This coming September, my family will be returning to the completely amazing Rethinking Everything conference -- a 5-day conference for families who are forging new paths by transforming lives filled with long-believed societal limitations into lives abundant in freedom, creativity and joy. This annual international conference is in Dallas, Texas, and it has always been a peak point of excitement for me every year I have attended! This year I am hosting two sessions of my own: Radical Nourishment for Your Magical Toddler, and Brave New World. Barb Lundgren, Queen Creator of this conference and an amazing woman/mother I have known for most of my life, recently asked me for a half-hour phone interview on radical nourishment for young children. Our interview went by fast, as there was so much to say!
Click here to listen to the recording of our interview for free!
(click to listen, or right-click to save the file to your computer)
Before our interview, I took tons of notes. I realized during the interview that the way I write is very different than the way I speak... we had an inspired conversation, which went so differently than what I had written down! I'm going to post my notes here, so you can have both. It's all so relevant to this blog, and all these subjects could be expanded upon immensely (and they probably will be). Enjoy!!
Q: Tell me about radical nourishment for a young child. It begins with breastfeeding, right? What about breastfeeding? What makes one mama's breast milk different from another?
A: It actually begins with pre-conception cleansing/nourishment of BOTH parents, then pregnancy, then breastfeeding on cue, full-term. Introducing other foods gradually, when the child is truly ready (some signs of true readiness include having teeth to bite & chew, ability to sit upright on their own, true interest in eating rather than just touching/tasting/feeling with mouth). Child-led food exploration, fully supported by breastfeeding. Until a child is 2 or older, eating food is more about exploring the world than taking in nutrients... breastmilk is there in abundance to provide the majority of the nutrients, which eliminates parental stress about "finicky" toddler eating habits. The substances in the contents of each mother's unique milk will transfer affinities for certain foods to the child even before they are eating food... (for example, Cedar LOVES strong-tasting healthy foods like algae, olives, and lots of wild foods).
Q: How do you know what is safe or right for your young child?
A: A little bit of research, and a lot of intuition and common sense. Breastfeeding exclusively for as long as possible gives a baby the chance to prepare fully before eating ANY foods (this could be 6 months, or 9 months, or a year, depending on the child's desire and readiness for food). Most superfoods are safe (things like algae, seaweeds, berries, olives, grass powders), as they are simply nutrient-dense foods. A certain class of herbs called tonic, or adaptogenic, herbs are also safe and very beneficial. Wild foods (most, not all) and medicinal herbs contain more alkaloids (which can be medicinal and healing in small amounts, and can be toxic in large amounts). Especially if you are wild-foraging these, the child will guide themself on this. At 18 months, there are many wild greens which Cedar still has no interest in, and they are often the bitter and fibrous ones. I eat these things, so he receives their benefits through my breastmilk, and from this he is already cultivating a taste for them for later on when they become appropriate for him. He enjoys eating certain flowers more than greens at this point... generally flowers are milder tasting, and have pollens which are gentle, very nutritious and beneficial. If you live on land that your child can freely forage from (where no chemicals have been sprayed), it is good to learn about the small number of poisonous plants, and just pull these up so they aren't an area of concern. Many wild plants and weeds are highly nutritious foods, and many other wild plants are not really used as food for humans, but are not blatantly toxic either. A relatively small amount are toxic. Naturally, we would intuitively know what is edible and what isn't, but we have a ways to go to reconnect fully to that intuition. That's why, as a parent, if you choose to enjoy wild food and allow your child to, learning how to identify plants is an important and very empowering skill to cultivate! I believe it is well worth the time and effort to receive the benefits to you and your child of exceptional health, strength and mental powers, as well as the joyfully freeing knowledge that you are no longer fully dependent on the "system" for your nourishment! ...Your most nutritious food staples are given to you freely by nature, with no corporate middle-man... this is probably AS important to your health as the actual nutrient benefits!
Think about this... all pharmaceutical drugs originally come from medicinal plants. The drugs are isolates of some of the strongest alkaloids in specific plants. These drugs are toxic to our bodies, because all the co-factors that occur naturally in that plant to balance and regulate the effects of the "active" alkaloid have been removed. Yet, people still take these drugs and at first they seem to work. Why? And why do people seem to need these drugs? Because in our culture's standard diet of processed foods, and foods that have been hybridized so they will taste better (which means removing most of the alkaloids, aka medicines), is devoid of medicine. "Your food shall be your medicine, and your medicine your food". So, people need drugs. Including children... many parents give children drugs for illnesses, ear infections, etc, to seeming good effect (only at first, of course, because it is simply quick-fixing the symptom without correcting the underlying issue). When you use your logic to put all this together, it shows that even children require plant alkaloids to stay healthy!
Q: How do you handle outside influences and your child, specifically those that send messages regarding sugars, processed foods, fast food, etc? How do you empower the child at every moment and minimize the bad stuff at the same time?
