Book Review: The Dorito Effect

The Dorito Effect was a very interesting and perhaps somewhat alarmist book. In a nutshell, the book argues that modern agriculture has bred both our animal and vegetable foods to optimize transportability and yield and neglected to breed for flavour. The lack of flavour in our food is remedied by synthesized flavour chemicals that are added to make our food palatable. According to Schatzker, the major problem with this is that in nature, flavour is an indicator of nutrition. So our flavour-poor foods are also nutritionally-poor, and we are being coerced into eating these things because food additives are tricking our bodies into thinking we want to eat them.

There was a particular section of this book that interested me as a parent. I have included the two pertinent pages below (my apologies for the slight blurriness). These pages discuss a study done back in the days when there weren’t ethics review boards. Children of “teenage mothers” and “widows” were fed an experimental diet consisting of 34 different whole, unprocessed foods. The children were allowed to choose whatever they wanted to eat at each meal from the options, and permitted to eat as much as they wanted. Not every meal the children chose for themselves contained all of the food groups, but overall, they ended up with a balanced diet and were in excellent health at the end of the study.


At another point in Schatzker’s book he talks about how flavour chemicals are used in raising livestock. In that particular context they are referred to as “palatants” and they can make livestock consume many more calories than they naturally would and grow much faster (which is great for farmers to maximize profit).

This, in addition to his description of the nutritional experiment with children got me reflecting about RJ, who is still way at the bottom of the growth chart for her weight (somewhere around the 1 percentile mark). She is a good eater and we avoid giving her processed foods. I started to wonder where the numbers on the growth chart come from, and if perhaps the children on which the growth charts are based are fed more processed foods with flavour chemicals (aka palatants) than RJ is, and therefore they might inevitably consume more calories and be more plump than she is.

Fortunately another blogger whose work I really admire, Alice Callahan over at The Science of Mom had written a well-researched post on growth charts in 2011. I learned from her post that the WHO charts are based on the measurements of a total of 882 children from Pelotas, Brazil; Accra, Ghana; Delhi, India; Oslow, Norway; Muscat, Oman; and Davis, CA, USA. It turns out that children who were “super lean were excluded so as not to skew the data.” I can only speculate that many, if not all of the 882 children ate processed foods with flavour chemicals. According to Schatzker’s book, flavour chemicals are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine that there are children in the world who aren’t exposed to them. I wonder what a growth chart from 100 years ago would look like, if such a thing exists. Would RJ have been at the bottom of a growth chart 100 years ago before processed foods, or would her weight be more average compared to those children of the past.

Although RJ is a skinny little toddler, she seems healthy and I feel that I am doing the right thing for her by feeding her whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. The Dorito Effect definitely underscored that belief.


Book Review: I am a Bunny

Why am I obsessed with this book?

I’ve already read it to RJ twice today.

I actually chose this book brand-new from the bookstore (I usually only buy used children’s books or take them out from the library). Our friend had given RJ a copy of Each Peach Pear Plum for her first birthday but we already owned a copy from my own childhood. So we went to the bookstore to exchange it, but choosing a replacement book was a lot to live up to because Each Peach Pear Plum is an awesome book.

So I looked through almost all of the children’s books while RJ squawked and I sweated, finally choosing this one. And it’s awesome. Hubby and RJ both agree with me.

To begin with, it has the right text to page ratio to hold the attention of a 1-year old. Secondly, it’s adorable and whimsical, even though I slightly disapprove of anthropomorphizing animals. Especially since we ate a rabbit for dinner the other night. So it seems kind of twisted to read this book one night and serve up a tasty rabbit stew the next. But I digress…

I thought this blog did a great job of describing how charming the illustrations (done by the renown and prolific Richard Scarry) are in this book. I like the simplicity of this book and how it describes the changing seasons. The changing seasons do seem more magical now that I have RJ. Life feels more rhythmic in a way, and I like to read books that talk about seasons.

