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Zaboca and babies
Breakfast fadder! Venezuelan cafe con leche, Guyanese cassava bread with Diego Martin zaboca and expensive Savannah coconut water. One of the few perks of living in the Caribbean—now that the newly appointed Minister of National Security, apparently with the complicity of the head of the Defence Force, has decided that he can interfere with our constitutional rights—is the variety of food available to us and to our children. That’s why I cringe whenever a mother comes in out of the hot sun with her over-clothed baby and proudly tells me that the child is eating food from one of those little commercial glass bottles, whose names I am not permitted to say for fear of litigation, even though the scientific studies say they do not contain what their labels say they do. The most recent study last April found that the micro-nutrient content in ready-made baby meals contained less than a fifth of the recommended daily supply of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and other minerals that their manufacturers claim they contained. On average, the levels were below 20 per cent of the recommended daily supply. There’s a cultural edge here. When the parents look me eagerly in the eye and say they are feeding their babies bottled “baby food,” they seem to expect me to congratulate them. Some of them say it with that pseudo-American accent popularised by Dwight Yorke whenever he is not talking cockney. Mimic men and all that.
Undoubtedly they are also being told by doctors, nurses and their friends that that is the way to feed babies. That’s distressing because for years, at least in the health centres, the emphasis on infant nutrition, apart from breastfeeding, has been on local foods. But the influence of “faren” is strong and we do have those lovely little ads on cable describing the wonders of “baby food.” The idea of “baby food” is a public-relations gimmick to make parents believe that their babies cannot eat “big people food” and have to buy those jars stuffed with tapioca or corn starch. Check out the ingredients next time you pass down the “baby food aisle.” It’s become worse of late because you now have “stages.” Stage 1, where you are supposed to give this type of “baby food.” Stage 2, another type, Stage 3, yet another, all the way up to Stage 5, where gratefully the unfortunate infant, now about two years old, can start eating some of his father’s rice and peas. One manufacturer has even introduced a Stage two and a half! If that catches on, we could be seeing Stage half, one and a half, three and a half etc, and who knows, we could end up with a stage quarter, one and a quarter, two and three-quarter and on and on, the possibilities for introducing new “stages” offering endless opportunities for fooling parents and making money.
This is all rubbish, unnecessary and expensive.
Babies can eat what their parents eat from around six months. It is cheaper to feed your baby your own food. Babies love it. They want to eat what they see their parents eating. We now know “baby foods” do not contain the minerals the baby needs. What else might they not contain? They certainly contain too much of the yellow chemical carotene (it’s all that sweet potato or cornstarch they use as filling, it’s cheap) so that bottle-fed babies quickly develop carotenemia, ie their skin turns yellow (no, it’s not the Chinee blood in us). What is worse is that babies fed with the “stage” system learn to eat according to a “system” which is parent-driven and not baby-driven. Because it turns out that babies are very good at regulating what they need to eat to grow and thrive, if they are allowed to decide what they want to eat. Once they follow their own system, they eat exactly what they need and, importantly, do not overfeed. Babies who eat their parents’ food have less chance of becoming fat, fat as in overweight or obese. There is also evidence linking bottled “baby food” with “fast food.” Once the taste for junk is established early in childhood, it seems to be for life. Which is exactly what food companies want. We are in mango and zaboca season now. Any six-month-old can eat mango or zaboca. “Blue food” is ideal food for babies. Rice and peas should be a staple of your baby’s diet. Callaloo and dump-ling. Pumpkin and carrots. Bhagi and dhal. Bananas, plantain and green fig. The list of satisfying local foods is endless and includes fish and eggs and chicken. Occasionally a child will develop an allergic reaction. That’s no reason to stop other babies from eating quality protein. People, follow your instinct. When your baby begs you for that chicken bone, give it to him. He knows what he is doing. But make sure it is from a “yard fowl.” Unlike imported chicken, their bones are hard.
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