“Know-Nothings”, “Know-Not-Enoughs”, Breastfeeding, Obesity, Food

The “Know-Nothings” has always been my favorite name for an American political movement.  It just seems so forthright. (In fact, the 1850s movement got its name not because of the self-awareness of its members but because, if questioned about their affiliation, they were supposed to answer, “I know nothing.”)

Realistically, no one today is likely to adopt a name as truthful as that, even sarcastically.    I’d settle for a movement called the “Know-Not-Enoughs.”

This comes up for me today not in the context of politics, but health.   It’s raised by two unrelated articles in the Times – one about new discoveries of further merits of breastfeeding (“Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants A Protective Coat” by Nicholas Wade); and one about the unsolved problem of the rising rates of obesity in the U.S. (“Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials” by Denise Grady.)

The breastfeeding article talks about how undigested complex sugars in breastmilk have now been found to play an important role in providing beneficial intestinal bacteria for infants.  The findings have made the researchers more sharply aware of the evolutionary miracle that is breastmilk:  “It’s all there for a purpose, though we’re still figuring out what that purpose is,” Dr. [David] Mills said. “So for God’s sake, please breast-feed.”

I have always been a major proponent of breastfeeding but the doctor’s strong urging still surprised me.  For many years, health professionals seem to have routinely mentioned the benefits of breastfeeding, but then everyone seemed to quickly change the subject to personal preferences.  No one wanted to make a new mother feel guilty or pressured; no one wanted to step on cultural toes, even if they were not traditional cultural toes. especially if the preferences seemed to correlate to any ethnic group or educational level.  There has been a feeling, as in much of dialogue about just about everything, that everyone was entitled to their opinion or preference, and that all of these opinions and preferences were wonderfully equal on some vast universal scale.

I don’t let scientists off the hook.  When I grew up, scientists creating and even pushing infant formulas  were the opposite of “Know-Not-Enoughs.”

Now, among other things, we have a society that’s obese.   Putting aside any specific causal connection between the reduction in breastfeeding and obesity, there are certainly parallels between the substitution of formula for breastmilk, and the replacement of fresh, traditional foods, with fake “know-everything” food.  For the last few decades, people have eaten as if food could be manufactured, and as if such manufactured foods could satisfy all nutritional needs (which were also considered to be more or less known.)

No wonder people eat and eat;  no wonder flesh clings to what it ingests.  Bodies seem to know something is missing, but not where or how to get it.

Explore posts in the same categories: news, parenting

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