Book Review: Beautiful Babies by Kristen Michaelis

This is basically a defense of the Weston A. Price diet for pregnancy and early childhood. The nutrition advice ranges from odd to downright dangerous. The rationale for the advice is nostalgia and cherry-picked scientific studies. And Michaelis (like a lot of self-taught nutritionists) despises me and my ilk (that is, people with actual training in nutrition.)

A review in which I annoy you by summarizing each chapter of the book using the words “In which…” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chapter 1
In which Michealis reveals that she has no credentials that give her any right to be talking about nutrition – apart from watching food-fright documentaries and reading people like Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and Sally Fallon (all of whom are interesting to read, but hardly bastions of science-based nutrition recommendations.)

Chapter 2
In which Michaelis explains that nutrition matters (*gasp*). Except don’t pay any attention to those nasty reductionist dietitians with their advice meant to avoid specific proven risks. No, you should jump on the fetal origins hypothesis (which is a reasonable and scientifically supported hypothesis that a mother’s environment during pregnancy affects her child well into adulthood, but which currently has little evidence of sufficient quality to use to make broad-ranging dietary recommendations) which means you should eat a primitive diet (what? Okay, fetal origins really doesn’t suggest need for a Weston Price style diet – but that doesn’t stop Michaelis from using the one to support the other.)

Chapter 3
In which Michaelis tells you what to avoid: MSG, corn, GMOs, vegetable oils, industrial meats/dairy/eggs, refined sweeteners, and modern gardening/farming practices. Michaelis’ rationale is a mixture of misguided nostalgia and alarmist pseudoscience. Oh, okay. She occasionally includes a bit of real science – and then completely screws up the application. For example, she recommends avoiding corn (and corn-fed animals) because corn oil has a much higher than recommended Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio. It is true that corn oil has a high Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio – and that almost all Americans could stand to eat more Omega 3s relative to Omega 6s. But…the list of corn ingredients Michaelis wants you to avoid? Only 3 of the 21 corn-derived ingredients contains fat. So… unless she’s got another good reason to avoid corn products, she’s just being silly.

Chapter 4
In which Michaelis tells you what TO eat: bone broth, traditional fats and oils, wild and pastured animal foods, natural sweeteners, and “properly prepared” grains. In general, there’s nothing wrong with these items, even if the emphasis is off. Good advice: choose butter or olive oil over partially hydrogenated margarines or shortenings. Advice with some nutritional support, although not enough to warrant broad-based recommendations: wild or pastured animals have a more favorable fatty-acid profile and soaked grains have better nutrient bioavailability (but a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – even the unsoaked kind – is unlikely to be deficient in those micronutrients.) Completely spurious advice? bone broth and natural sweeteners. As far as sweeteners go, your body doesn’t care whether it’s “natural” or not – if it’s sugar (and that includes honey, maple syrup, sucanat, sorghum syrup, coconut palm sugar, and others), the body treats it as sugar. If it isn’t sugar (stevia and “artificial sweeteners”), the body processes it as whatever it is – whether a sugar alcohol, an indigestible starch or whatever. Of course, the real travesty of this chapter is what Michaelis omits. Please note the two food groups she doesn’t bother to mention in any degree: fruits and vegetables. Whatever the controversies nutrition science may have, there is one thing about which every science-based dietitian and nutrition researcher can agree – the general US population should be eating more fruits and vegetables.

Chapter 5
In which Michaelis helps you learn what to eat to poop well. Because your gut is your second brain. Sigh. I don’t even know where to start with this. Let’s just say that some people do have digestive issues that compromise their overall health. Most people don’t. Probiotics are good – but their benefits are frequently overstated. The most important thing you can do to have a healthy digestive system is to get sufficient fiber and water – like, say, from fruits and vegetables (which don’t necessarily need to be lactofermented, thank goodness!)

Chapter 6
In which Michaelis tells you what to eat to be fertile and to have a healthy pregnancy. The “fertility” section is more of Price’s general theories combined with more recent research from the Nurse’s Health Study. Want to hear what the science actually says? Read the highly readable The Fertility Diet by Jorge Chavarro, Patrick J. Skerrett, and Walter Willett – and keep in mind that even a well-executed study like the Nurse’s Healthy Study can’t prove causation.

