Book Review: All Natural

When I heard about the new book All Natural by Nathanael Johnson, I was immediately intrigued. There are not many writers who delve openly and honestly into questions about whether "natural" approaches to eating, childbirth, and medicine are actually healthier. Most people come at these topics with pretty strong leanings or an all-out agenda already in place. So those of us who want to figure it out for ourselves are usually left reading two wildly opposing opinions and trying to sort it out on our own. Nathanael Johnson offers a rare helping hand that might save some of us from late night Google searches about what to put in our children's lunchbox or how to approach our next medical question. He delves into all of these questions and takes readers along as he speaks to scientists, offers historic perspective and generally travels around with an open mind and a sense of humor.

The research is thorough as is the full rambling title, 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. What makes the writer's perspective so unique is that he was raised by extremely natural orientated hippies and he is able to look back honestly at what worked and did not work for him without mocking or attacking his parents approach. He is not the conservative child of hippies rejecting how he was raised, but he looks critically at each piece before he decides how he wants to raise his own family. He is honestly trying to decide which pieces he wants to carry forward based on the best available science, not values and emotions. As a bonus, his personal story is compelling and very funny and he keeps the reader laughing while approaching topics that usually make people tense and angry instead.

We need more writers like Nathanael Johnson exploring the gray areas beyond what we think we know, what we believe in and what we want to be true. He wades deep into polarized debates and listens to many sides of conversations on natural childbirth, nutrition, raw milk and alternative medicine. He travels the country, talks to all kinds of experts and visits fascinating places including farms, hospitals and natural birth centers. Each chapter contains exhaustive research and historical perspective. His stories about his own childhood keep the book rooted, funny and personal. In the end, the book put me in a better position to make the hard choices I need to make as a mother, as a farmer and as a consumer of food and medical care. I will probably keep returning to this book as a reference as I grapple with ongoing questions. I highly recommend that you add it to your library as well.

(My disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher, thanks Rodale!)