Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ruminations on Weaning

I was inspired this morning by an editorial article in the Dallas Morning News on breastfeeding, prompted by the death this week of La Leche League founder, Edwina Froehlich, at the age of 93. Thinking about nursing babies leads to reminiscences of "those days" around 30 years ago, when it seemed that I had a child attached to a nipple for the better part of six years of my life--and I only had two kids. But although I was not a La Leche League member until I moved to Dallas and was searching for some kind of community in this god-forsaken corner of the universe (sorry, Dallasites, but I never have been able to learn to love this place and still think of myself as living in exile), and even though I fondly referred to my fellow members as "the militant milkers," I nonetheless kept nursing my kids until long after "normal people" had weaned theirs and sent them off to pre-school.

I was gratified to learn that about 75% of American mothers now at least attempt to nurse their babies, but not at all surprised to discover that Texas is somewhere near the bottom of the stats. Once, when my daughter was about eight months old and we had visited a mall so my husband could take my son skating, I sat in the observation area happily watching them scoot around the ice, and nursed the baby, who was covered by a shawl so completely that only her little feet poked out. I noticed a woman glaring in my direction from a few seats down in the row ahead of me, and when she caught my eye, she scowled and said "That's just disgusting. Can''t you do it in the bathroom?"

Even then I was a bit of a snark, so I smiled pleasantly back at her and asked, "Why? Is that where you eat your dinner?"

She huffed out of the area, and I felt a bit smug, but also furious that anyone could view such an activity as "disgusting"--as if I had bared my breasts and gone prancing around the arena. Come to think of it, that might have brought on some applause (I was rather a babe in those days).

Remembering this incident also got me to thinking about the fact that because I nursed the kids for so long, they were each a bit difficult to wean. They were no longer nursing for nutrition but for comfort and security, and it was an easy way to get them to sleep. But when it came time, we literally weaned them on books: substituting reading time with Dad for nursing time with Mom.

If only it were that easy to wean ourselves from the comforts and conveniences of modern life: the fast food, the fast cars, the chemically laced products that permeate our daily lives.

My dear friend and former student, Jen, has essentially told me I'm nuts (see her comment on my last post) for suggesting that we wean ourselves from sugar--and so I'm here to defend myself, and to argue not for abstention but for moderation: To wean ourselves from the satisfying (but calorie-laden and nutritionally bankrupt) bowl of Tiramisù, toward a more moderate means of taking care of the culturally-induced cravings for sugar that we've all become prey to.

Every now and then, when I'm feeling my exile more deeply than usual (I need a mountain fix every couple of years, and it's getting near that limit again), I crave something to make me feel better. Usually, it's pie. I love pie: Key lime, lemon meringue, chocolate, strawberry, cherry, pecan--almost any kind of pie. I've been known to call my husband and ask him to pick up pie on the way home. Of course, this becomes more and more difficult as one becomes aware of all the crap that goes into commercially produced pies--the ones available in the freezer case at the supermarket (their in-house bakery versions are usually awful). So the poor, dear, man is confronted with the problem of locating the least environmentally and nutritionally problematic version of pie. Loaded with trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup (usually only one of several sugars), the ingredient list alone usually dissuades me if I'm the one on the pie hunt. But he's more tolerant than I am, and wants to help me out, so he comes home with the most inoffensive choice available.

Lately, however, we've discovered the wonders of nuts. And dried fruit mixed with nuts. Or a square of really good chocolate (preferably with nuts, and even better with a bit of dried fruit). A handful of Nature's Best "Nantucket Blend" from Costco (here's a recipe from the Paleo Recipes blog) will usually do the trick now, but I'm also going to try something else the next time I'm confronted with waves of desert-longing and nostalgia. I'm going to make Gram's Applesauce Cake. This is a spice cake my grandmother used to make, filled with raisins and occasionally walnuts. It calls for an indeterminate amount of powdered chocolate, and uses applesauce instead of fat. Except for the white flour, it's actually a nutritional godsend, full of fiber and wholesome nutrients, and now I make it with a blend of whole wheat and unbleached white flour, and add a bit of ground flaxseed to bump it up even more. I haven't made it in a while, though, so this week, in the cool of the morning, I'm going to make a double batch and freeze segments of it so that whenever I want to feed what's left of my sugar addiction, I can just pull a chunk out of the freezer and save my husband from the frustrating--and ultimately unsatisfying--pie hunt.

The other weaning issue that keeps coming up is this: How do we change our lives so that we depend less on gasoline and other petroleum-based products? Sunday's Dallas Morning News ran a story about how gas prices affect just about everything we buy--and it turns out that it's really hard to find stuff in the average supermarket that isn't in some way dependent on the industry. So the way to wean ourselves from this unhealthful dependence is to become aware not only ingredients (check labels for chemical information), but origins: where products come from, and how far they have to travel. Since everything from shampoo to toothpaste can contain petrochemicals, take a look at Ecology Center's Body Map: The True Cost of Petroleum to discover not only how pervasive these chemicals are, but how they affect our health as well as our economy.