The “pregnancy” section is where it gets exciting, because Michaelis has somehow figured out the cause of both morning sickness and preeclampsia, two relatively common pregnancy conditions that researchers have been puzzling over for years! (Can you sense the sarcasm?) Of course, the problem is nutrition. And the solution is a variation of the Brewer’s Diet, a favorite diet of natural childbirth advocates everywhere. Problem with the Brewer diet? Well… there are several. While the Brewer diet apparently had great success for Dr. Brewer’s (low-income, minority, teenage) patients in the 60s and 70s, nutrition science has failed to find links between the components of Brewer’s diet and healthy pregnancy. While protein deficiency may have played some role in increasing risk in Brewer’s patients, studies of moderate vs. high protein intake in pregnant women have failed to show any protective effect of increased protein intake. While Brewer’s teenaged patients may have needed the 3000 calories per day that his diet recommends (because they were still developing themselves, in addition to supporting a growing baby in their wombs), research clearly links excess weight gain during pregnancy to development of preeclampsia (and we’re talking weight gain even before those preeclamptic women started putting on all that fluid.) Additionally, while Brewer’s patients may have had nutrient deficiencies that made intake of large quantities of liver helpful and not dangerous, those of us who are adequately nourished in the first place should not be overloading our diet with items high in retinol (preformed Vitamin A), which is highly toxic to a developing baby. We should instead be getting our Vitamin A in the form of carotenoids (from vegetable sources) which our body converts to Vitamin A as needed, without the toxicity to the developing baby.

It’d be nice if we knew the exact cause of preeclampsia and could avoid it at all costs. But the reality is that we don’t know what causes preeclampsia. We know risk factors – first pregnancy with a new partner, high or low maternal age, overweight or obesity prior to pregnancy, excess weight gain during pregnancy. But none of those are a guarantee of preeclampsia – and the absence of those are not a guarantee against preeclampsia. As nice as it would be to just put ourselves on a diet for nine months to keep preeclampsia at bay, the truth is that there is very little evidence that dietary interventions make any difference in the development of preeclampsia. And if there is any promising research along that vein at present? It suggests that maybe increasing dietary fiber might make a difference. What, you mean like eating more fruits and vegetables? Oh. My. Word. That’s pretty much the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard suggested (Sarcasm, again, in case you didn’t catch it.)

Chapter 7
In which Michaelis reminds you that everything those nasty government-shill dietitians tell you is wrong. (I have a feeling I’m becoming less charitable and more cynical as this book goes on.) But this chapter rehashes that cholesterol and saturated fat aren’t bad for you (dietitian me: it’s complicated). Michaelis also tells you that you don’t need an iron supplement (dietitian me: anyone who is routinely recommending iron supplementation to pregnant women without confirmation of anemia is acting outside the bounds of science-based practice anyway). According to Michaelis, sushi won’t give you listeria but raw cheese might (dietitian me: both sushi and raw cheese are relatively more risky than cooked fish and hard cheeses. In both cases the odds of problems are low but the problem – miscarriage or stillbirth – could be severe if it happens. Mothers should be aware of the risks and make their decisions based on information.) And finally, the occasional glass of red wine won’t harm your baby (dietitian me: probably not, but excess drinking can… and it’s worthwhile for you to find better coping mechanisms than drinking.)

Chapter 8
In which Michaelis leaves the realm of nutrition to promote every other kind of quackery you can think of. After all, Western medicine KILLS PEOPLE (dietitian me: but not as many people as would die prematurely if they opted out of Western medicine for the mumbo-jumbo you’re suggesting.)

Chapter 9
In which Michaelis informs us that breast isn’t always best – in which case you should opt for a homemade baby formula! Dietitian me: Where do I go with this train wreck of a chapter? She’s right that breast isn’t always best. In the developed world, the risk of a woman transmitting HIV through her breastmilk is greater than the risks of formula feeding. For women who are unable to produce breastmilk because of hypoplasia/insufficient glandular tissue, forcing a baby to an empty breast is not best! A drug abuser can pass drugs through her breastmilk to her baby. A severely malnourished woman may have trouble producing high quality milk. BUT… the women reading Michaelis’ book are unlikely to be drug abusers and the degree of maternal malnutrition required to malnourish a breastfed baby is incredibly rare in the United States. As for the appropriate alternative to breastmilk? Iron fortified infant formula. Period. Full stop. Even if you scrupulously follow Michaelis’s recipes for “whole food” infant formula, you’re going to end up with variations in nutrient content because (I’ve got a big surprise for you here) whole foods don’t always have the same nutrient content (even if it’s the same brand). Some organic liver will have more Vitamin A and some will have less. Some homemade broth will have more calcium and some will have less. It’s the nature of natural. But unlike your breastmilk, that liver and homemade broth wasn’t designed by God to be consumed by your baby. Your infant could end up with too much or too little and you’d have no way of knowing until the damage was done. At least with infant formula, you actually do know what the nutrient content is. It’s regulated, controlled. It tries to get as close to breastmilk as possible (which, yes, it doesn’t get close – but it can get closer than anything you can mix up at home.)

Chapter 10
In which Michaelis slams WIC and promotes baby-led weaning. At least she’s honest: “I don’t remember much of what my WIC nutritionist told me.” I’m hoping that what she DID remember was a false memory. Because no WIC dietitian worth her salt is encouraging moms to “just mix a little [infant cereal] in with their [baby’s] milk in a bottle or sippy cup.” Michaelis goes on to explain why this was terrible advice. It’s because babies can’t digest starch like that found in infant cereal. For that reason, babies shouldn’t be given starchy foods until they cut their two year molars. Problem is, Michaelis only knows the beginning of the research (that babies have less pancreatic amylase than adults) and didn’t bother to look at the whole picture (Check out Alice Callahan’s excellent treatment of the topic at Science of Mom if you’re interested in learning more about whether infants can digest infant cereal.) On the other hand, offering cereal in a bottle is truly terrible advice that can promote excess weight gain and possibly increase choking risk. Cereal should be served by spoon.

