertility rules are: be an omnivore, eat good fats, eat seafood, and don't eat carbage. The most important nutrients for boosting and maintaining fertility are:
Isn't it nutritionism to reduce it to nutrients? No, because our modern diets are so deficient that to get these naturally has to be learned. Most Americans get their folate and iodine from enriched bread and salt. You have to be aware and willing to adjust your diet to get them on the paleo diet. She also emphasizes the importance of MEN getting these nutrients too and points out all the studies that show that the quality and quantity of most modern men's sperm has decreased. For men the most important nutrients are antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, iron, DHA, selenium, and zine. It's a good excuse for future moms and dads to go enjoy some oysters together and then...well, you get the picture. The missing part of this chapter is information on recovering your fertility after taking the pill FOREVER, as many modern women do.
The prenatal chapter is less useful, as it talks mostly about how much trouble she had complying with the WAPF prescriptions and how she drank alcohol because the risk isn't *that* high. Hmm. The information on morning sickness is interesting though. Apparently it's a universal thing from !Kung hunter-gatherer women to modern women and is an evolutionary adaptation. Even more useful is the information on iron. Boy I wish I had known this with I was in college and had IBS. Once I had anemia and I was given an iron supplement. My stomach practically exploded! Nina points out how excessive Iron can feed bad bacteria in the gut. Many doctors give pregnant women iron supplements, but there is strong evidence that the decline in iron concentration is a natural adaptation to protect women from infection.
Her childbirth chapter goes even less well. She really really wants to have a "natural" childbirth, but ends up needing a C-section because of the unusual position of her baby. I wish she had gone into more detail about why she wanted such a natural childbirth in the first place, since so many people think the concept is woo. But there are good reasons to not want a C-section and birth where your baby is immediately taken away to a ward, one of them is that it permanently alters the gut ecosystem and another is that it can affect the release of bonding hormones, which is discussed in detail in the Continuum Concept.
BTW I think the idea that life for paleolithic woman was HORRIBLE because of pregnancy is garbage. Clearly, many many many women, almost all of our ancestors, gave birth without a problem. It was painful and some women did die, but I'm personally sick of hearing paleo detractors go on and on about it. Paleo diet is a diet and a thought paradigm, not a reenactment club. The fact that so many women gave birth in harsh environments is a testament to their health. It can unfortunately take generations of eating better to fully recover that strength in the form of better-formed pelvic bones that many of us lack these days.
The breastfeeding chapter is very interesting. Nina is a former low-fat vegetarian and presents valuable information on why that is NOT a good choice for nursing mothers. The smoking gun is the level of DHA, the important omega-3 fat, are .10% in vegans and the desirable level is .35%. So many vegans have told me "well, if things like DHA are so important, how come vegans can have babies?" Possible vs. optimal. Reminds me of this article by prominent raw vegan Shazzie:
The truth is, though I'd love to see it, I have never once seen a 100% raw 100% vegan 100% unsupplemented child past breastfeeding age who has no tooth decay and is the correct weight and height for their age. Not one. Ever. On the other hand, I have, since 2001 seen countless raw vegan unsupplemented children spanning several countries with growth, teeth and mental disorders. Now, don't ask, because I will not name names, ever. I have cried at the child who was so retarded he barely moved (he since recovered on a cooked vegetarian diet, perhaps with some fish in the early stages). My heart has sank at the tiny girl on YouTube who has hardly any top teeth due to visible decay. My heart has wept when I've received letters from mothers who "just couldn't raise their children raw vegan", no matter how much they wanted to, even though they followed the advice of "experts" to the letter. And I've been puzzled as to why the raw food community covers these issues up time and time again. "Is it just me"? I've often wondered?
I understand why. This book is good, but it also highlights the extremely difficult struggle to have healthy children in a modern urban environment. After reading this book, I vowed that if I have children I would want to have a supportive community first.
Nina tries to feed her baby healthy, but doesn't seem to want the other moms to think she is a weirdo, so she lets her baby have crackers and bread. Soon enough, that's all baby Julian wants to eat.
There are good arguments for not turning children into pariahs with "weird" diets, but you should be able to feed a non-talking baby whatever you want. If anything, this exposes a flaw in WAPF. Adults know that fermented properly prepared grains are the only healthy grains, but a baby doesn't. It doesn't matter if you are feeding your baby the best bread ever, you are still giving it a taste for bread. It's too bad, because Nina recognizes that grains are unnecessary and even detrimental for young babies. With the culture against you, I think it's important to at least get in the best possible nutrition before kids realize the social status of cake. And this will happen.