A: In the world we are living in right now, this can be a challenging situation, which I have thought about and still think about a lot. Ideally, we would be living in community, in nature. The only food that would exist is the foods that we and our fellow community grow by our own hands. A child growing up in their own flourishing garden paradise with healthy community all around is in a very different position than children in today's world. This is what we are transitioning towards, and yet, what do we do as we raise children during this transition? My approach is: choose influences wisely, with as much discernment as possible and practical. Choose friends that care for themselves and their children in radical ways, and your child will experience this as being "normal". We have no desire to go to places in the "old dimension", such as the mall, restaurants, and places that have reason to sell junk food or other artificial, unhealthy contrivances. Instead, we choose to exist in the "new dimension" of abundance, health, nature, community, where everyone is a healthy influence. We host gatherings, parties and playdates at our house, and invite friends and community we resonate with. And we attend gatherings at their places, too. This provides PLENTY of satisfying social interaction for me and for my son, without having to resort to interactions with people who are choosing to live unhealthy lifestyles.
That is all a wonderful, creative thought/ideal, and remember we are in transition, and will experience situations that don't fit into this view. For example, with family members like grandparents, cousins/uncles/aunts, etc. In this case, for any of these people who have an active role in your child's life, sit down with them and share with them the way you are choosing to raise your child, and have a conversation about how they can support you in that. This will be a conversation you will revisit with them as your child grows. Clear communication and honesty about your ideals are very important to maintain respect and love between you.
Q: How long does a parent need to be concerned with the quality of all the food their child is eating?
A: Cedar is only 18 months, and I am already noticing in a big way his (and all children's) desire to explore EVERYTHING in his environment. If there is something in a child's environment that you don't want them to explore, it will very likely become a power struggle at some point. To the degree we are able to provide environments they are able to explore as freely as possible, is the amount of ease we will experience in our relationship with our child. For example, if you want your child to only eat certain foods that you consider healthy, and yet you personally eat some other foods, or keep them in your house for some reason, your child will eventually want to experience them. You can think about how this applies to your particular situation, and make any modifications from there. Just don't expect your child to show no interest in the influences YOU have provided them, whether its your habits, or other children, school, daycare, etc.
Gradually, as your child matures, they will begin choosing their own influences. By this time, if you have raised them to enjoy healthy food and other healthy lifestyle practices, they will have this as their deep-rooted foundation, and for their entire life they will be comparing (often in a deep, subconscious way) everything they choose and experience to their foundational experiences. I have noticed that children who are raised in a healthy environment, even if they choose at some point to delve into some of the harmful things in today's society (which I did myself as a teenager, simply to understand what it is all about), they will learn something valuable from their experience, and most often end up creating a very healthy environment for themselves as adults (and for their children)... often even healthier than the way they were raised! That is my personal experience of my life so far, and I have seen this in others I know, as well.
Q: What about water, juice and other beverages?
A: We drink wild-harvested spring water. Cedar loves it. He especially loves it cold or in "ice" form. Fresh vegetable or fruit juices are great, even right at the beginning of their solid food explorations. Cedar also drinks sips here and there of smoothies and superfood drinks that I make (in small amounts, he seems to prefer food that has more solid textures at this point), and homemade lacto-fermented "sodas" that I make.
Cedar's current favorite foods & beverages: my breastmilk (still 75% of his food intake), radishes from our garden, homegrown sunflower sprouts, wild foods: right now arugula flowers, wood sorrel flowers and leaves, wild garlic greens... chlorella tablets (he loves the crunch), nori seaweed, avocados, apples, frozen berries, cold/frozen spring water and nettle tea infusions ... I waited for a while to introduce seeds and nuts (seed, nut and grain digestive enzymes mature at 2.3 years), but he began expressing a strong interest in activated (soaked then dehydrated, to minimize enzyme inhibitors) seeds, and in-shell pecans from our land, so I am following his intent and letting him practice chewing these things (he has 12 teeth now, including 4 molars)
One thing that is of primary importance in radical nourishment is growing your own food, and eating wild foods, so your child can experience directly WHERE FOOD ACTUALLY COMES FROM. This is TRUE "fresh food". It is powerful for a child to learn through experience that food comes from the earth, and grew from little seeds that you and they planted themselves and cared lovingly for until fruition... not lined up neatly on shelves in a big building with bright lights, where you can only have it if you give certain people pieces of green paper and metal coins. Their observation and experience of this is just as significant as the actual nutritional difference between homegrown/wild food and store-bought food. Simply put, children will believe as true the things they experience directly for themselves, OVER what they are told exists in theory.
If you live in a place with absolutely NO ground space to plant a garden, buy lots of pots and start a big, lush container garden on your balcony, in your kitchen, etc! Do what you can do right now, while you steer your life towards your ideal vision in the long term.
Resources for more information:
Come to my RE session, "Radical Nourishment for Your Magical Toddler" in Sept 2011 ... and for the broader aspects of child raising in a community setting, my session "Brave New World"
Wild-harvest spring water for free in your area: findaspring.com
Read the Ringing Cedars book series by Vladimir Megre