One of the things that has plagued my highly rational mind since before we even had Little Man is the rampant preference of wallpaper paste as a first solid food for babies. Countless times I’ve seen previously intelligent people stuff it into their babies mouths without a shred of thought. When Little Man turned six months (actually, even before that) people asked me constantly if I was feeding him wallpaper paste yet. Whenever I answered “no, actually I’m feeding him food instead” they look at me as though I had three heads. One very wonderful mom with a baby only hours older than mine actually said “Vegetables?! As a first food? Not wallpaper paste?!” with complete shock on her face and indignation in her voice.
It baffles me completely and like so many other things to do with parenting, it can only be called asinine. But forgive me, because I probably have you pretty baffled by now. Allow me to clarify: when I say “wallpaper paste”, what I’m referring to is “infant cereal”. Of course no one actually calls it wallpaper paste, but that would be a much more apt description than cereal. For starters, it looks, feels and tastes like wallpaper paste. Furthermore, it’s about as nutritious as wallpaper paste even if you do consider the spray-on vitamins it contains nutritious, which I don’t. But above all of this, the fact is that you actually could stick paper to your wall with it. People have been using flour and water pastes for that purpose (not to mention papier machéing and kindergarten crafting) for ages and that’s all that infant cereal is: flour. Refined, white, flour.
My dislike of infant cereal, though, goes beyond its nutritional inadequacy. It offends me because it is a hallmark of the thoughtless consumerism that pervades every aspect of our society, including our parenting. Parents feed their babies this stuff not because they think it’s a good choice, but because they don’t think, period.
If parents actually realized they were feeding their babies a bowl of flour, they would simultaneously realize that the little packets of it with the cute teddy bears is merely a highly overpriced doppelganger of the large sacks of unbranded flours available in the baking aisle and serve their babies from the big pack instead. But parents don’t realize. They see the snazzy nutrition claims on the little packet and simply believe it’s special.
If infant cereal were truly a culturally-based decision, then we would see more adults eating gruel themselves because it would be a culturally normalized food. But I rarely see adults eat anything that resembles what they feed their babies. In fact, gruel is so foreign to most adults that they probably wouldn’t know how to make it if it didn’t come in the little packet with mixing instructions.
If parents were feeding infant cereal out of a genuine belief of the healthfulness of processed flour, then they probably wouldn’t be spending a good chunk of their adult lives investing in low-carb diet literature.
If parents were following medical advice, then why are they choosing to ignore the section of the recommendations that encourages feeding iron-rich whole foods like legumes and meat?
No, I’m convinced that parents aren’t thinking about these things. Instead they follow the product marketing of major multinational corporations whose first (and often only) concern is not infant nutrition, but profit. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe our need to fit in in this new parenting role makes us more prone to following trends like sheep and too scared to apply the independent thought we’re capable of. Either way it makes me sad. Sad for the babies eating this crap, but also sad for the parents who love them and who will look back years from now when (I sincerely hope) real food will reign again and realize that they fed their precious babes wallpaper paste.