The ironic thing is that while Michaelis goes full-on WIC-hating in this chapter, I don’t disagree with her basic premise. Once infants are ready to eat solid foods, they can eat “real foods” (that is, the same foods the family is eating.) Most infants and toddlers eat WAY too many starches and sweets – because they’re being plied with cookies and crackers all day long instead of what they should be getting, little bits of everything the family is eating. But then again, I’d be emphasizing fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean protein sources instead of liver and bone broth and sauerkraut (not that I don’t love me some bone broth and sauerkraut – they’re just not really necessary for good health.)

Fortunately for me, the last 50 pages of this book are recipes rather than more of the same from the first 170 pages. If I’d have had to go on… I might have bashed my head against a wall.

The reality is that nutrition science is in its infancy. There’s a lot we don’t know about how to optimize our diets for health. Some government recommendations (cholesterol restriction) and the ensuing dietary changes (a population going crazy on hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of animal fats) have been for the worse. And for every government recommendation that isn’t fully founded in the research there are two thousand non-governmental, non-reputable recommendations based on a single bit of research (that happens to be contradicted by every other piece of research.) But the answer to an infant science that sometimes lets us down isn’t to ignore science altogether or to cherry-pick studies that fit our predetermined viewpoint, as Michaelis does all throughout her book. The answer is to evaluate the science critically and to go with the stuff that has the most support (rather than jumping on the bandwagon for the newest study). That is not at all what Michaelis does.

With the risk of sounding like a broken record, Michaelis majors on the minors – things that have minimal to no scientific support – while completely ignoring what I (as a nutrition professional) consider to be the most important food advice any American can receive: eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s not sexy advice. It doesn’t have the cachet of ancient wisdom only available to primitive cultures – or the allure of a governmental cover-up. But it’s the soundest advice I can give you. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim to include a fruit or vegetable (or two or three) at every meal and snack. You – and your babies – will be better for it.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Diet Advice
Synopsis: A defense of the Weston Price diet – and a slam on people like me.
Recommendation: I do not recommend this book.

Book Review: Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler

The front cover of Your Pregnancy Week by Week proudly announces that it is “The only best-selling guide written by a doctor.” The spine contains a medallion announcing “The only best-selling guide written by a doctor.” The back cover proclaims the book to be “The expanded, fully updated edition of the best-selling pregnancy guide written by a doctor.”

So the major selling point of this book is that it is written by a doctor. Glade Curtis is a board certified OB-GYN, which means he’s the perfect guy to walk a woman through every week of her normal pregnancy, right?

Well, that depends a lot on your view of what pregnancy is. Is pregnancy a medical condition to be monitored and controlled (as you would diabetes or heart disease?) or is it a life event to be cherished and enjoyed (as you would an engagement and preparation for a wedding?)

Curtis (and the obstetric community as a whole) tends to think that pregnancy is a medical condition to be monitored and controlled. As such, Your Pregnancy Week by Week consists of telling a woman all the things that might go wrong with her at any given point during her pregnancy, all the tests which might be necessary to make sure that nothing is going wrong, and why she should trust her doctor implicitly and herself not at all during pregnancy.

Okay, someone not quite as passionate about pregnancy and birth as I am might feel that I’m overreacting to this book. Things can go wrong during pregnancy, they might say. Tests are sometimes necessary. You should be able to trust your doctor. Your own instincts aren’t always right when it comes to pregnancy. And, for that matter – pregnancy isn’t simply a life event like an engagement. Things are happening in your body!

And I agree completely, dear not-so-passionate-about-birth-as-I. Things do go wrong during pregnancy – I, of all people should know. I could have died during my pregnancy with Tirzah Mae. Tests are sometimes necessary – the ultrasounds to make sure Tirzah Mae was still growing when my body was no longer functioning as designed, the blood tests that finally told us that my kidneys and liver had stopped doing their jobs – those were necessary (and without the blood tests indicating the need for delivery both Tirzah Mae and I would have died.) It is incredibly valuable to have a caregiver you can trust – which is why I am SO grateful for my midwife, who was alert to normal pregnancy and knew when to refer when my pregnancy became anything but normal. That’s why I’m SO grateful for my OB, who values women and who works with them to help them have as normal a delivery as possible.

Pregnancy isn’t SIMPLY a life event like an engagement. Your body is changing, your hormones are changing. You’ve got extra blood pumping through your veins, an extra body inside your own. Things are happening to your body that you want to understand. You want to know if those changes are normal or if they’re something to be worried about. In some cases, you NEED to know if they’re normal or if you should be worried about them (ten pounds weight gain in one day – that’s not normal. It’s definitely something to be worried about.)