This book was written in 1963, and there is something old-fashioned and innocent about it. You should check it out.

Book Review: French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting

You’d think that after having read Bringing Up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too) I might be finished reading French parenting-style books written by North Americans. Well after reading French Twist, perhaps I am.

Not because French Twist is the be-all, end-all of American-French parenting books (I actually liked Bébé and French Kids better) but because I am finally tiring of this sub-genre (and have started reading biographies of Canadian political figures, reviews of which don’t really belong in this blog).

French Twist is different than the other two books because the author didn’t actually live in France ever. So this book loses the armchair travel dimension that the other aforementioned books had. Also, it makes her observations about French parenting more indirect. The author has some French-American friends and she gets parenting tips from them. In a way this is helpful because she is using French parenting techniques in a North American context, and something that I found disheartening about the other books was the realization that societal infrastructure (e.g. daycares, schools, close-knit family) that differs between France and North America has a huge influence on the process of raising children.

This book is also different from the other two books because the author attempts a lot of humour. This was okay for about half a chapter but then it felt tedious.

All three of these books really boil down to a few very useful principles though. Some ideas that have stuck with me include:

  1. Authority: A French parent is an authoritative parent. There is no bribing (rewarding) your children to do things. They do things because they are told to do things. That’s how it works.
  2. Dignity: I’m not sure if this is the right label, but by using the term ”dignity” I mean not always getting on the floor to play with the kids. Children and adults have separate interests, and adults are not expected to drop all of their interests to entertain their children. The children learn to be self-sufficient and entertain themselves.
  3. Food: You can never talk about French parenting without talking about food. I think some of the key concepts are that French adults don’t eat junk food, and French kids occasionally eat junk food but then grow out of it. I remember a scene from one of the books where there was a child’s birthday party with cupcakes, and only the children had cupcakes, not the adults present. That’s just not the way we operate in North America. French kids are introduced to a variety of healthy foods from the time they start solids (blue cheese for babies? They do that… but I have not tried yet with RJ. She has, however, had Brie and Camembert). French people, in general, eat fresher and whole foods. The parents eat healthily so the children eat healthily.

These are just a few of the ideas that have stuck with me. If you are interested in reading more about American-French parenting, I would recommend you start with Bringing up Bébé.

Book Review: Goodnight, Canada

Once you’ve read Goodnight Moon so many times that the thought of reading it one more time makes you glum, Goodnight Canada is a great book to pick up. Because RJ has a short attention span, hubby and I usually skip the first few pages that have 4-line stanzas of introductory verse and go straight into saying goodnight to all the provinces and territories. The illustrations (which I believe are done by pencil crayon) are fun and have lots of imagery that represent distinctive geographical and cultural features of the provinces.

This is the type of book that can be enjoyed with babies and I imagine it will also be enjoyed by older children as well. If you’ve traveled around Canada a bit you will probably find that this book will make you happily reminisce about your trips.

Book Review: Thank You Prayer

Thank you for the food we eat.

Thank you for the world so sweet.

This sweet and simple book/prayer is the perfect length for RJ at 11-months old. She can sit through the entire thing, and she seems interested in the illustrations (which are done by the same illustrator as the more popular I Love You Through and Through and How Do I Love You?).

This book does not mention Jesus but refers to God twice simply as God. So this book could be used by families from a variety of religious/spiritual persuasions.

Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too)

Do you fantasize about moving your entire family to France? I know I do. And Le Billon, a Canadian who married a French man, did just that and then wrote a memoir about it (I just started typing “momoir” which I have just discovered is an actual word that would also describe this book).

This book was a bit of a downer actually. In reality, being a foreigner is France is not always that great (I related to this because I have also spent a year living in France). France is culturally very different than Canada. Do they have a better food culture? Yes. I felt that this was the case before I read this book, and reading it confirmed it for me, while elucidating the methods whereby this food culture is promulgated.

