Irritable Aside no.1

Being a calm, logical and objective person (as we all so obviously are), spontaneous ranting isn’t really my thing, unless, of course, I’m provoked by a certain three letter acronym beginning with N, ending with S and containing a shameful amount of privatisation in between. However, this is a specific occasion in which I feel my vitriol is justified, not least because it involves advice and practice that is simply dangerous.

Meal deal: newborn child with free advertising.

My brother and sister-in-law had their first son recently, hence becoming the proud recipients of millions of pounds’ worth of advertising intended to convince them to subscribe to various baby products, classes and lifestyles. This is hardly surprising; young parents will do anything if it endows their child with an advantage in what is an incredibly competitive meritocracy (of course success is only related to intellectual ability – that must be what the Bullingdon Club is for) . Thus they are the advertiser’s wet-dream, frantically seeking out advice on every aspect on their child’s upbringing, from which brand of nappies will provide the best absorbency:comfort ratio to the right type of music to play to stimulate brain development.

Unfortunately, due to the sacks of money thrown towards the advertising of such products, it’s rarely easy to find an unbiased, scientific perspective on what is  actually best for your child. This is usually not a problem, especially if it’s remembered that so many “scientifically proven” edicts are closer to fashion trends, with certain recommendations rising and falling out of favour again (see, for example, whether babies should sleep on their front or back, which seems to change as frequently as the Daily Mail’s recommendations on cancer.)

There are still far too many cases where opinions are given that at best have no empirical basis and at worst specifically target the neuroses of young parents in order to sell a particular ideology or, more commonly, product.

My sister-in-law had been invited to listen to a nutritionist give a talk on good eating habits for babies that needed to get accustomed to solids after being weaned. It’s worth noting at this point that, unlike “dietician”,  “nutritionist” is not a legally protected term in the UK, meaning that there is nothing to stop someone printing a certificate off themselves and deciding that this justifies their every word on the matter. At this point, Peep Show and Jez’s dubious Life Coach qualification springs to mind

Coaching your life for as long as you dare.

The nutritionist had come to the conclusion, presumably after a few days of theorising, that pasteurised milk should be avoided when weaning, it being much healthier to go straight to the source and drink raw milk.

The absolute inanity of this recommendation is hard to overemphasise. Pasteurisation, the process of heating milk to significantly reduce numbers of bacteria present, has been preventing food poisoning and disease ever since it was discovered in the 12th century that heating wine could increase its lifetime. Pasteurisation prevents diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria spreading and kills nasties such as salmonella, staphylococcus aureus and  escherichia coli (the bacteria your mum warned you about, not the elusive good bacteria that the European Food Safety Authority struggled to find in probiotic drinks). These are incredibly dangerous and when it comes to an infant who is only just beginning to encounter pathogens in the real world, every precaution must be taken.

The deluded notion that any processing of food must in some way make it less natural, removing it from the life-giving embrace of Mother Earth, is always to be avoided. The logic presented in these instances tends to refer to mysterious chemicals or general “goodness” that is lost or, worse, actively taken away by the meddling hands of science. This is generated by nothing more than a suspicion of unknown practices and a willingness to accept romanticised ideals of a more rural time. One thing that such nostalgics seemingly fail to remember is how high child mortality used to be, even a few hundred years ago, and how its current low levels probably are strongly related to not letting our food get contaminated with bacteria.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law knew better than to take such advice, but the fact that people are still willing to take time out of their day to spout such rubbish is terrifying.


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