But Curtis and his co-author aren’t simply helping women understand what is normal and what isn’t. They are detailing, every week, another horrible thing that can go wrong during pregnancy (tacking a line at the end about how really only two in a thousand women are going to have this problem, so don’t worry.)

Curtis explains (week after week) why a woman shouldn’t ever be afraid to get a test or a procedure because they only ever help your doctor and you and your baby (and have never been PROVEN to be harmful – the anti-precautionary principle). And he explains (week after week) why a woman should be afraid to drink caffeine, eat sugar, eat artificial sweeteners, take an over-the-counter drug, etc (because it has never been PROVEN to be safe – the precautionary principle.) The doctor is always right and can do no harm. The woman is always to be doubted and will kill her baby if left to her own devices. (Okay, I’m exagerating a little.)

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the unscientific suggestions Curtis has for labor. He encourages enemas (for the patient’s safety and comfort, of course!), fasting during labor, lying down during labor, and episiotomies. Continuous fetal monitoring is necessary for baby’s safety. And if you aren’t sure you want a natural labor? A doula is a bad idea (well, actually, are you SURE you want a natural labor? If I give you this epidural, then you’ll be so much more comfortable and will be so much easier to monitor and won’t try to move around or anything… big plus? you won’t have to hire a doula!)

Yeah. No.

Choose to have a pregnancy and childbirth not defined by fear. Choose to trust that your body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Choose NOT to read Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler’s Your Pregnancy Week by Week.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Pregnancy
Synopsis: An overmedicalized, fear-based, doctor-is-always-right tome on pregnancy
Recommendation:If you want to be scared out of your mind by all the things that could go wrong in pregnancy and to be convinced that every intervention your doctor might suggest is absolutely the right decision, you’ll want to read this book. If you prefer to learn what a normal pregnancy looks like, how to deal with the normal problems of pregnancy, and to make evidence-based (versus fear-based) decisions for your pregnancy and childbirth – this is not at all the book for you.

Book Review: Bouncing Back after Your Pregnancy by Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler

Of all the books on postpartum issues that I have read so far, Bouncing Back After Your Pregnancy is the most comprehensive and well-organized. Topics flow from immediate issues to infant feeding to maternal nutrition and exercise to marriage and family topics to returning to work and planning your next pregnancy. I’d love to be able to recommend this book.

Unfortunately, the content is simply ridiculous and filled with misinformation. Episiotomies are assumed and, to read the chapters on immediate postpartum care, you’d think the episiotomy is really the most important part of childbirth (before and after). The exercises in the exercise chapter are laughable – some aren’t really much by way of exercise and several list the wrong muscle groups as the ones being exercised. No distinctions are made between strength exercises and stretching and no attention is given to grouping exercises into any logical pattern. And the breastfeeding advice…

Let’s just say the authors probably couldn’t be more anti-breastfeeding if they tried.

Bottle-feeding is listed first in the infant feeding chapter and great pains are taken to list every possible advantage of bottlefeeding and to minimize any possible disadvantage you might have heard. Once the authors get around to discussing breastfeeding, a bold section heading offers “disadvantages to breastfeeding”. Almost every bit of breastfeeding advice is given as a blanket statement that assumes breastfeeding is uncomfortable, messy, and inconvenient. Mothers are educated on “warning signs” in a breastfed baby – but not told what signs suggest that breastfeeding is going well. The authors only recommed breastfeeding for six months and reassure moms that the majority of mothers don’t go that long.

Bad breastfeeding advice and attitudes aren’t limited to the breastfeeding chapter. In the chapter on nutrition, mothers are given lists of foods not to eat while breastfeeding (actually, most breastfeeding babies will grow and thrive even if their mothers make NO changes at all to their diet – even if the mother is eating unhealthfully in the first place.) The chapter on returning to work mentions the possibility of pumping and gives a little advice, but the advice is incomplete and doesn’t offer any middle ground. Yes, I’d rather a baby get only breastmilk, even while his mom’s at work – but feeding formula while you’re away and breastfeeding at the breast when you’re with baby is better than weaning completely, and is TOTALLY doable (I’ve seen dozens of women, mostly Hispanic, who have very good success with this.)

So no, I can’t recommend this book. I’ve focused on the breastfeeding issues mostly because that is an area in which I have expertise, but the problems with the breastfeeding advice are just an example of the poor research and rampant misinformation found within this book.

I do NOT recommend Bouncing Back after Your Pregnancy.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Postpartum health
Synopsis: A look at issues facing postpartum moms.
Recommendation: Full of misinformation. Not recommended.

Book Review: “The Layman’s Bible Commentary: Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel”

In last April’s Nightstand post, I gave a short review of The Layman’s Bible Commentary: Acts of the Apostles by Albert C. Winn. I spoke positively of it as a beginner’s commentary, restating and clarifying the text with bits of historical commentary throughout. While the mature believer with a lot of background already may not find it useful, it is a good source for the new believer or one with little Biblical background.

