Friday, March 21, 2008

then again, maybe i'm just neurotic

Just as I was winding up my rant about the lack of consistent guidance on introducing solid foods, I came across this post in which Swedish food blogger Viktoria reports that for the first time her whole family, including her 8-month-old daughter, has eaten the same thing for dinner.

"It felt almost like a little holiday," she writes, and I think I know what she means.  To my mind that first meal all together might be an even bigger milestone than a baby's first taste of solid food.

In Viktoria's flat, the celebration featured a meat pie.  She says that she made a few concessions to the baby, pureeing the filling in the food processor and leaving out the salt, but her recipe also contains several ingredients that come up pretty frequently on lists of things not to feed the baby: tomato juice, milk, eggs, cheese.  (The recipe also features onion, garlic, Dijon mustard, a chili, and mixed chopped fresh herbs--but those ingredients don't scare me, they just impress me.)

Is it possible that I am--or perhaps we Americans in general are--just really freaky and uptight about baby food?
In fact, some experts argue that much of the current advice dispensed in the United States--and in Western cultures in general--on the topic of introducing solid foods is based on myth and convention rather than sound science.  (I don't want to make too much of the article behind that last link: it's nearly three years old, prevention of food allergies does not seem to be the primary research interest of any of the researchers quoted, and it doesn't seem to have any connection to any peer-reviewed study.  But still, isn't it a breath of fresh air?)

I think of Michael Pollan's contention that, having lost touch with where food comes from, lacking a solidly rooted food culture of our own, and buffeted by the constantly shifting winds of nutrition science,  we have become fearful about food and anxious about what to eat.  I am a real-butter-schmearing, bread-loving, farmers-market-visiting moderate hedonist, so I never thought his description would apply to me.  Yet ever since my daughter started eating solids, the idea that food is dangerous seems to come naturally.

The question of food allergies, which is what I'm worried about, is different from the obsession with nutrients (such-and-such will prevent cancer, such-and-such will give you heart disease, such-and-such will make you smarter) that Pollan critiques.  Yet some of the rhetoric is surprisingly similar.  Take, for example, the frequently encountered advice to wait four days between introducing each new food.  That is perfectly logical when it comes to being able to pinpoint a food that is causing a reaction.  But in practice, this approach transforms eating into a minefield to be navigated with the utmost caution.  When what I really want to do is feed my baby with joy.

Amongst all these warnings, though, are some hints that we have already taken some of the most important steps to avoid food allergies: breastfeeding, and waiting until around 6 months to start solids.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder whether some of this calculus about what foods to introduce and when and how long to wait and so on might be a holdover from an era when children were given solid foods much earlier.  Parents with children just a few years older than mine were told that 4 months was definitively the time; a generation ago it was 2 months, or even earlier than that. 

So I'm trying not to worry about the fact that I've unwittingly and quite blithely been feeding my daughter one of the most allergenic spices around (cinnamon--who knew?); instead I'll try to focus on the fact that it doesn't seem to bother her.  In fact, I think she likes it. 


EQ said...

What's really annoying is that all the warnings about what not to eat start before the baby's even born, let alone ready to eat solids: Mom, don't eat such and such while you're pregnant, don't eat such and such while you're breastfeeding. And even if you're skeptical, do you want to risk being the reason your kid winds up unable to be in the same room as a peanut (or enjoy the all-American PBJ)? No wonder moms guilt their children--it's payback for all that guilt people heap on moms.

Whatever, I'm still going to enjoy my peanut butter, and feed my baby ice cream whenever he's ready for it.

S. said...

You know, I never thought of it that way before, but I think you're on to something: anxiety about what to feed the baby as a sort of continuation of the anxiety about what to eat while pregnant & breastfeeding.

And don't even get me started on those admonitions to eat a varied diet while pregnant, because the baby picks up tastes from the amniotic fluid, and this "imprints" its palate. I'm sure it's true, but it's not exactly what you want to hear when you're feeling pukey. Poor Monkey's palate will be "imprinted" on crappy supermarket bagels and strawberry ice cream, I'm afraid.

Guess our kids will have to enjoy their ice cream together, perhaps while discussing the latest guilt trip laid on them by their respective moms!