Archive for December 2007


Appropriate for the Holidays

December 9th, 2007 by MamaBear

December is traditionally a very holiday-heavy month. From Christmas to Hanukkah to the revival holiday Kwanzaa to the Winter Solstice (the astronomical observation which became the inspiration for the original pagan celebrations that inspired what we now call Christmas) and Newton’s birthday (December 25 or January 4, depending on who you ask), no matter who you are, if you live in a Western-influenced society, you’re probably celebrating something this month. And if you’re celebrating a holiday, chances are, you’re probably buying a gift or two (or several dozen) for family and friends.

I discovered this mini-documentary recently, entitled “The Story of Stuff,” made by a woman named Annie Leonard, and I feel compelled to share it with as many people as possible. I think it’s very appropriate for the consumer-driven holiday season. It has inspired me to make all my gifts be as homemade and thoughtful as possible this year. Maybe I should just drop the idea of a having a thing represent the value of the relationships I have with others. Perhaps I should just focus on making time for the people in my life, instead of finding a thing for them. Or, if I feel compelled to hand a real, tangible object to someone as a token of my affection for them, perhaps I should make sure it’s at least going to be something they can appreciate for many years, rather than chuck in the garbage within a month of receiving it. It’s hard to articulate into words what I’m trying to convey, but I’m just really tired of the hectic consumer December holiday season, with all the expectations and guilt involved in making sure everyone has a gift, even if it’s a completely useless one. It focuses on all the wrong things: the pretense, the petty superficialities, the ego… And it generates SO much waste and environmental damage in the process.

Anyway, I know this post isn’t about breastfeeding, but the video called “The Story of Stuff” is very important and contains a tiny bit of breastfeeding information in it that is important to know. It mentions that breastfeeding is “the most fundamental human act of nurturing” and that it “should be sacred and safe.” I totally agree, of course. What the movie doesn’t show (but can be easily inferred from its content) is that formula, since it is a part of this artificial system known as the materials economy, also causes harm and exploitation (the factory-farmed dairy cows and the people who tend them are exploited, for example, and the metal used for the cans themselves had to be mined from some exploded mountain somewhere), and that we shouldn’t be surprised to find toxic chemicals in our formula because of the whole “toxics in, toxics out” phenomenon of manufacture.

For example, even though nobody thought of it for years, finally someone figured out that the linings inside most cans (including all cans used for infant formula) contain bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic plastic. Contrast the exposure of a human baby to BPA amounts from canned formula compared to the amounts typically found in breastmilk and there’s NO QUESTION that there are much higher toxicity levels in infant formula — in fact, if you compare all commercially prepared foods, even those for adults and canned infant formula, to human breastmilk, the one food that contains the least amount of BPA toxicity is human breastmilk. This fact may not be apparent from the film, and the mention that “the highest level of many toxic contaminants,” might sound like it’s the opposite of what I just wrote, but it really isn’t (not for bisphenol-A, anyway). The point of Annie Leonard mentioning the breastmilk is to point out that this materials economy violates the basic human right to have clean, pure human milk free from contaminants, not that breastmilk is any more poisonous than the rest of our intoxicated foodstuffs. Infant formula, as it turns out, is way more damaging to infant and mother health than breastfeeding, in the vast majority of circumstances, whether the infant formula is canned or powdered (as one of my previous posts pointed out, powdered infant formula has many health risks and disadvantages).

Here’s a teaser video of “The Story of Stuff.” If you want to see the whole video, you’ve got to go to www.storyofstuff.com. Once there, it will play automatically in the top half of your screen. Enjoy it. If I don’t write again this month, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, Happy Newton’s Birthday, Joyous Winter Solstice and Happy all other December holidays you might celebrate (whatever they may be)! :D

Annie Leonard: Brava! …For putting so much energy into making your project happen. It’s turned out great so far! :D Hopefully we can all come up with real solutions that honor and respect the environment instead of burning through it and shitting where we eat (so to speak). I hope many people see your work. It’s a giant step in the right direction.

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MREs and Truth in Advertising

December 2nd, 2007 by MamaBear

When I was an adolescent, the country I was living in got caught up in a war situation, to put it mildly. Without revealing too much of myself I’ll say that my adolescence was not spent in the United States.

During the occupation the country I was living in experienced, which resulted in thousands of casualties, most of them innocent civilians caught in crossfires (as is the case with most, if not all, wars), the country’s economy shut down for a few months. Most grocery stores closed, and the tiny corner shops with food that had enough unlooted merchandise to sell would sometimes open, but only sporadically, and with very limited, mostly canned, products. Most supplies didn’t get to most places, so most places couldn’t open for business (not to mention most of the goods had long been ransacked from most stores during that time).