Recently, I picked up another volume in The Layman’s Bible Commentary series, this time written by Eric C. Rust on Judges through 2 Samuel. I started reading in 1 Samuel, in conjunction with my daily Bible reading, and red flags were popping up on almost every page.

Explaining Hannah’s song of praise in I Samuel 2:1-10, the commentator suggests that this psalm is not actually sung by Hannah but is of a later date–since the song mentions a king and Israel didn’t have a king until later. The problem with this interpretation is that Scripture directly contradicts it. I Samuel 2:1 says “And Hannah prayed and said”. If Scripture is inerrant, then there is no other explanation than that Hannah did indeed pray this prayer, including the part regarding a king, even though there was not yet a king in Israel. That she should sing of a king despite there not being a king is understandable if one believes that God inspires the words of Scripture and was also revealing his plan of redemption (although only in part) to the people of Israel before it happened. That the God who reveals secrets should have a woman prophesying in the midst of her prayers is not at all surprising. But the commentator doesn’t take this approach. Instead of regarding the Scripture as infallible and inspired by a God who is actively impacting the events that would be recorded, he seems to regard Scripture as little more than a human record of natural events.

Perhaps I would not judge this first blow at Scripture’s integrity so harshly as I have if the beating had not continued on each page that followed.

Writing of the people’s demand for a king in chapter 8, Rust says

“We have two conflicting traditions….The first, recorded in this chapter….The second, recorded in chapter 9….The two cannot be reconciled, and it is generally believed that the first tradition, enshrined in the chapter now being considered, was a later one, reflecting many years of disappointing experience of the monarchy and embodying the teaching of prophets like Hosea, who regarded the kingship as a manifestation of divine wrath.”

Rust states that chapter 8 has Samuel reluctantly giving in to the people’s request for a king and that chapter 9 has Samuel wholeheartedly giving the divine stamp of approval to the people’s request–and that the two can’t be reconciled.

The suggestion that the two are irreconcilable is ridiculous. The narrative is straightforward.
1. The people ask for a king (I Sam 8:5)
2. Samuel is displeased and prays to God (I Sam 8:6)
3. God tells Samuel to give the people a king but to warn them of what a king will do (I Sam 8:7-9)
4. Samuel warns the people of what a king will do (I Sam 8:10-18)
5. The people insist that they still want a king (I Sam 8:19-20)
6. Samuel tells God what the people said (I Sam 8:21)
7. God tells Samuel to give the people a king (I Sam 8:22)
Now, while we jump over to focus on the young Saul searching for his father’s donkeys, the overarching narrative remains the same. God has told Samuel to give the people a king, but they don’t have one yet. Verse 15 of chapter 9 picks up the story.
8. God tells Samuel that the man who will be king will arrive the next day (I Sam 9:15-16)
9. Samuel sees Saul and God confirms that this is the one (I Sam 9:17)

According to Rust, Samuel’s author switches back to reluctance in Chapter 10 when Samuel declares to the people that “today you have rejected your God” (I Sam 10:19). Yet I see no discontinuity in the text. The people were indeed rejecting God as their king–but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still the one in charge of getting them a king.

Anyway, I go off on the details. Suffice to say that I do NOT recommend this particular volume within the Layman’s Bible Commentary. The author clearly has a low view of Scripture and this view suffuses everything he says.

Rating:0 Stars
Category:Bible Commentary
Synopsis:A theologian who does not believe in Biblical inerrancy repeatedly creates conflict within the text where no conflict exists, shedding doubt on every page of his commentary.
Recommendation: Don’t read.

Book Review: “The Big Crunch” by Pete Hautman

According to the book jacket:

“Jen and Wes do not ‘meet cute’. They do not fall in love at first sight. They do not swoon with scorching desire. They do not believe that they are instant soul mates destined to be together forever. This is not that kind of love story.”

Except that it pretty much is.

So Wes doesn’t start off considering Jen to be double-t-hott and Jen dates Wes’s dorky friend before she and Wes start going out–but those are mere footnotes to what this story really is–a sappy love story between high-schoolers.

Now here’s the thing. I love chick-flicks, I enjoy romances, I like love stories (especially sappy ones.)

What I do not like is sappy high school love stories.

Why? Because I think high school is the wrong time to be “falling in love”. And I especially think high school is the wrong time to be having sex.

Which is why when Wes and Jen started having sex (or seemed to me to be getting close to it), I shut this book for good.

I don’t need to be filling my mind with that sort of trash–and there was nothing redeeming in the plot to make me skip over the raunchy bits and keep going.

This may have been a Cybils nominee, but it’s certainly not a winner in my book.

