Well, it was only a few days after running the post asking for Reader Book Reviews and Peggy has already come through for me! The rest of you, don’t be too freaked out, you don’t need to write a whole review (unless you want to!), you can just email me with however much you feel like writing about the latest health & nutrition book you’ve read, and I’ll compile it all at once into a post when I get enough info on a certain book. (More info at the above link.) But Peggy, out of the kindness of her big heart and out of her love of good books, went ahead and wrote a whole review for us! She did an amazing writing job, too. Thanks, Peggy!
The Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry Is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children by Carol Simontacchi (Tarcher Publishers, 2001)
The Crazy Makers certainly demands attention with its burgerlicious cover and titillating subtitle. This 2001 wake-up call documents the author’s own painstaking research in which she tracked hundreds of food diaries and emotional status questionnaires, reviewed stories from scientists and parents and student counselors, and even conducted a Price-like nutrition-intervention experiment among high school teens. Simontacchi’s findings resulted in this stinging indictment of the processed food industry.
The primary thrust of Simontacchi’s work is that processed foods do not provide the nutrition necessary for sustaining the health and growth of the human body, particularly among young people. Although her findings will come as no surprise among more informed readers, she does lay out a convincing case for the following:
- The insufficiency of the standard maternal diet fails to nourish the developing nervous system of an unborn child.
- The travesty of formula feeding—promoted by the popular media, physicians, and hospitals—has displaced maternal reliance on nutritionally superior breast milk.
- The disaster that is the school lunch program encourages poor nutritional choices and itself fails to provide for even a child’s most basic nutritional needs.
- Socially acceptable non-foods drive teenagers’ emotions and hormonal flux rather than supporting their quickly growing bodies.
- The dual assault of caffeine and aspartame has led to an epidemic of high blood pressure and stress in adults.
The book’s content is organized by age level, with chapters on nourishing preborns, infants, children, adolescents, adults, and persons with autism spectrum disorder. The effects of sugar, MSG, additives, and pesticides are traced as they impact each body system. Simontacchi charts the havoc wreaked on the human body by food allergies and provides helpful tables of nutrients recommended to maintain basic health. Each chapter concludes with an action plan for improving nutritional intake for members of the age group in question.
The author hammers home the importance of providing and consuming proper nutrition as early in life as possible, but she does not leave those of us getting a slower start completely without hope. Her case studies again and again show that before the counselor, before the pharmacy, if we will tend to the diet, immediate and even amazing improvements can be seen.
Disappointingly, the author does not provide specifics about what to eat other than “non-processed foods.”
Simontacchi speaks highly of Weston A. Price’s work, the infant formula recipe given in Nourishing Traditions, and the importance of consuming “the right fats,” but she stops short of saying exactly what those fats are. She refers to the low-fat “fraud” perpetrated on society, linking insufficient dietary cholesterol to poor infant brain development and adult depression, yet fish oil supplements are recommended only for those suffering from autism, and coconut oil receives no mention at all.
The few recipes in the final chapter lean toward the use of unsoaked nuts, olive oil, date sugar, and homemade broth. Rice and whey powder are recommended sources of additional protein, and Simontacchi does discourage the use of unfermented soy, if briefly. She heartily recommends the use of organic dairy over non-organic, and a passing nod is given to raw milk from grass-fed cows. The discussion of grain vs. grass-fed meats is given a cursory examination.
On the plus side, the author again and again encourages us to eat family meals and warns that some restructuring of priorities might be in order. Parents are reminded that the choice presented to toddlers—Would you like a cookie or popcorn for snack?—might be more appropriate for those teenagers prone to making less wholesome choices than its counterpart for older children—What would you like for snack? And although parents may be familiar with the “Box Tops for Education” program subscribed to by their local schools, it may never have occurred to them that this is just one more method used by processed-food manufacturers to cement brand loyalty and encourage parents to make less-than-wholesome choices through the guilt of non-participation.
The Crazy Makers is a good first step in educating consumers as to how they are being “systematically starved” by the processed foods so many of us have grown to depend on. However, the book comes up short, failing to supplement its sometimes histrionic warnings with vital information on what we need to be serving instead for dinner.
Peggy Webb is the author of LocalNourishment.com, mother of six children, and sometimes food columnist.