Nathanael Johnson was born without a doctor in attendance and later toddled around his Northern California yard without diapers, free to ingest whatever germy creatures he got his hands on, but no sugar allowed. With parents like his, it's little wonder he grew up pondering the miracles of modern science.
What's really welcome about his book, All Natural, is that his upbringing makes the investigation of nature versus technology fun and thought-provoking. He questions mainstream wisdom, "expert" advice and natural solutions for childbirth, germs, raw milk, sugar and more.
Most of us who pay attention to the world around us can't help but be anxious about many everyday choices: Is the microwave oven really safe? Should I vaccinate my child, or will that cause harm? How was the pig raised that became the supermarket pork chop, and should I care?
Johnson, a widely published journalist, is no different, and the full title of his book makes that clear: All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest to Discover if the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier.
For Johnson, the prospect of parenthood was a precipitous launch for his quest. How would this precious human be born? The details of Johnson's own conception — apparently during an acid-fueled romp — make a funny counterpoint to the level of attention 21st century parents-to-be lavish on every detail of labor and delivery.
When he digs deep into the statistics and options, it's not so clear what to choose. Natural childbirth, at home where it's peaceful but far from medical intervention if needed? Or a caesarean birth, which after all is surgery so has its own potential complications?
While the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other nature of his findings can be frustrating, All Natural brings the arguments to life through a cast of wonderful farmers, neighbors, doctors, midwives and Johnson's own parents.