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February 15, 2013
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Nevada City native tackles hippie upbringing in new book

As a child, Nathanael Johnson didn’t recognize his family’s “strangeness” until he landed in the unfamiliar territory of elementary school.

It was there among the classrooms, playground and cafeteria that Johnson began to observe that what he took to be self-evident — his family’s all-natural lifestyle — was not the same as his classmates. The students ate pre-packaged Lunchables to his homemade brown rice stir-fry.

As he grew up and was exposed to more and more mainstream influences, including technology, Johnson became more intrigued by an all-natural lifestyle versus one based on modern conveniences and which one, if either, was better.

The journalist and Nevada City native took on the issue in his recently released book “All Natural: A Skeptics Quest to Discover if the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier.” He will discuss the book and issues he highlighted in the work at 3 p.m.today at Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters.

In the book, Johnson marries personal memories with his investigative reporting skills to address whether our technologically driven society is better for health, nutrition and the environment, or if a more natural, back-to-the-land approach is safer.

“It’s kind of an odd hybrid in that way. I really wanted to make it personal because that’s where it comes from,” Johnson said.

Although Johnson was a child of the ’80s, a significant era for pop culture and technology, he was naive to it. He and his brother were raised without TV, junk food, or pumped with mass-market medicine. In the introduction, he recalls at age 7 being huddled on the front porch with his brother during a freezing rainstorm, waiting out the impossibly long three-hour period of “outdoor time” so the boys could earn 30 minutes of game time on the new IBM computer.

And that was after his parents conceded that technology was inevitable, he said in the book.

Johnson’s use of memories add a personal touch to the issues he explores in the book.

Such as the time he hit a wall as a long-distance runner for Nevada Union High School. In an effort to improve his time, Johnson found a nutrition book on his mother’s shelf and determined that eating cooked food was at the root of his inability to improve his track time. So he launched into a raw diet.

To keep up with the metabolism of a teenage boy running 10 miles a day, Johnson had to even grow his own produce hydroponically in window sills. But despite the healthy plant-based diet, he noticed friends who ate Hostess Ho-Hos and milkshakes were still beating him.

There is a point people can get caught up in things and go too far in one direction, Johnson said. It was an early lesson that added to his inquisitiveness about which path was right.

Through the two and a half years it took Johnson to write the book, he was surprised by a lot of what he discovered. Like learning how little is actually known about nutrition, the structure of food and how important that structure is to health, he said.

“Every turn there was something like that — really surprising and that changed the way I did things on a daily basis,” Johnson said.

Longtime family friend Dr. Jeffrey Kane looks forward to interviewing Johnson this afternoon and to the discussion this book will generate.

“I think it’s an important book. The issue come up in a lot of places,” Kane said.

As a cancer support group facilitator, Kane sees firsthand the dilemma people experience on whether to choose traditional oncology treatment or an alternative therapy. In about three of five cases, patients opt for a combination of both, he said.

“How do you balance between fact and feeling, between science and what your gut is telling you?” Kane said.

Kane has known Johnson since he was a young child and can relate to the book because he and his wife chose to raise their daughters the all-natural way as well.

“We were all tree-hugging hippies,” Kane said.

Through the book, Johnson said he wanted to talk about nature in the home and putting your ideals to practice, as opposed to the more conventional viewpoint of Americans to see nature as faraway. After all of his research and experience, Johnson concludes that a moderate position between nature and technology is probably where reason is at. And he gained a more clear appreciation for his childhood.

“I think that in a lot of ways the core of my parents’ philosophy was really right. It’s when it comes down to the details it gets tricky,” he said, adding that he ended up with a lot of sympathy and trust for the natural way of doing things.

While writing the book, Johnson became a parent himself, adding a new perspective on how he would raise his daughter. Unlike Johnson, his wife, Beth, was raised in a more mainstream household. Her father was a physician. When it comes to decisions for their new family, Johnson said they tend to be a little more moderate.

But on occasion their divergent backgrounds come through on issues.

“She wants to protect our daughter from the sun, I want to protect her against sunscreen,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Features Editor Brett Bentley can be contacted at bbentley@theunion.com.


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The Union Updated Feb 18, 2013 04:05PM Published Feb 16, 2013 01:45AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.