**Side Note: The title “The Big Crunch” comes from a scientific theory Jen’s science teacher teaches as fact–that the universe expanded in the “Big Bang” and will someday contract in a “Big Crunch” in preparation for another Big Bang. While I wouldn’t be surprised at this being taught in a high school (since high school science is generally around 15 years behind true science), it still managed to tick me off that it was presented as truth in this book. You see, that theory, known as the oscillating universe theory, was devised in an attempt to avoid the most obvious implications of the Big Bang–the necessity of an infinitely powerful uncreated Creator who is outside our space-time continuum. Problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence for an oscillating universe–which is why today’s astronomers and cosmologists have, by and large, abandoned this theory (the honest folk for what one astronomer called “the first church of the God of the Big Bang”-generally Christianity; the naturalist ideologues for unfalsifiable theories such as multiverse theory.**

Rating:0 Stars
Category:YA Fiction
Synopsis:Wes and Jen meet, are attracted to one another, begin sleeping together. Imagine that.
Recommendation: Don’t read it. It’s trash with nothing whatsoever with which to redeem itself.

Book Review: “God’s Diet” by Dorothy Gault

Dorothy Gault has a plan to take the complexity out of diet planning. Her diet includes no counting, no nutrition panel reading, no exchanges, no dozens of rules to remember.

In fact, there’s only one rule: “If God didn’t make it, don’t eat it.”

On the surface, God’s Diet is simple, straightforward, easy. Until you start asking the big question: What hasn’t God made?

Theologically speaking, it’s hard to come up with something God hasn’t made. I can only think of one: evil. And the idea of eating evil is pretty ridiculous, if you ask me.

So what does Gault mean when she talks about what God did or didn’t make?

Turns out, what God didn’t make is flour and sugar. (Who’d have thought?) So what’s off limits is anything with flour and sugar in it. Anything else, you can eat whole hog.

At least, that’s how Gault makes it sound, though she later backtracks to say that high-fat, high-sodium, high “legal”-sugar foods should be eaten in moderation.

This diet rubbed me wrong in several ways.

The first thing I didn’t like about it was that it violated one of my most sacred food rules: Food is not a moral issue.

There’s no such thing as a “good food” and a “bad food”. Food is morally neutral (sort of like money–you know the verse about the love of money being the root of all kinds of evils?) Turning food into a moral issue binds one to a law we have been set free from in Christ. It creates condemnation where no condemnation need be and false self-righteousness where righteousness is not.

Gault speaks in direct opposition to this “food rule” of mine.

“When we eat something sinful, we need to know that it is sinful. Once again, if God didn’t make it, it must be sinful.”

Errnt. Strike one.

Secondly, the theology in this book is terrible. Gault can’t decide whether she’s a creationist or an evolutionist, constantly switching between the two depending on which provides better “support” for her diet.

She really makes no case for why God didn’t make flour and sugar-and completely ignores the many instances in which bread is made by or commanded by God.

God commanded the eating of unleavened bread, manna was used to prepare bread (with no indication of it being wrong). Jesus multiplied loaves and taught His disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” What’s more, Jesus said that He Himself was bread from heaven, and commanded His disciples to take and eat the bread that symbolized His body. If flour is indeed sinful, would Jesus have done this? Would He have told His disciples to pray: “Give us this day our daily sinfulness…and lead us not into temptation”? Would Jesus have said “I am the sinfulness from heaven”? Would Jesus have commanded His disciples “Take and sin…do this in remembrance of Me?”

Clearly this diet has everything to do with ideology and nothing at all to do with Christianity, despite the author’s references to God and the garden of Eden.

Errnt. Strike two.

Finally, Gault’s vilification of flour, specifically, has little if any scientific support.

Gault claims that flour is bad for us because it has been processed; while unprocessed grain is good for us because it is in the form in which God made it. She uses a child eating corn and ending up with drawers full of corn as an example of how corn in it’s natural state is fundamentally different from corn flour (also known as cornmeal).

In its natural state, Gault tells us, grain is indigestible. In its processed state (when ground as flour), it is digestible and therefore bad.

Come again?

Since when is something being digestible a bad thing? And even if it is, Gault mistakes visibility with reality.

The truth is that just because Gault cannot see the corn kernels in the poop after eating cornmeal does not mean that the cornmeal was fully digested.

The same fiber that is indigestible in corn is still indigestible in cornmeal. It’s just ground so you can’t see it when it comes out in the feces.

Now it’s true that some forms of processing do make chemical changes to food products–but the making of flour is not one of them. The only difference between whole grain flour and the grain itself is the size of the particles. The only difference between how the two are digested is time We don’t have to chew the flour as long, don’t have to mechanically churn it in our stomachs as long–but the starch is the same starch and the fiber the same fiber.

There is no evidence that whole grain flour and unprocessed whole grains are fundamentally different.

Errnt. Strike three.

She’s out, and so is this diet.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Diet
Synopsis:Gault proposes a “simple” but nutritionally and theologically unsound diet based on one rule: “If God didn’t make it, don’t eat it.”
Recommendation: Don’t read it. Don’t believe it. Don’t promote this sort of thinking. It’s wrong.

Book Review: “The Liturgical Year” by Joan Chittister

Some people fondly remember Saturday morning cartoons. I remember Saturday morning radio.

