We Are What Our Ancestors AteOctober 29th, 2007
by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
SAN FRANCISCO, CA-
The world is on fire (at least part of it) and as if in harmony with flames, the moon was orange last night. Beneath it, my neighbors were whooping it up in a Cervesa-fueled dance, like Sendak’s Wild Things, just outside my bedroom window. My other neighbor was doing some kind of strange calisthenics up and down his staircase while his wife ranted in Chinese as she does at least twice a week. There are plenty of opportunities for my attention to be drawn outward–to the noise and heat and energy of the world which seems to be trying to shoulder its way into my quiet and calm lately. The truth is, I barely notice. All of my energy is channeled inward. I have attempted a half dozen posts lately, on subjects ranging from my crush on a goth guy in high school to my ribald memories of beauty school, but each time I try my words are pulled inward, dissipated.
You see, I’m making a person right now.
Well, I shouldn’t take all the credit. The person is, with the help of genes supplied by daddy and me, making itself, but I’m providing the housing unit, the food, the free entertainment. I’m paying the price too: the fatigue, the persistent feeling of sea sickness, the swollen boobs, the strangely gummy joints. And damn if I promised I would not be one of THOSE women, who can talk of nothing else but fetal development for nine months, and then of course, infant products and developmental stages until you’re ready to puke. But I gotta tell you–this is one wild ride.
It’s all I all I can talk about.
I’m not a religious girl. I have fairly new-age explanations for the BIG QUESTIONS that can all generally be distilled down to “energy is neither created nor destroyed.” But when I go to sleep one night and my tiny person has buds for arms and legs, and wake up and that person has now formed fingers and toes–well it’s kind of hard to take anything lightly after that. What a program. What a system. How brilliantly designed are we (except for the size of the delivery canal. God–can we talk?).
But as marvelous and strange as simple fetal development is, it’s positively boring next to the science of epigenetics, which, in essence tells us that we are what our ancestors ate and how they lived their lives. Or if you’d like to have that in more direct terms: your bad habits will adversely affect not only your immediate children, but your great and great-great and so on grandchildren. How do you like them apples?
Of course it’s more complex than I can possibly explain, but it makes me feel linked to my grandparents on their Palestinian Kibbutz (that is to say before the state of Israel existed), eating only what they grew, and I presume killed–I think they ate some animal flesh. The way they worked the land and kept their bodies in good health might be responsible for my tougher immune system. But on the other hand, my mother’s mother drank and smoke–while she was pregnant with her two children. And half of me was an ovum in my mother’s ovary inside my grandmother. Mind boggling! How did all that boozin’ and smokin’ affect me? Does it have anything to do with my heightened sensitivity to all things intoxicating, legal or not? I have to wonder.
And the real kicker is, it might be what an ancient ancestor did or ate or did not do or did not eat that has more of an effect on disease and health of my unborn kid than my own short life span.
Now that’s food for thought (c’mon who could resist that pun?).