Since Logan’s diagnosis, my book journey has taken me from 10 Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew to The Autism and ADHD Diet to M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. Fisher, a contemporary of my great-grandmother, wrote bitingly about food in America during World War II. The nation is grappling with rations and shortages, and the wolf scratching at everyone’s door is named hunger.
Unflinchingly, she quotes French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin that “The destiny of nations depends upon what and how they eat.” She blasts the (then, though now still applies) contemporary diet by saying:
“Where countless humans are herded together, as in military camps or schools or prisons, it is necessary to strike what is ironically called the happy medium. In this case what kills the least number with the most ease is the chosen way. And, in most cases, the happy medium, gastronomically, is known as the balanced diet.”
I keep trying to picture my great-grandmother saying something as cutting as Fisher. She’d be sitting on her floral-print couch with her needlework in her lap and her chirping bird in its cage, maybe chatting with her neighbor (who would have come from a long way, seeing as how she was a farmwife in rural Minnesota): you know, those home magazines that preach a balanced diet are really just trying to kill the fewest people possible.
Clearly, Fisher was a woman ahead of her time.
Most of us aren’t hungry anymore. We don’t have to worry about finding a sugar shortage at the supermarket or calculating how many dishes we can cook at once in the oven in order to save precious fuel. The hunger wolf has retreated.
Yet Fisher’s quoting Brillat-Savarin on the fate of a country being linked to its diet is almost more relevant than ever. There’s a new wolf at the door; a new threat arises from our basic quandary of how to feed ourselves. For my family, that wolf is named autism. For many others, the wolf is ADHD, Celiac’s, depression, diabetes … the list of modern maladies goes on and on. Of course, there are dozens of theories as to what causes autism–and I’m not necessarily saying they’re wrong– but I believe (for what it’s worth) another of Brillat-Savarin’s quotes: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
As we say today, we are what we eat. And we are a nation eating crap.
One of my favorite scoffs Fisher gives in How to Cook a Wolf is aimed at bread and our attitudes toward it. “We still condone the stupid bread in this country,” she writes bluntly. Wheat is refined until it is “not only tasteless but almost worthless nutritionally,” giving us white, sliced sandwich bread.
We must begin to ask, she demands, “why are we so ungastronomic as a nation? Why do we let our millers rob the wheat of all its goodness, and then buy the wheat germ for one thousand times its value from druggists so that our children may be strong and healthy?”
I would add, why do we consistently remove nutrients from all our food in the pursuit of higher yields for lower costs, but then spend more on vitamins to replace that lost nutrition from food? I bought Logan’s vitamins today — $50 — that really should be coming from the food we eat. But even with our family’s healthy BEDROK diet, we still need to supplement.
Can we change the way we eat? I’m haunted by the quote I began with, that the destiny of our nation depends on it. Because now the wolf at my door–in fact, 1 in 68’s door–is named autism.
Feeling: I’d like to say sassy, like Fisher. But simply assertive is likely more accurate.