Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I'm Not Really a Nutritionist, I Just Play One On TV

So double MRI month, big fundraiser, and National History Day all happening in a 4 week period = no blogs from me. Everything I came up with was either a giant Yawn…literally, I have not been sleeping well, it was just the word “Yawn”  in a variety of fonts and colors or A Desperate Ululation about The Reality Smackdown that Feb/Mar have been.

I just couldn’t do that to either of the blog followers. ;)

But then I heard the Big News: Gwyneth Paltrow is writing a cookbook. 

I know, I know, she doesn’t look like she eats, but she is writing a cookbook all about the particular “uber-healthy” diet plan she uses for her children.  In some of the publicity over this, Ms. Paltrow is quoted as saying her children sometimes have the “specific hunger” that comes with Ms. Paltrow deciding that they should have no carbs.

Now, admittedly, I am not going to read her book, so I really shouldn’t comment on its content (but I do appreciate that in America, and with the resources my family is blest to have, my kids don’t have to be hungry).  And yes, I have never been a fan, pretty much because I was so irked on a date with my spouse shortly after the birth of our first born to see a Gwyneth Paltrow movie in which it seemed like her primary role was to take off her shirt whenever possible so she could frolic about with a main character who happened to be married to someone else who had just had twins. It just seemed gratuitous and icky and unfair to the invisible wife WHO HAD JUST POPPED OUT NOT ONE BUT TWO BABIES and  it just skewed my perspective of her forever.

 And she named her kid after a fruit, which is also, nutritionally, a carb, right? In a South Beach kind of way…

 As a parallel disclaimer about health/dietary advice, I didn’t start exercising until I was 37, and I have a ridiculously high metabolism and epically good cholesterol levels and generally good health due to zero effort on my part.  I love healthy food and junk food, everything from fried chicken and baby carrots.  Cadbury Eggs are almost a vocational choice for me.  I thought when I hit grown up age this would become a problem, but so far it hasn’t.  I have no clue WHY this is the case, I have done zip to merit this grace, but since I have so much drama in every OTHER area of my life, I am super grateful for this pile o’ blessing that allows me to eat cake for breakfast.   

And as much as I loudly advocate cake for breakfast, I do feed my family in a pretty healthy way.  But I have cake whenever possible. ;)

ANYWAY,  even if I was a Ms. Paltrow fan, I’m not sure I’d follow her advice in her self-appointed role as nutrition expert, and not just because if I wrote a cookbook it would be called “Cookies for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” or “Hey Mom, are We Foraging Tonight?” .  

Sharing recipes = awesome.

Sharing experiences = valuable.

Sharing Your Version of Medical Advice As Authoritative because you are famous and therefore somehow an expert simply by merit of celebrity? = um, no.

I’m not sure if it’s just because Americans are SO enamored with the cult of celebrity, or we have lost any skepticism in the face of overwhelming piles of information at every turn, but taking medical advice from celebrities just seems silly.  Celebrities USING their celebrity to market medical advice seems . . . icky.

I think THAT is what bugs people…that Ms. Paltrow sees herself as an expert, kind of like Dennis Rodman seeing himself as our best diplomatic hope for dealing with a trigger happy North Korea. Hm.

I’m sure Ms. Paltrow means well.   I really don’t have anything against her (except Shakespeare in Love).  I just don’t think taking on the character of “Health Expert” is quite the same as taking on the role of Shakespeare’s oft-topless muse .  Sharing her experiences of not-feeding her kids? Ok. Sharing recipes for the things she does let them eat? Ok.  Promoting it as an Authoritative Health Choice for all --ergo the subject of a book people should buy…um, no.

I honestly don’t care what she tells her kids not to eat or to eat. It has zero influence on what I tell my kids.  We had a night a week ago where the ONLY thing that tasted good to my kid post-chemo was chicken nuggets, which I never buy but had gotten with a coupon to have “just in case”…I think that was a Holy Spirit Moment.