In my youngest years, it was Mr. Nick and Jungle Jam and Adventures in Odyssey on KGBI-our local Christian radio station. Later, it was Reasons to Believe’s weekly radio program streaming from my Dad’s laptop as he prepared his breakfast or took his shower.

RTB has since dropped its radio format–but I’m still listening. Now I’m listening to RTB’s resident theologian and philosopher Kenneth Samples on his “Straight Thinking” podcast.

I have a lot to learn about logic and philosophy and theology, but one thing Ken has taught me is the components of an argument.

First, an argument requires an assertion (a truth claim). Second, an argument requires facts to support its assertion.

If all you have is facts, you don’t have an argument–you have only information. If all you have is assertions, you don’t have an argument–you have only opinions.

Which is exactly what you’ll find in Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year: the spiraling adventure of the spiritual life.

Chittister makes plenty of claims about the liturgical year…

“…The liturgical year is one of the teaching dimensions of the church. It is a lesson in life.”

“In the liturgy, then, is the standard of what it means to live a Christian life both as the church and as individuals. The seasons and cycles and solemnities put before us in the liturgical year are more than representations of time past; they are an unending sign–a veritable sacrament of life. It is through them that the Christ-life becomes present in our own lives in the here and now.”

“In every age, the liturgical year exists to immerse its world in the current as well as the eternal meanings of the Christian life.”

“Like the voices of loved ones gone before us, the liturgical year is the voice of Jesus calling to us every day of our lives to wake our sleeping selves from the drowsing effects of purposelessness and meaninglessness, materialism and hedonism, rationalism and indifference, to attend to the life of the Jesus who cries within us for fulfillment.”

but she rarely, if ever offers any information to support her claims.

I explained/complained about this to my little sister when I was four chapters in–and Grace urged me to read the rest of the book. Maybe it would get better.

I was certainly hopeful that once Chittister finished her introduction she’d get down to presenting some real arguments–or at least some useful facts with which I could build my own arguments.

Alas, my hopes were futile.

I’ve forced my way through two-thirds of this book, feeling obligated to give it a fair shot since I’d received my copy free from the publisher in exchange for my review.

But the truth is, if I hadn’t received this for free, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. I’d have read my obligatory 50 pages and called it quits.

The few bits of actual information found within these pages are pretty interesting–or would be if they’d have been extracted and presented as a five page essay. As a 200 page book, split by Chittister’s continued ramblings and unsupported assertions, they’re worthless.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book.

Rating: 0 stars
Synopsis:Chittister gives lots of opinions about what the liturgical year is–without a lot of information to back it up
Recommendation: No.

I think it probably goes without saying that the views provided in this review are my own–but for the sake of full disclosure, I received this book for free via the Book Sneeze blogger program at Thomas Nelson.

Book Review: “Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Half-full or half-empty?

The perennial question has always puzzled me.

Which one exactly is supposed to mean optimism?

Is it better to have fullness, even if the fullness is not complete–or is it better to know that one does not have complete emptyness?

But however difficult I find it to determine the optimistic choice, it’s not hard to figure out which one is the right choice.

The optimistic choice is the right choice.

Of course.

Or at least, so says our culture–where optimism is considered a virtue and negativity a sin.

But what’s so great about optimism? And is negativity really as bad as it’s made out to be?

Barbara Ehrenreich explores these questions in her Bright-Side: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America.

As is apparent from the title, Ehrenreich is not convinced that positivity is the answer to all life’s ails. In fact, she’s willing to blame positive thinking for any number of societal ills.

Ehrenreich begins her narrative with her own story of being a breast cancer victim who was overwhelmed and put-off by how the breast cancer machine (the activism groups, support groups, online discussion boards, awareness campaigns, etc.) pushed positivity into everything, as though breast cancer were a rite of initiation to be celebrated rather than a disease to be mourned over.

She moves quickly from this personal story to tell the story of self-help industries built around positive thinking: success coaching and prosperity preaching in particular.

According to Ehrenreich, positive thinking as a philosophy was a reaction against the Calvinism of early America–which Ehrenreich describes as “a system of socially imposed depression.” Apparently, “the focus on happiness [was] itself an implicit reproach to Calvinism.” So, thinkers like Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (founder of the New Thought movement) reacted to the harsh strictures of their upbringing by pushing for happiness. Enter positive thinking.

The problem with positive thinking, to hear Ehrenreich explain it, is that positive thinking borrowed too much from Calvinism’s work ethic and sense of sin. While Calvinism used work to escape the evils of this world, positive thinking made positivity into the “work” that allows one to escape the “sin” of negativity.

Looking back, I’m kind of amazed that I finished this book. Ehrenreich’s complete and utter lack of understanding of Calvinism, particularly American Puritan Calvinism is laughable. Her portrayal of Puritan America is unjust.

However, her portrayal of the sugary-sweet positivity that has seeped into American churches and corporations is often spot on.

