The jokes write themselves: A celebrity (Alicia Silverstone) has tackled a problem (insufficient vegan breast milk) that is so rarefied and disconnected from the everyday American experience as to be the storytelling equivalent of self-marinating meat ... if that metaphor isn't inappropriate to the circumstances.
Silverstone's proposed solution to support breastfeeding mothers is an Internet-driven sharing system, the physical, sanitary, and legal logistics of which will no doubt boggle the mind of even an imaginative observer.
Breastfeeding is challenging – in terms of logistics and (most crucially) time, it's a grind. My wife breastfeeds while maintaining a career as a professional photographer, and there are some days when the struggle can be profound.
And eating a vegan diet is challenging – again, the logistics are daunting, and getting a healthy diet while spurning meat, milk, eggs, and sometimes even honey requires careful planning and a lot of home cooking. Trying to do them both at once – well, that's a situation where having a staff of personal assistants would really come in handy. And if both of these major lifestyle choices are important to you, it makes sense that you'd work to enable other people to follow in your footsteps.
Naturally, people are skeptical; skip down to the comments section of the Yahoo! article on this and you'll watch the Internet equivalent of a festival day mob chucking clods of dirt at the village outcast. "Yes, because the unregulated sharing of bodily fluids between random strangers on the internet is always a totally good idea..." "This is one of the dumbest things I have heard from any Hollywood mom..." "That is disgusting..." and so forth.
But how about this: Yes, there are a lot of problems inherent in the sharing of body fluids between strangers and infants. Yes, breast milk itself is a dairy product, potentially making the "vegan" aspect of all this a bit of a thought experiment. ("Well, the mothers are choosing to give their milk, so it's not the same as compelling a cow or goat to do so ...") And yes, this is a celebrity problem – for most of us, breastfeeding our own children most of the time for even the first six months of life is plenty of work and struggle, thank you very much.
But what Silverstone is striving for – a technology-based solution that will enable more people to live what she perceives as a healthy, loving, lifestyle – is motivated by a sense of love and social concern. Idealistic? Maybe. Misguided? Perhaps. But love's at the heart of this mess, and instead of scorn and mockery, it would be nice to see some gentler deconstructions of the logistics and helpful suggestions of alternative ways to allow mothers to feed their babies and themselves in ways that are healthful and nurturing.
And leave the jokes to the pros. Conan and Letterman are going to go to town on this like Derek Jeter playing a game of elementary school softball.