I suspect a major problem is her friends, who she mentions don't think twice before feeding their kids white flour. I hope the paleo community is big enough when I have kids, so I don't have to worry about mothers in my playgroup who think not giving your kids cupcakes on their birthday is a human rights violation. I notice wealthy NYC children noshing on crackers and pretzels all the time. Most of them frankly look sickly- dark circles, crooked teeth, and pinched poorly forced facial features. Many of them have allergies. With all the obsession with fancy strollers and birthing classes, you'd think parents would figure out that dietary quality matters.
I also have to wonder about prenatal yoga. This is SO trendy in cities like NYC and Nina participates in it. Her quest for a natural childbirth is thwarted because her baby is in a strange position and has to have a C-section. Hmmm, maybe contorting our adult bodies into unnatural positions isn't good for us. I definitely wouldn't do prenatal yoga...or any other type of yoga.
Another New York problem rears its head. Nina has to work, so she has to hire a nanny. Early humans would have relied on family members to pick up the slack, but in today's sad isolated world, grandma lives 500 miles away and you have to pay someone who isn't related to you or a permanent part of your life...yet who will have a permanent influence. I remember when I worked at a camp and some children were picked up at 5 by nannies. They would look jealously at the children picked up by their mothers and grandmothers. Many would cry. Some of these nannied children had speech difficulties because their nannies didn't speak English well. There is also the inevitable loss of tradition as children are raised by strangers. I understand that some poor women have to send their children to daycare because their work feeds their family, but Nina Planck is not poor and later in the book they buy a second home. (The Two Income Trap is a great book about why you shouldn't depend on both incomes anyway.)
There is an evolutionary reason why women live so long- because long lived women increased the odds that their children's offspring would survive by caring for them and teaching them. The children benefited the elders too- providing them with interaction and mental stimulation. How many of us have grandparents languishing in far away nursing homes instead? It's an unfortunate cycle- grandma's bad diet makes her physically unable to help, so children are instead sent to daycare where they eat junk instead of grandma's homemade food. Of course plenty of grandmas are isolated from their families not because of health, but because of our culture of age stratification that sends them to Arizona or Florida instead of integrating them in a community.
The NY trap of high rents forces women to wait for decades to have their first child and to not be able to even raise it because they have to go back to work. Paleo-minded women are going to have to buck that trend. It's not romanticization- there are clear benefits to not waiting until you are 35 and to not farming out your child's care.
Overall I think this book is a good primer, but one of these days some paleo mama will come out with a book that's even better.
Occasionally I will hear from someone who does badly on a paleo diet or whose health improved when they gave up meat. It's very interesting to me. I guess I' shouldn't really surprised then by Matt Stone's latest post which is a rant about how paleo kills your sex drive (WTF?????* Lierre's assertion that paleolithic is a diet for a smaller population is about economics, as obviously grains allows us to feed more people) and also a letter from a woman who experienced horrible digestive and other problems on paleo. It's so bizarre because paleo cured the exact same problems for me.
But then again, I've rarely been 100% paleo. I have this fantasy that if I were I would suddenly become super woman or something, but the errant bowl of grits with butter never has made me feel terrible enough to make me stop having cheat meals. I know people who are 100% and honestly they seem no healthier than people who eat butter or an occasional beer.
But I also see a pattern in people who don't do well on paleo. I'm not blaming people...it's hard to do a paradigm shift and admittedly my first foray into low carb wasn't so successful either. I think it started working only when I stopped thinking low-carb and started thinking about food quality. Some Purdue chicken beasts and steamed broccoli isn't quality in my opinion. Grass-fed beef, oysters, seaweed, purple yams, blueberries, kale...these sort of things form a nutrient-dense nucleus for my diet. When I'm really craving grits or bacon lentils, I personally don't sweat it. Gluten, vegetable oil, and sugar free + high nutrient density seems to solve most of my own problems, the rest was just tweaking. So my own experiences can't refute Matt's assertions.
But I just don't buy that low carb is dangerous. Plenty of arctic peoples ate low carb their entire lives and reproduced and didn't keel over and die! I think people should work on removing the worst offenders like sugar from their diet and simply do what works for them.
*In Robb Wolf's podcasts he talks about many women in his gym getting pregnant while doing paleo, but he has also had some questions from people who lost their period...I would be curious to know the nutrition intake numbers of people who that happens to.