All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest for Health and Happiness in an Age of Ecological Anxiety / Nathanael Johnson
I live in a skeptical household. It's hard not to, with a scientist and a doula-librarian under one roof, and we're lucky enough to be cautious enough with new information in all relevant fields that we manage, most of the time, to make evidence-based decisions about all kinds of things. Sometimes, we fall on the side of science, the medical model, and technology. Other times, we decidedly do not.
This surprises some people, who can't imagine that a scientist might doubt science, or a choices-in-childbirth advocate might opt to go along with a medical choice. What those people don't realize about scientists is that most of them are skeptical about science--skepticism about discoveries and existing knowledge is the only way science gets done. There's as much deconstruction in science as there is building on old foundations, and the sprawling house of science is constantly being remodeled. The problem is that by the time science reaches the public, it's often presented as dogmatic and complete, neither of which are very often true on the working end. As for the doula thing, well, as much as I believe most people are capable of birthing and feeding their babies most of the time, and as appalled as I often am by stories of families who had their choices ignored by dogmatic medical professionals, I also know that sometimes, things don't work the way they should, and sometimes, medical intervention is necessary to keep people alive and healthy. I do very strongly believe that people live better, heal better, and stay healthier if they're cared for in ways that the medical model rarely offers, but if your appendix is about to burst, no amount of compassionate touch and meditation is going to do what a surgeon can do to save you. It's true that the species survived for many centuries without technological medical care, but it's also true that individuals died because of things we can now prevent. Lots of them. The human body is incredible, and we are often capable of things we can't imagine to be possible, but it's also breakable. The balance is what matters.
All this is a bit of background on why I picked up All Natural in the first place--I read a lot of books and talk to a lot of people that are dogmatic about natural birth and herbal remedies and holistic medicine. I also read a lot of books and talk to a lot of people that are fairly dogmatic about avoiding "all that garbage." It's surprisingly rare to find someone who seems to feel how we feel about things--that is, that there really should be more balance between the two sides, between "Nature" (or, similarly, "Faith") and "Science." What Johnson explores is that fuzzy and permeable area between them that's all too often depicted as a solid, bold line. Where does science end and nature begin?
Johnson starts by discussing natural birth, which obviously drew me in (and I found it a very balanced discussion of the evidence and options), but goes on to talk about food, agriculture, environmentalism, medicine, and conservation with a journalistic style and the eye of someone who's skeptical of both dogmatic sides of most of the arguments.
I really enjoyed this book, both for its balance and for the fact that every chapter--though they all began with discouraging facts and stories of people who tried to change the world from their respective hilltops and failed--ends with something hopeful. Yes, things are messy, and yes, they will probably continue to be, and yes, only small pockets of people are working hard to come up with solutions instead of just digging in their heels in resistance. But those pockets of people are working hard, and they are coming up with ideas that might just work.
Johnson is the kind of skeptic who might easily have turned cynical, but he doesn't seem to have done so, which makes his book refreshing. If you're hanging out with my family in the hazy area between pure technological science and pure cru