At the end of the book Le Billon talks about her return to Canada and how certain aspects of French food culture were pretty much impossible to continue in Canada. Farmers markets and local produce are harder to come by and more expensive (although the French spend a higher percentage of their income on food than we do: check out this nifty diagram). French schools and workplaces are equipped with cafeterias with high quality food, and it would be unusual (and probably considered antisocial) for people to bring their own food from home and eat alone.

There are some food habits that Le Billon’s family picked up in France that they were able to continue in Canada. Some of these were: making time for sit down meals, making meals feel special (I liked the idea that tablecloths were used regularly and setting the table was part of setting the mood), not snacking in between meals, not feeding “kid’s food” to kids but having the whole family eat the same thing, and not using food as a reward or pacifier.

This book also had some tasty looking recipes. It was an interesting read, and like Bringing up Bebe, Parenting without Borders, and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it is a good reminder that as authoritative as those BabyCenter emails or your mother-in-law sounds, the North American parenting way is not the only, and perhaps not even the best, way to parent your child.


Book Review: The Happy Sleeper

I finally hit the wall and decided to sleep train RJ. For six months I slept in the same room as her (usually with her in the crib and me in a bed). But finally I felt too exhausted to continue waking and feeding her every two to three hours. I had also read that the best time to sleep train was before 8 months because that’s when separation anxiety starts. And I also know people who didn’t sleep train and have 2 year olds who don’t sleep through the night. I realized I was not cut out for this.

I found this book at the library after I had already ordered Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West on a recommendation from my Nurse Practitioner. Since I got my hands on The Happy Sleeper first, it became my go-to sleep training method. Good Night, Sleep Tight is gathering dust somewhere after I briefly flipped through it after it arrived in the mail.

The Happy Sleeper though, I flip through it almost every second day.

Here’s how the Happy Sleeper training method works (spoiler alert!): you have a consistent bedtime/naptime routine, put the baby in her crib, leave the room, and let her cry for 5 minutes. After 5 solid minutes of crying, you go in and recite a verbal reassurance script, then leave the room. The key to this method is consistency. The theory is that the baby will detect your pattern and know that you are close by. If you break the pattern (e.g. by breaking down and picking the baby up out of the crib to cuddle her) you will just be providing “intermittent reinforcement”. This is the same principle that makes gambling so addictive…

Full disclosure: this is a Cry-It-Out (CIO) method. It differs from Ferberizing because in the Ferber method the time interval between room checks changes. Good Night, Sleep Tight is also a modified CIO method that involves sitting in a chair next to the crib during the crying and then progressively moving the chair out of the room in stages.

The Happy Sleeper book contains much more information than just this method. It contains a lot of information based on sleep research about sleep cycles and how to create positive sleep associations and encourage self-soothing. The authors argue that children’s sleep problems are caused by over-parenting. By continuing to feed/rock/etc. your baby to sleep once they are able to learn how to self-soothe (around 5 months), you are preventing your baby from developing the skills that will help them (and you) get some quality shut-eye.

The CIO method in this book is sort of a last resort for people like me who didn’t know all the content in the other chapters about how to develop good baby sleep habits starting at birth. This book has separate chapters on sleep for 0-4 months, 5 months-2 years, and 2 years and up.

Having to resort to a CIO sleep training method is painful as a parent. This book did a good job at presenting research that helped give me the confidence to be consistent in this method. There was even a sidebar in the book with mantras to repeat to yourself when the baby is crying. For example,

I want my baby to go to bed feeling confident in her ability to get comfortable and fall asleep on her own.

Now, close to two weeks into this method, I feel that this has been happening for awhile already. This book has improved my life a lot. RJ seems to be just as happy and fond of me as she was before we did sleep training, if not more so. Being less sleep deprived and having some free time in the evening has noticably improved my mood, thus improving my relationships with my spouse AND with RJ.

I plan to buy a copy of this book and hope that if I have another baby I can use the sleep principles in this book to help that baby be a happy sleeper too.