No, really. Watch a kid lie on a chair for hours and hours, refusing to eat for an entire day because she feels so yucky,and then find something that You Never Buy but Happen to Have THAT DAY and it magically tastes good to them …THAT is a Holy Spirit Moment.

My thought is simply that it is silly times 100 to put ANY medical faith in a celebrity simply because she is a celebrity, or good looking, or even sincere.  Show me the science…and the respect that even with science, humans are so insanely variable that what is best for your family might not be best for mine, in terms of diet or whatever. 

I think that’s why people get worked up about this kind of moment…not because anyone really cares what Gwyneth will or will not eat (although people seem mostly to be upset with the idea that she is making her kids hungry. I have no comment on that).   It’s more that Gwyneth feels like we SHOULD care, and should fork over $14.95 or whatever her book costs to find out WHAT she thinks/advises/does.  

She certainly is not the only celebrity to USE her celebrity to market her ideas as Things People Should Do. Oprah was the QUEEN of this, really. Oprah is almost more of a voice of truth for people than Wikipedia.


And I edited the next part. Really. It's my new Lent thing, trying to not be scary all the time.  Ok, some of the time. Ok, occasionally. OK, at least one time during Lent. sheesh.

Really, the responsibility for this Celebrity Expert-itis is only partly on Ms. Paltrow, and partly on the folks who give her expertise credibility—those who buy not just the book, but the life choice BECAUSE it’s hers (and not because they came to a parallel choice on their own).  The publishers have some responsibility too, knowing they can market ANYTHING with a celebrity name on it (Madonna’s children’s book series? Anyone? Ugh) . 

I once had someone who works in a medical industry use Jenny McCarthy as a source for this person’s opinion that parents should not procure a particular type of medical care for their children.  Not actual immunologists or epidemiologists.  Not any kind of person ending in "ologist" . Not pediatricians.  Not scientific studies published in PubMed, or Medscape (both medical journals) or the Lancet (a British medical journal), but Jenny McCarthy. You know, Playboy model? (ok, hopefully you don’t know that).  Actress from cerebral films like Scary Movie 3?  Yes.  THAT was this medical entrepreneur’s main source for emphatically telling his clients to NOT procure a particular form of historically and scientifically substantiated type of preventive care.  Another gal who took off her shirt (and more) for money was the main source for the potentially catastrophic advice.

Hey… maybe there actually ARE articles in Playboy, like medical articles or something, I thought that was something guys just said. Ew. Ew ew ew.

And having just graded a History Day project full of pictures of children suffering with a disease that can now be prevented by Jenny’s No-Go Procedure, if parents so choose, I find the embrace of ( in this case) B-List Celebrity as Doctor to be verging on wildly unethical.

Ms. Paltrow is certainly not in this line of medical yikes.  Telling people “I’m famous, so don't give your kids a muffin”  isn’t the same as saying “I’m famous, and here’s my manifesto on why you should put your child’s life—and other innocent people’s lives-- in jeopardy!”  But seeing her book as more than a potentially entertaining read seems ill-advised.

I guess my point is, everyone has to figure out the best kind of food moments  and health choices for their kids, and Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly entitled to make a few bucks on her published version of how she thinks people should eat.  But please, let’s critically acknowledge the credentials of any source:  actresses are good at telling stories and creating characters; musicians are skilled at making beautiful music; doctors are good at fighting illness and taking care of people; Clinton & Stacy are good at telling us What Not To Wear…. 

And we have to make sure that WE search out the truth about things that impact our family life, health, and happiness.  And check our sources, ALWAYS check the sources!  (I have been grading annotated bibliographies all day. CHECK YOUR SOURCES!!)  You might be surprised at what you find…

And then we can make our own, educated, celebrity-free  choices about what’s best for our family.  I for one don’t really need Gwyneth Paltrow to do that for me, especially because I don’t think she’d support my Cadbury mini-egg addiction. But since mini-eggs are likely on the no-eat list for her kids, that means more for me.