Several incidents recently involving mentally ill people and pretty disgusting body mutilation have sent the Internet buzzing with zombie apocalypse jokes, but it's not the zombies that will destroy us all. It's been breasts all along. Turns out they're weapons.
The idea of breasts as weapons brings up all sorts of thoughts of ‘60s spy films or maybe Vincent Price creating an army of deadly but beautiful bikini'd robot girls. More recently, though, that thought has been accentuated in the new book by Florence Williams, "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History," but I admit the idea of breasts as weapons is my sensationalistic way of introducing the subject. Natural spigots of toxins? Well, yes and no.
One of the more alarming sections of Williams' research into the matter is the reality of just how much poison lurks in breasts alongside the necessary and natural goodness -- apparently pesticides, jet fuel and other horrible things.
Some of these things appear in "trace amounts," which are not enough to cause harm and, therefore, ensure that breastfeeding's benefits don't outweigh any potential dangers. Consider for a moment that a "trace amount" is about all it takes to get people outraged about chemicals and poisons and radiation in their foods. Scientists calmly speak of "trace amounts" of pesticides and ammonia and mercury in food, but in the common experience of ordinary people, any amount of something they consider
So how do rectify "traceamountaphobia" when it applies to something as decidedly natural and healthy as breastfeeding?
That's sure to be a challenge for some. Take the anti-vaccine movement, an entire group of people who oppose life-saving inoculations because of "trace amounts" of toxins. Some of those toxins aren't even in the shots anymore, but that hasn't stopped the movement. I have no exact data on this, but my guess is that there is a significant population of breastfeeders among the anti-vaccine crowd, and this seems like a looming dilemma for them.
One of the big culprits seems to be BPA -- Bisphenol A -- an organic compound used in plastics that has a long suspicion of being harmful because of properties similar to estrogen, so much so that it's been banned in Europe in baby bottles and declared toxic by Canada. It's in the bodies of 96 percent of all women.
This overload of estrogen has been linked to neurological damage, obesity, thyroid damage, cancer and other issues, and the cause of it is everywhere in our daily lives -- including the breast milk we give our babies.
This speaks to all sorts of other attempts to purify our lives and the possible futility. Organic farms for instance. Or cave man diets. Or radio wave conspiracists. Or anti-smoking lawmakers. Or people who use magic mud with healing properties to detox. It goes on and on. You live in a world where toxins creep everywhere, get in everything, in both trace and large amounts. Not to make you paranoid, of course, but there seems to be little to no escape.
You know that famous floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean? Scientists have gone to great pains to let people know it doesn't really exist as claimed -- it's not a spectacle, but another example of the insidious poisons that we've unleashed to creep around our world. It's actually a mass of plastic particles that have been broken down and are infecting the fish that swim among it, infecting the water containing it, much of it small enough to be invisible to the naked human eye, but deadlier than any danger we can see right in front of us, or at least, imagine lurking around dark corners.
The news of breast milk confirms the worst fears of some of us, that a zombie apocalypse in the traditional sense is wishful thinking. A zombie apocalypse would be swift, and therefore, merciful compared to what we are doing to ourselves. But like so often, reality mirrors fiction in unsavory ways -- we are infected, just like the zombies on The Walking Dead, but our demise isn't anywhere near as exciting.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.