Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trying to do my part

It's National Infertility Awareness Week.  I've never really fit into the Infertility Crowd (except, of course, age-related secondary infertility...fertilization is easy!  Creating viable embryos and housing them properly is beyond my capabilities.  Except for that one time.).  So, my efforts to do something for NIAW will have to be unconventional also.

I was reading an article about an interview with Michael Pollan - I'm sure everyone but me has read his books on our food culture.  If you haven't, you probably should - all my friends seem to be big fans.  Anyway, as I read his interview responses, one sentence struck me and I couldn't let it go.  Normally, I'm pretty good about flushing the stuff I read on the internet pretty quickly, but this one sentence inspired me to find some contact information for Michael Pollan, so I could send him a little piece of my mind.  Here's what I wrote through the FB messaging system:

Mr. Pollan,
I just read an excerpt of your interview from Lucky Peach Magazine in The Daily Beast, and a part of it struck me. I'm sure it was a somewhat off the cuff remark, but it's definitely a trigger for many people. Perhaps you are unaware of the so-called Mommy Wars, in which women who do not or cannot breastfeed are made to feel inadequate. You have given ammunition for those kinds of attacks with this remark:

"But we still can’t make formula as good as breast milk. There’s still that mystery X-factor because babies raised on formula simply don’t do as well... It’s human arrogance to think we can outwit nature."

As someone who has a nephew who was failing to thrive because my sister couldn't produce enough breastmilk, and whose own daughter required supplementation with formula, I object to your assertion that babies raised on formula simply don't do as well. To me, alive and thriving is better than dead from starvation. While I agree that breastfeeding is the best option, it should not be implied that it should be the only option. Formula is a life-saver (quite literally) for many children.

Based on your words, I suspect you have not had a great deal of exposure to women who have had trouble breastfeeding. I'm sure, as an author, you know the value of choosing your words carefully. So, this is simply an attempt to let you know that this might not be an example that you want to use in the future. Certainly, formula cannot match the benefits of breastmilk, but since, for some, it's the only option, it would be better to measure your words on this topic.

Very Respectfully,

Are You Kidding Me? (I actually used my real name since it was through FB anyway, but this would have been a more amusing close.)
P.S. I found the rest of the article quite interesting, and look forward to reading your books - several friends have recommended them.

So while I don't have anything useful to say about infertility, I have tried to do my part to raise awareness of at least one women's issue.  If you have a hard time making a child, the last thing anyone should do is make you feel badly about feeding that child if you have the good fortune to get it here.


  1. Three cheers to this. He's said stuff like this before. Maybe it was in the book?

    I don't think you're missing a lot with his books. This is how I summed up one: "Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Which was fine. I wanted to be all gung-ho about it because he speaks to so many things we already believe and do. But he didn’t grab me by the ovaries. I think his rules are sound, but it was sort of like watching Mr. Rogers. You know how Mr. Rogers is comfortable and enjoyable, but he doesn’t make your heart race with happiness? That’s sort of how I felt about reading his book."

    1. Darn. That's two strikes now. I was hoping he'd inspire me to want to stop eating processed food, but I don't think that's going to happen. Now back to my regularly-scheduled Cheez-Its.

  2. While it is true that man cannot replicate any bodily secretion, breast milk included, to say that formula fed babies are just not doing that well is to stretch things a bit too much. I think it is human nature, to simply not know when to stop. And then trip and have one foot occupying the piehole. Well done for writing to him. T my shame, I have no idea who he is. :-)
    Sometimes I think it is completely futile to write anyone, the effort is doomed fail. Others I think that if everyone would think like I do, there would be an entire world being wrong about some thing or the other. And then I try to rectify that.

    1. I'm just working up to being a crotchety old lady who constantly writes letters to the editor. Too bad I'm allergic to cats, because they're sort of necessary to the scenario... Oh well, I'll figure something out. I have a couple more years to practice.

      And Mina, you probably don't know about him because you live in Europe and don't need someone to tell you to eat healthy foods as much as Americans do.

  3. Isn't it not even proven that formula-only-fed babies don't "do as well"? I'd like some evidence with that assertion, please!

  4. Michael Pollan who? Sadly or not so sadly, I haven't really been exposed to him yet. If he deals in cookbooks, it would anyways not interest me except for ogling on all the food pics.

    I think you said it very well. Did he respond?

    I was pretty sure Figlia was having enough from me. I was far too new and fresh to realize that my daughter did not really suck enough. She preferred the comfort of holding my nipple and would only take a little bit and then just hold on. Her jaundice was not going away, she was not gaining weight and she was frequently hungry and not great at sleeping because her tummy was not full. My ped made supplement with formula. It is then that her weight increased and the jaundice disappeared. While I salute the women who were able to exclusively breast feed, I just could not be one of them. It did not work for me. My daughter is not Einstein, but she is doing perfectly well for her age group. She is social and fun, and holds her fort with other children.

    I would be very offended if someone said that statement (what Pollan said) on my face.

    You did well to respond.