Solutions don't have to involve buying pricey substitutes for fancy cosmetics at Whole Foods. It's fairly easy to make natural cosmetics (especially lotions and creams) from simple ingredients. Same with household cleansers. A few standbys like baking soda, vinegar, witch hazel, aloe gel, and olive oil, are cheap and easy to obtain and can be used to make everything from drain cleaner to night cream. If you need help getting started, Earth Easy has some great information on home-made cleaning products and non-toxic house care.

Since soap-making isn't one of those things we can do all that easily by ourselves (although some folks do it as a hobby), a jug of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap in your flavor of choice (I was once told that the Peppermint version is "better than sex," and although I don't think that's quite true, the soap's still a treat in the shower). By the way, forget any rumors you've heard about Dr. Bronner's containing a date-rape drug--any true soap will test positive for it as the company's president Michael Bronner shows on this video. Toothpaste isn't particularly easy to make, either, but you can get by with baking soda if you have to. We substituted Tom's Natural toothpaste for Arm & Hammer a few years ago, and our teeth are actually in better shape than they were with the commercially-hyped versions. The toothpaste is a bit more expensive, but Dr. Bronner's is cheaper than most fancy soaps, and is just plain nice to use.

Many of the suggestions I make on this blog are based on the notion of the thought experiment. So no, Jennifer, I do not think you really have to give up sugar--no more than I really think that people have to give up electricity, even though the folks in More News From Nowhere do so. But imagining a different life is a step toward making a different life. We are, after all, metaphor makers. It's one of the things we do that makes us human; we can see things differently and, if necessarily, act accordingly.

Around this house we've made a considerable number of changes over the last few years. The place is becoming a kind of laboratory for working through alternatives to our own personal status quo. We are finding that old dogs, in fact, can learn new tricks. And while I don't insist that everyone make the same changes, I do hope that the blog has begun to inspire folks to deal with the current economic situation with imagination and mindfulness--rather than despair.

Image credit: Stanisław Wyspiański Macierzynstwo, 1905. Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

oh goodness! You didn't really think I meant you were nuts did you? I was more poking fun at myself for my somewhat-out-of-control-of-late-sugar-habit. I heartily agree with you that moderation is the key. I just seem to go through phases when moderation feels so darn restrictive. Thankfully the pendulum always swings the other way, though, and I get back into making more healthy choices. Surely that pendulum is going to start swinging any minute now...

oh! and if you love pie, then Patrick is your man. He makes a fabulous mango pie that is perfect for the summer and low in sugar to boot. Could this be our ticket to an afternoon under your gazebo? (I'm going to keep pestering you until you tell me to stop!)

Owlfarmer said...

Well, the gazebo is gone (torn apart by squirrels in search of nesting materials) and has been replaced by a new potager, but as soon as the place is presentable, you may bring husband, children, incipient children, and pie.

And no, I didn't think you really thought me to be the crazy person; but I'll use any excuse to wax poetic, nostalgic, wise, or whatever on this blog. As always, I appreciate your input, in whatever spirit it's meant!

krimzon11 said...

Thanks for the link to Earth Easy. I always wondered how my grandma and mom did it, back in the day. They lived in the country, and only went to the store so often, To hear my mom tell it sometimes it's almost like Laura Ingalls, except that Grandpap was a milk man, garbage man and mechanic. I think she's forgotten most of it though, because she much prefers to buy the chemical products that make her everyday life easier (her newest fascination is the Mr. Clean Sponge). Since I've recently tackled the project of Post-Spring Cleaning I may try some of these things. (Which oddly enough, I know about the uses of each as a single rememdy, but not these combinations to create cleaning solutions.) In fact, I'm gonna use the peroxide solution tonight when I clean my bathroom.

GEM said...

I like the fact of you reminding us that "old dogs can learn new tricks", but in reality it is revisiting old tricks that have always worked in the first place. I cannot despair over the death of Tide and Mr Clean, but at the same time give thanks for vinegar, borax, soda, and alcohol to clean with. i think back to my mother, in post-WWll Europe, making do, very nicely with very little by way of supplies, but with much work and energy expended. She seemed far happier then, than when she came to Canada, this land of "milk and honey" with its labour-saving devices that seem to bleed out her existence. G and GEM

Owlfarmer said...

Using less toxic means to clean stuff is, as GEM points out, not exactly new--and at the same time, it's important to remember that all the elbow grease involved isn't exactly welcome to many (which is one reason Krimzon's grandmother finds the new products easier). It comes down, ultimately, to a trade-off between what's better for us, and what's easier for us. I think one reason I'm drifting inexorably away from most so-called "labor-saving" devices is that I'd rather use my body in more "authentic" ways. Instead of going to the gym to get exercise, I think a lot of us would benefit from putting our backs into jobs we commonly use these devices for: sweeping, mopping, gardening. The lawn mower is a good example. Our electric models work well and give us a workout, but the push-reel (which doesn't really work on our lawn) provides a better one. When I really get the spring-cleaning bug, it turns out to be a world-class exercise experience; or at least it seems like that the next morning. But if more of us chose these less-polluting, less economically problematic ways to care for our living spaces, it would eventually make a dent in the "greening" effort.