Spice Girl to Daddy: This food is bland!

Lately, my daughter has begun to reject food. At first my wife and I thought she might be coming down with something — especially after our hospital episode, we have been carefully monitoring our daughter’s sleeping and eating habits for any signs of recurring sickness.

The fate of bland baby food.

But she hasn’t shown any signs of vomiting, skin rashes, breathing difficulties…even when she had a fever a couple days ago, it seemed to be a reaction to having caught some sort of mild cold virus from a playmate at a weekend “parent-child” get together. She recovered from the fever within about a day, and has been happily gurgling along “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” while banging on random hand-made toys.

No, it wasn’t sickness. Then, what was it? Why was she suddenly (it seemed) resisting eating?We both came to the conclusion that she is really trying to tell us about her food preferences: Her food is too bland.

Both my wife and I like spicy food. I enjoy all sorts of spices, from Mexican to Nepalese to Indian, while my wife prefers Southeast Asian and Korean. Yet we have avoided giving spices of any kind to our daughter, primarily because “standard wisdom” told us that babies shouldn’t have spicy food.

Well, guess again. Even my wife was told to eat more nuts while pregnant, to increase the amount of folic acid for the baby. Then why should babies be somehow allergic to nuts? I’m sure that my wife had curry rice at least once while pregnant, and certainly she had it while breastfeeding. And yet somehow curries are supposed to be a hindrance now that it’s mixed with baby food? Nuts.

Why have the local pediatricians and child nutritionist “experts” not told us about this?

It could be that they are worried about our daughter developing food allergies. I distinctly remembering visiting a friend from high school, who upset his wife by giving peanut butter to their then-one-year-old son. Turns out there is little evidence that any food causes allergies…unless your family already has a history of them.

Another friend of mine, from college, once had a slice of pizza at a party in my Boston apartment and instantly broke out in hives and started gasping for breath. It later turned out that he had some sort of reaction to a kind of spicy pepper used in the sauce. Solution? Benedryl (an over the counter antihistimine for allergies). Reason for reaction? Completely unknown.

Would my college friend not have developed such a reaction had his parents given him hot peppers as a child? No idea, but I seriously doubt it. Is his reaction the result of modern methods of growing hot peppers? No idea, but much of the blogosphere seems certain.

The web is filled with all sorts of “evidence” trying to connect genetically modified foods (among others) with a supposed recent rise in allergies. Yet scientific research has not clearly demonstrated any connections between certain kinds of food and allergies. Bloggers and consumer advocate groups are suspicious of large agricultural corporations and their profit margins; academics are firm in their support for the safety of tech-developed food. So, who to trust?

(Hint: Which linked story above uses anecdotal evidence such as “according to my friend Joe the Blogger…” and “my sister told me…” and which one uses scientifically debunkable or provable evidence?)

Let’s get back to babies and spices. If my high school friend isn’t allergic to peanut butter, I think it would be safe to assume that his son isn’t allergic, either (this happens to be the case). If my college friend is allergic to hot peppers, it might be safe to assume that his young daughter (2 1/2 y.o.) might also be allergic. I don’t know if this is the case, but I believe they are avoiding testing this theory for the time being.

However, one person’s experience does not mean we can generalize to every child in the entire world. There is an old saying, that anecdotes do not make a science…and that ten anecdotes are no better than one, and a hundred are no better than ten. Once we find even one child who is not allergic to peanut butter, canola oil, hot peppers, cardamon, oregano, cinnamon, or a host of other foods, the “X food causes allergies” theory goes up in smoke.

So, how are we going to get our daughter to start eating the rice and vegetable mash again?

To take a line from Frank Herbert: “The spice…”

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
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