Mother knows best

I was reading Nassim Taleb’s book, Skin in the Game and it had an interesting intersection with an episode in Michelle Obama’s biography.
Taleb argues that we should pay a lot of attention to what our grandmothers would say, as this cultural knowledge has been built up over successive, successful!, generations. I wouldn’t argue this knowledge is perfect, and it may be specific to a context that doesn’t exist anymore, but we should certainly pay careful attention to this generational knowledge and at least lean towards sticking to the old methods.

Then in Michelle Obama’s biography (p25) she described how she hated eating eggs and asked her mother why she had to eat them.
‘for the protein’
well doesn’t peanut butter also contain protein,
‘well, …., yeeeees’
So can I swap my eggs for peanut butter and jelly sandwich,
Mrs Richardson, knew that eggs were good, but she clearly wasn’t a nutritionist (why should she be?).
As I’m quite interested in nutrition, I know eggs are a source of complete protein, which peanut butter is not. Eggs don’t contain sugar, which jelly/jam does and most importantly, eggs (the yolk) are an important source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, of which there are approximately non in peanut butter and jelly (jam). These fats and vitamins would be far more important than the protein.
So eggs are important and Michelle might have been healthier sticking to inherited cultural knowledge, eating eggs over peanut butter.
Now as Michelle got two degrees from top universities, evidently with pretty much peak mental development, her growth was probably not too badly damaged, and as she hated eggs she was happier, and peanut butter is delicious. I’m not saying you have to eat eggs (you do though), just that we can see that her arguments looked sound but were actually based on incomplete knowledge. Michelle’s mum also didn’t have the specific knowledge, but it seems it was embedded in her cultural knowledge (feed eggs to your children).
Later in the book Michelle Obama was saying how great her Dad was, for example he never complained when his wife fed him liver and quietly ate it. Liver is the most nutritious food there is! This wasn’t some penance, or some spousal rite of passage, it was the best thing he could have eaten.

There is so much interesting stuff in Becoming and so many bigger issues in there, it feels a bit much to pick out this one intersection between this book, another book and my interests. But I think it does show that we don’t always know what we know or why we know it and culturally embedded knowledge, should be carefully considered. I think cultural knowledge can also be wrong, I’m not saying blindly obey it, but at least listen carefully to what previous generations did (and eat your eggs and liver).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *