The Choices We Make

26 Sep

Story #1- Last Monday I picked my son up from his afterschool program and was met with a full on tantrum.  He was upset that I would not allow him to eat the gummy Starbursts given to him by his chess coach and informed me that he had already had some at “snack” time.

Story #2-On Saturday my mother asked me to pick up some food for my stepfather who is diabetic and paralyzed from the waist down.  My stomach cringed because I knew he was going to ask me to pick up something from a fast food restaurant.

Story #3-Last night I was reviewing literature for America Recycles Day in preparation for my son’s school event which is scheduled for November 15th.

Yes, I’m one of those mothers who don’t want to go along and get along. I regulate my son’s high fructose corn syrup (chemically processed corn) intake, I do not want to purchase fast food for an advanced stage diabetic, and social marketing campaigns always get the side eye (to borrow from my sisters).  Each of these stories raise concerns for me because it is damn difficult to function in this ridiculous culture of consumer capitalism because at every turn you have to suspend common sense to make decisions like purchasing school pictures and selecting the pose before your child actually takes the picture.

Here are the primary issues with each story, I had to have a 45 minute conversation with my son’s coach about the inappropriateness of giving children 25g of sugar (HFC) for an afterschool “snack.”  Food prices are increasing significantly, yet my stepdad’s double burger and fries costs $2.36.  I can barely get a cup of tea or a half-gallon of milk for $2.36, so how can I pursue a discussion about changing food habits with a family member on a fixed income.  $2.36 is not affordable food, that’s damn near free in comparison with the costs of slow food.

Finally, I want to be an active parent so I joined the Green and Healthy committee at my son’s school.  So why is America Recycles Day sponsored by Pepsico, Disney, Nestle Waters, Johnson and Johnson, LG (appliances and electronics), and Glad (plastics)?  Their investment in global supply chains that destroy natural resources and people’s lives globally is precisely the problem.

When I was young a school fundraiser was a bake sale of homemade goods or chocolates that had actual sugar not HFC.  Now a school fundraiser means talking with parents that work for Coca-Cola Inc. and online jewelry and magazine sales.  Having a 45 minute conversation every time these situations present themselves would not only usurp all of my time but it would also make me a pariah in my son’s school, afterschool, and in my family.  So I get screamed at by my son for taking away the 25g of HFC sugar, quietly hand over the bagged $2.36 meal, and hold my nose while planning an America Recycles (for a) Day activity with leading corporate plastic, aluminum cans, and energy polluters.  You may think these are minor but this is one week and simply the stories I choose to share.  I know I have “choices” and that I need to “choose my battles” but really it’s the same limited choice day in and day out—engage or resist, and I’m getting a bit worn out.

12 Responses to “The Choices We Make”

  1. woodenbones September 26, 2011 at 8:26 AM #

    I hear you and wish that we could turn this bizareness on its head…we’re kept so busy with the day to day and I for one have close to no energy left (and I don’t even have kids!!!)

  2. Mia K September 26, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

    This speaks to my condition so much. I, too, feel exhausted by having to constantly make these kinds of decisions, and have these kinds of discussions with people all the time. My kids are a bit older, and have bought in a bit more to my anti-HFCSness. And we remember to carry steel water bottles with us about 60% of the time. On good days we don’t lose them. But those are about the only micro-victories we can claim. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone, like some crazy mother crying in the wilderness.

  3. Lyndy Em September 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM #

    I FEEL YOU!!!!
    ANDI know this wasn’t your main point, but I feel like parents/caregivers are hit with this hysteria more intensely. I think this in part because I feel I’ve been resensitized through my child’s utterly innocent existence, but also I think it has to do with how insane the advertising/marketing towards infants and young children is. From the toys to the ‘healthy food’ to the branding… Lord.
    I’m still learning how to choose my battles. I have no idea how to straddle the fence between being appropriate and sticking to my guns.
    45 minutes with your son’s coach about HFC? We are struggling against the world to care for our children.
    This post really ties into my reasons for ‘disappearing’ (as discussed in the Disappearing Acts post here on Crunk) from social interactions… Sometimes my presence alone seems inappropriate. New mothers chatter about brands – diaper or baby food or stroller/sling or bottle. As a mother who’s trying to minimize consumption and infant branding to the best of my ability, I am either conversationally stale or disruptive (engage/resist).
    I don’t know what to say…
    I feel you…
    Thanks for the post.

  4. LaKay September 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM #

    Wow. There is truly encouragement in solidarity. This week I found out that my daughter, Emma’s prize for being a “well behaved” kid in 4th grade is a 1 lb Hershey Chocolate bar and I went crazy. She brought home her fundraiser packet and the top prize is a limo ride from school to Chuck E Cheese…or $100 cash…and the more things they sell, the more credits they add up and all the credits buy something. Seriously? And last night at dinner my mom told her she didn’t have to eat something on her plate (healthy) that I had just told her she had to eat…I could go on and discuss more school and family food issues…or the cost of eating healthy…

    but at this point, it’s just okay to feel less alone.

  5. Angela Shenk (@AngelaShenk) September 26, 2011 at 11:39 AM #

    Brilliant post! I am with you 100%. People can think I am a sourpuss, party-pooper but so be it. It does get tiring, but I don’t see what other choice I have. Not to say I am all so enlightened, but it is difficult when folks are on completely different wavelengths, not even seeing the irony of the situation. That recycling thing got me-really?! No one even questions it do they?
    I completely cosign with you!

  6. Mac September 27, 2011 at 9:44 AM #

    Oh, I feel you on this so much. My kid has finally shifted from MTV-expectations to some awareness of her relative privilege and all the considerations that go into what she wants and what it costs not just us but her and everyone else. Not being willing or able to go along with her expectations and even her manufactured “needs” has been absolutely crushing and exhausting—the reinforcement of her entitlement and the pressure on her (and us) to conform is unrelenting. Why is doing what’s right for your kid so hard?

    The fundraisers really bother me, the ones that involve selling to friends and relatives. What happens if your friends and relatives can’t afford it? What if, like I did, you have no extended family and your parents are anti-social and mentally ill and would implode if you even suggested something like that? Car washes and bottle drives and such that kids can actually be active in, maybe, but hawking wrapping paper and cheese and cookie dough? Really? I can’t justify $20 for 3 dozen cookies I have to store in the freezer, then bake myself.

    I completely understand that schools need to make up the shortfall somewhere but there are better ways to do it than throwing away a huge cut of the incoming money to a corporation that’s thriving on the school’s trouble. Irritatingly, it’s a big status thing with the wealthy parents in our area, because they can afford to buy (and so can everyone they know) $200 of designer wrapping paper and cheese logs. Maybe if little Jenny collected $1000+ in donations instead of sales, Mom and Dad would have to admit that everyone might be better off if they paid a bit more taxes or just tithed to the damn school system or anything but double-sided gold foil wrapping paper.

  7. D September 27, 2011 at 12:26 PM #

    I totally understand how you feel– how to hold your own and refuse to surrender your reasoning process? How do you hold on to the truth that you are looking at something clearly purple and pink when everyone around you continues to believe and enforce the delusion that you are looking at something blue and white? Now you’re the crazy one because you’re like “ummm, I hate to be the one to say this, but, no, it’s really not”

    One thing that gets me are school lunches. Even with these recent pushes to make school lunches healthy, most of them are STILL mass produced and engineered products. Why can’t lunch ladies MAKE school lunches? Would it be that hard to make a few large pots of oatmeal for breakfast, sandwiches and apple slices or stir fried veggies for lunch, and baked banana bread for snack time?

    I’m sure school districts complain about cost and volume but if we left food to the individual schools and kept the menus basic and nutritious– instead of spoiling kids by catering to artificial options and variety–I’m sure costs would be even LOWER than contracting with private companies to feed our kids.

    I’m sure every school district is FULL of under and unemployed people and parents, why not bring them into the schools to cook or take care of community gardens, or volunteer to write grants for funding for community food kitchens that deliver locally grown and prepared food for the kids? This would not only reintegrate our senses of community, but would help the under/unemployed gain skills and experience in the interim of their hard times.

    Today lunch staff receive packaged meals, heat them up, and serve them. In the process, kid are socially engineered to accept mass produced food and have no sense of context with the process it took to bring that food to the lunch table: agriculture and farming techniques, long distance delivery, questioning ingredients, labor practices, etc. They are conditioned to accept food as another foreign commodity that you consume without question, and to accept something as “healthy” or “conscientious” simply because the packaging says so.

    And the school fundraiser matter is totally atrocious. It feeds into the consumer/status culture completely. Encouraging students to be the greatest performer in the machine, and rewarding them with visible status and privileges in highly coveted positions within the machine. Of course every kid will want to post on facebook pictures of them in the limousine and dancing in front of the crowd with chuckie– winning parents will probably post it on their OWN pages– “look what MY baby did!”.

    Is the limo ride/chuckie cheese outing really any different than a 35 year old Coca Cola executive walking down the street with their louis vuitton and neiman marcus shopping bags for all to see, then driving around in the mercedes with a license plate framed by the ivy league alma mater? “Look what I got, look what I can do, I DID earn this after all, by my own hard work!” Clearly we are conditioning children to covet being awarded for performing highly in flawed and greedy systems.

    I just totally feel you on the madness. It’s SO important to find like minded parents, which necessitates remaining visible and asking the right questions/making the right statements so that you can attract like-minded people. Sometimes it’s best to be discreet at first, just to see where peoples’ heads are at and save you the strife of being immediately labeled. If someone is in the audience who is “aware”, they will understand the language you are speaking. Game recognize game. Staying involved in policy is crucial, and recruitment of school and district leaders who are aware and prepared to take on the system is a MUST.

    Also this is ALL definitely a part of a plan to take the natural processes and understanding of food away from people, mostly for social and genetic engineering purposes. If you read “The Scientific Outlook” by Bertrand Russell, he talks in detail about the need and plans to control populations, particularly through diminishing critical thinking faculties and biological processes, through food engineering. Written in the 50s, if you even briefly skim through some of the proposals, and take a look around at what is happening today, it is quite the trip.

    • Mac September 27, 2011 at 1:39 PM #

      I used to be a lunch lady at a daycare that made its own food—for 400+ kids—in a kitchen no bigger than the ones you see in nice houses these days. I recall our total budget per child, per day, was about literally pennies, maybe $0.25 but my brain is saying $0.17, but that was a few years back. We had a brilliant nutrition director who bargained and bartered and worked her ass off for us.

      That was two or three snacks and a lunch for every child that all needed to come close to a day’s recommended nutrition because we could not count on all the kids being able to access good food at home. Each day, the children ate fresh fruit and vegetables. There were four of us working in the kitchen and the teachers helped us serve the kids in lunch shifts.

      It really can be done and is done all over the world every day—but a community has to want to do it and to have the support of the larger political/social system. That was the best job ever, even though I had to walk 30 minutes to be there at 6am. There was always seconds or if kids were still hungry after that bread and jam or whatever else we had on hand. I went hungry as a kid. Being there for the first time a child realized they could have more just because they were hungry, getting to put it on their plate, was a privilege, every time.

  8. murderunderthebridge September 27, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

    Wow, this post really sums up my feeling as I go through the day. I can walk to Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck) and try to find things that don’t come in three layers of plastic – and it seems like the less plastic they have, the more they cost, or else I am going to drive three miles to shop at a groovy store with local produce.

    I was just explaining to a friend what I learned (for a blog post of my own about plastic recycling, and she was like, “Why did you have to tell me while I’m drinking through a plastic lid?” I feel like a grinch all the time.

    It’s the culture of the individual solution, which makes being “green” (a word I can’t stand) a function of how much money and leisure time you have to do it with.

  9. brittany marie September 27, 2011 at 11:23 PM #

    your post reminds me i am not alone. all the craziness out here. i dont have children of my own but i am an auntie. just the other day i was thinking, damn these poor parents out here exhausted, fighting a culture of dysfuntional norms.
    proud your doing the work. if you need support let me know. i will do whatever i can to help you out. for real!

  10. sheridf September 28, 2011 at 2:42 PM #

    @ all the commenters,
    Thank you for your responses to the post. I especially appreciate the offer of real support from brittany marie and the insight of mac “the lunch lady.” Your comments have helped me to see that there needs to be more written about these difficulties that seem like individual shortcomings but are actually a form of cultural silencing meant to push people with or without children into submission. I really appreciate hearing your voices on this topic.

    • Mac September 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

      “these difficulties that seem like individual shortcomings but are actually a form of cultural silencing”

      Wow, yeah. When you put it that way, it highlights how programmed I am to think of my resistance as a personal flaw—not going along, being a hippie, being difficult—instead of as a blessing. I was always like that as a kid, questioning and resisting, and it was always punished (isn’t is always, for most of us?). In my experience as a childcare worker, I’ve found that many children have an inherent sense of resistance, not being bad or difficult but challenging and questioning, that often stems from a deeply rooted sense of justice and rightness. The System really seeks to break that down. (Maybe we need a Miss Frizzle of Social Justice and Subversion to encourage kids to keep questioning and resisting and seeking truth.)

      It’s obvious from this post and the comments that simply expressing one’s doubt and frustration resonates with many others and draws out silenced instincts and reasoning and emotions.

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