Ancient humans did not own Cuisinarts. It is likely that paleolithic mothers pre-chewed their children's food during weaning. It is also possible that when adults lost their teeth through illness or accident, others in their family group would chew their food for them.
Should modern paleos emulate the practice of pre-chewing a child's food during weaning? Aside from the nutritional benefits, are there immune or other protective advantages? Do the risks of communicable diseases such as strep or HIV outweigh the possible benefits? Good eats or gross re-enactment?
We did this with our two sons, but only on occasion and because it is practical. Like when you have some fruit but nothing to chop it finely, so just pre-chew it for the children.
A dentist told me that it could be benificial for 'transplanting' mouth bacteria. And as I have never ever experienced any dental problems in my whole life, I thought that could be good.
By the way, I've somewhere read that kissing on the mouth and/or with tongue could have it's origins in the habit of pre-chewing. Ah, just googled a bit:
As for the origins of kissing, one theory is that kissing evolved as an extension of the way mothers used to feed their children. Early humans, who lacked jars of manufactured baby food, probably chewed up food and directly transferred it from their mouths to the babies (from here)
Could that be important?? ;)
Yes, this does happen. I've seen people in China doing this. There are probably some benefits to doing it (digestive enzimes in saliva, maybe strenthening baby's immune system?). Of course nowadays in the West we've become so preocupied with making everything sterile (making ourselves vastly weaker in the process*), that this seems totally crazy. I'm expecting a little one next year and I'll probably do it. Call me weird.
*Yes improved sanitation in hospitals was certainly a good thing, as it was in cities. But we've gone seriously overboard, as many doctors and scientists are beginning to acknowledge.
It has been determined through research that Hepatitis B, Group A Streptococcus, Herpes, and Epstein-Barr virus can be passed through pre-chewed food. Drug manufacturers must disclose whether products can be transmitted to babies through breast milk. There is no information about the transmission of drugs (beneficial or not) through saliva as a result of pre-chewing food and giving it to your kid. If a person is a smoker or a tobacco chewer (snuff's enuff), the nicotine by product, cotinine, can appear in saliva samples taken from toothbrushes (forensic science, folks) for up to ten hours after use. The transmission of cotinine is much more direct in saliva that it is from second-hand smoke. Cotinine has definitively and repeatedly shown by research to be associated with learning problems in children and adolescents. Serving up pre-chewed food is a risky business.
Well, everyone had and interesting response! When my son was "too little" to gum steak, he would beg and fuss for it and try to take pieces out of my mouth. I often chewed it a bit and handed it over! He ADORED meat when everyone else was saying "give him some baby cereal in his milk". I was not paleo then... it just seemed natural and definitely knew what he wanted. I figured my cousins used to share with the dog and they were healthy! Now he ten years old, eats ALL foods that are real, is very interested in paleo, cooking, and healthy choices *not the ones they try to indoctrinate him with at school~!. He has perfect teeth, adequate jaw room, no cavities or plaque at checkups and is rarely ill. He is tall, heavily boned but lean, graceful, and agile. He goes trick or treating because he likes to dress up and talk to people, but usually ends up throwing away all his candy. He is just not a sugar kid! He regularly scores from 4- 6 years above his classmates in reading and math skills. I am only bragging because he obviously DID NOT suffer from my primitive mothering. Oddly enough, he can still remember being tiny enough to have mom chew his meat for him. He seems to think this some kind of link to our wierd Irish/Choctaw/Finnish heritage. LOL
Babies eat such small amounts of food that I think it is kind of ridiculous not to pre-chew food for them unless you want to use all pre-packaged or cooked, portioned, and frozen in advance food. Using a motorized blending device for less than a 1/4 cup of food is just silly, in addition to being frustrating for the baby to have to wait while I prep it.
I think kids become better eaters when you start them by chewing up bits of food too, it just becomes a direct "monkey see, monkey do" situation, and they are exposed to a wider variety of flavors foods. Both of my babies have tried to reach up and pull food out of my mouth even before I let them start on solids, I trust that they know what they are doing in looking there for food.
Considering that infants do not produce much salivary amylase, and that starchy tubers seem to make up a significant portion of the diet of many hunter/gatherers, it would make sense to me that pre-chewing might be very helpful when starting a baby on starchy solids to help with digestion and nutrient absorption.
The acquisition of bacteria, other than growing of course, is the one of the most important jobs a baby has. Which is why they put EVERYTHING they can get in their grubby little mitts in their mouths. With over 1/3 of babies being born via c-section now, many vaginal births involving IV antibiotics, and automatic IV antibiotics if your baby ends up in the NICU, there can be a lot of catching up to do on the microbiome front. Pre-chewing is a wonderfully direct way to continue that transfer of bacteria from mother to child if opportunities were missed along the way.
Considering that the simple practice of a parent cleaning a pacifier with their mouth has been found to reduce allergies and asthma significantly in children, think of how much more benefit the child would get from food chewed by a parent.
Can pathogenic bacteria be passed along, alongside beneficial bacteria? Of course. But I think we are all well aware that living in a bubble is not good for immunity, and exposure to a wide range of bacteria is crucial to build a strong immune system. I think the benefits deeply outweigh the risks on this one.
Are some mamas doing it to be attention grubbing punks? Sure. But does that mean it isn't a practical and healthful activity...nope.
Is it really likely this happened often? There are lots of old people with no teeth in various poor parts of the world but I have never heard of anyone prechewing food for them. I suspect the body can digest the food without chewing as long as the pieces are cut small. Or you can beat the stuff tender using a rock. Might have happened sometimes for babies though. However, I don't see any obvious advantage to it now that we have forks and all.