Her critiques of the supposed “science” of happiness are straightforward and worth considering. (The weakness of the correlational studies which “prove” that positive thinking leads to any number of positive health or lifestyle outcomes, the pseudoscientific nature of the “equations” set to describe positivity’s effect, the lack of attention paid to studies which support the null hypothesis, etc.)

In general, I think I agree with Ehrenreich’s conclusion: It is better to see the world as it truly is rather than to see it through rose-tinted glasses of “positivity” (or the dirty lenses of pessimism, for that matter).

What I don’t agree with is, well, everything else Ehrenreich says. In addition to vilifying our Protestant forebearers and criticizing those who seek silver linings in clouds like breast cancer or layoffs, Ehrenrich takes the opportunity to jump on her favorite hobby-horse: poverty. According to Ehrenreich, poverty is the result of positive thinking’s insistence on a free-market economy; but “positive thinkers” put down those in poverty as being there because they just don’t think positively enough. To hear Ehrenreich describe it, it’s a vicious cycle that pretty much destroys everyone–except those evil robber barons in the top x% of the American economy, who trample all over the little people…

Ad nauseum.

Anyway, this could have been a good book. It’s certainly a fascinating topic. But Ehrenreich’s biases make it just another “complain about conservatives and scream that the sky is falling” story.

Just like everything Ehrenreich writes.

Someday, I’m going to wise up and stop hoping that she’ll break out of her ideological narrowness. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to settle with writing rather pessimistic reviews of her books.

Sorry to be a downer.

Rating: 0 stars
Category:Optimism? Journalism? Pseudo-political commentary?
Synopsis:Ehrenreich briefly refutes the cult of positive thinking–and then complains for a good long time about the condition of America and how things are getting worse rather than better and…
Recommendation: Yeah. Not sure I really need to say anything more than I’ve already said. I’m not recommending this one.

“The Haunted Cabin Mystery” created by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Children's Classics Mystery Challenge

I didn’t read this (or review it) with the intent to participate in 5M4B’s Children’s Classics Mystery Challenge. But if the shoe fits…

I don’t remember ever reading on of the Boxcar Children books that was only “created by” Gertrude Chandler Warner rather than written by Gertrude Chandler Warner. But I must have read at least one, because I developed a deeply rooted suspicion of “created bys” and avoided them at all costs through my mid-elementary years. My main beef with the “created bys” was that they returned the four Alden children to their original ages rather than continuing to have them grow in age as they had in the “originals.”

Reading The Haunted Cabin Mystery confirmed my childhood antipathy toward “created bys”. The children abruptly return to being 6, 10, 12, and 14 after 19 books in which they’d aged at least 2-4 years (since Henry is in college in book 19.) This shift, and the uncharacteristic first chapter “recap” of book 1, was jarring to me–but not as worrisome to me as a mature reader than some more subtle elements in the story.

Like the other stories, this one centers around the four children solving a mystery in a relatively independent fashion–while still under the benevolent watchful eye of a concerned adult. Except that this story introduces a new element of secrecy and disobedience. In Warner’s “originals”, the children were always quite transparent with their older caregiver, sharing each new discovery as it occurred. Secrets in the originals were about what they were going to have for lunch or a special surprise gift they were planning–never about the mystery. Here, the children keep the mystery entirely a secret–ostensibly to avoid worrying the older man they were staying with.

In the original series, the children are energetic but obedient, following both the letter and the spirit of the law. In The Haunted Cabin Mystery, the children are expressly told not to go outside after dark–a rule that they routinely broke in solving their mystery. Despite this flagrant disobedience, the children are never punished or made to feel sorry for their behavior (even just in their own consciences.) In fact, the children were commended for solving the mystery with no mention whatsoever made of their disobedience or deception in doing so.

As a youngster, I probably wouldn’t have caught onto this. It was subtle, not intrusive. It wasn’t like the children were disrespecting their caregiver to his face. They were just ignoring his directives. But it’s the subtlety of this disrespect that most concerns me as an older reader. When “badness” is flagrant and straightforward, it’s easy to condemn it. The reader can easily see that they should not emulate the characters in that aspect of their actions. The reader is forced to read with his filter on when “badness” is clearly seen. But when something is billed as wholesome, the story can slip in bits of compromise to an unsuspecting reader. Without even realizing it, children can begin to think that there is no need to be obedient and no consequences for disobedience. They can begin to think that concealing the truth is a better policy than telling the truth. After all, the Boxcar children did and it all turned out for the best.

My opinion of the “created by” is hereby reinforced. I am highly in favor of the original nineteen Boxcar children books. But I can’t place my mark of approval on the subsequent additions to the series. Not only are they more clunky stylistically than the originals (admittedly, the series was never about literary style)–but I fear that they leave the moral high ground and embrace a relativistic approach to morality. I cannot recommend the “created bys”.

Rating: 0 stars
Category: Children’s fiction
Synopsis: The four Alden children go to stay with a retired sea captain and discover a mystery surrounding the cabin he lives in.
Recommendation: Tolerable story, intolerable moral relativity. I cannot recommend this book.