The subtitle of this book by Nathanael Johnson explains why I read it: "a skeptic's quest to discover if the natural approach to diet, childbirth, healing, and the environment really keeps us healthier and happier.” I’m a skeptic (check),interested in diet (check), healing (check) and the environment (check). (I’m interested in childbirth too, but frankly any opinions there belong to my wife, not me).
Johnson is such a nice writer, giving such good weight to all the evidence, that the book can be an unsatisfying read. A good summary would be "Hmm, there might be something to these all-natural lifestyles, but there's something to the mainstream way too."
I liked his concise description of three assumptions behind all “mainstream” nutrition:
- Molecules matter, food is irrelevant.
- Everyone is the same.
- Institutions, not individuals, should be in charge of diet
As a raw milk fan, I agree with these points, so I especially enjoyed the book’s discussions about the discoveries of people like Bruce German, food chemist at UC-Davis who studies bifidobacterium infantis, the only microbe that thrives on oligosaccharides. These make up the bulk of human milk but can't be digested in the stomach without a bacterium. Turns out we need these microbes to allow milk to go through a nipple and turn into a solid inside the stomach again — another instance of germs that are essential for health.
Also, did you know that kids who drink raw milk for the first time have no adaptation to Campylobacter jejuni, a pathogen in raw milk? According to Johnson, (p. 97) "Just about everyone injured by milk has been a child or an immune-compromised adult”.
There’s much more to like about this book, including the conclusions, which like adult life itself, are frustratingly lacking in black and white answers. All the more reason that individuals should be in charge of their own choices.