As a consequence of this, the United States military (which was there, and played an active role in the occupation) would issue to the general civilian population (of which my family and I were a part) MREs. What are MREs, you say? MREs are “Meals, Ready to Eat.” They are a food source, issued by the United States Armed Forces, that is ration-quality. At the time, my family, though thankfully not poor, was having considerable trouble finding places that sold food. So the free MRE packages, which consisted of food and other items hermetically sealed in brown plastic with no-nonsense black lettering describing the contents inside, came in pretty handy. We were grateful for them. Now I know in the military (and from talking to American military men and women who had to subsist on MREs), MREs are not popular. They are ration food, after all… Meant to be used in emergency situations, like wars (which should be rare, but sadly, are not).

My family and I ate the MREs; like I said, we were grateful to have them. They kept us from starving for a few days, weeks, however long it was that we ate them… But we also recognized that we could not subsist on them forever (they are not recommended for use beyond 21 consecutive days, probably because of the high sodium and other health reasons). Once the food supplies started coming back into our city, we were able to buy real food again, and we stopped eating the MREs. The ones that were left in our home became novelties (unopened and uneaten novelties, which we passed on to other people who needed them more than we did) after the real, fresh food started to come in.

I think of infant formula as MREs for babies. Both MREs and infant formula have most of the necessary nutrients, the baseline needed for survival, but they are not meant to be used exclusively when a better option is available (which in most normal situations, a better alternative usually is). The thing is, baby formula is a ration-quality product intended for special circumstances (mainly, the inability to breastfeed or pump). People were not meant to subsist on MREs for extended periods of time, not unless there is no other recourse (but if you had to subsist on MREs for a year or two, it probably wouldn’t kill you — you would likely survive). The same can easily be said for formula: babies were not meant (biologically) to subsist entirely on infant formula for extended periods of time.

Since it’s clear to me that infant formula is substandard infant nutrition (compared with the biological norm, breastmilk), and since it’s also pretty clear to me that way too many people in power (doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and personnel, etc.) seem to be confused about this, because they aren’t assisting new mothers with breastfeeding the way they should be upon the birth of their babies, and too many of them, furthermore, PUSH the use of infant formula inappropriately, I thought I’d start to make things a bit more truthful with a proper label.

Here it is:

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Compare it to a can of formula anyone could buy in any supermarket in the United States:

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The difference in visual information is huge.

Here are some caveats about my label: The label I created does not contain any nutritional information. I probably should have put that on there, but since I’m not actually selling formula, I don’t have to. :) I was going to give away some extra cans of formula to a shelter here, but I didn’t feel good about leaving the labels intact with all that formula marketing on them. I also didn’t feel good about ripping the labels off because then people wouldn’t know what was in the cans and might throw them away. I couldn’t bear to think of that waste, so instead, I created an alternative label that wouldn’t offend me as much. I simply designed it, printed it out, and pasted it on top of the existing label. That way, if anyone cares to look, they can still find the other one underneath, but they will first have to have read a differing point of view. I took a few artistic liberties with the part that says “Price,” where I said that it was free but available by prescription only. I got that idea from one of the commenters on this blog. The label I have on my download page for anyone to download is slightly different from the one pictured here because the final version has the volume information on it just under where it says “Cows’ Milk-Based.”

Anyway, I thought some of you might want to have this label as an option, so that you could, whenever Freecycling or donating excess cans of ready-to-feed formula to people who might need them, print some truthful labels out and paste them (or tape them, whatever) onto existing formula cans. But please be sure the information is accurate. Most routine formulas are 20 kCal/fl oz and cows’ milk based, so if you’re giving away soy formula or formula that is made with a different formulation, please do NOT use my downloadable label. Feel free to design your own alternative, truthful formula label, and please tell me about it so that I may link to your site and have others see your awesome ideas. Keep in mind that whatever label you create needs to mention that the biological norm is breastfeeding, and that formula is an MRE for babies, not an ideal food for long-term, exclusive use.

Also, I want to say that I welcome constructive criticism of any of the content on this label. If you feel that something on it isn’t accurate enough or may be portraying infant formula or artificial baby milks in too favorable of a light, I need to know that so that I can alter it, or at the very least draw attention to that so that others will be aware of this. Thanks.

Here’s the label itself, which you can download off the download page here at breastfeedingsymbol.org:

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