food · health · kids · modern life · parenting

Cultural Norms

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That two word phrase keeps popping up in my mind now that the first week of school is underway, because schools are such a great place to view a community’s cultural norms. The first thing that is blatantly apparent is the fact that walking or biking to school is not a norm in this community, or maybe this generation. I’m not sure how widespread it is but I do think this greater Seattle area in general has an overzealous relationship with cars. When I read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s book Eat, Pray, Love and she talked about how each city has one word that defines it, I thought that this area’s word would be ‘drive’. Not only for the literal drive a car meaning, although that is certainly part of it, but also the drive that means pushing people to work harder, longer hours than ever before, driving kids to start sports at an earlier age or else lose out on it as well as other extracurricular activities~ music, dance, chess, stem-activities, the list is endless. Not that being ‘driven’ as an innate trait is bad, of course it’s good to be focused and hardworking, and there’s plenty of that around here too, but mostly it seems like a rather overly driven culture here and the actual driving exemplifies the mental and emotional aspects. My older son is in middle school which does not have bus services for the kids that live within a mile or maybe a mile and a half, and they say it’s because those kids can easily walk or bike to school. OK, I absolutely agree that they can indeed walk or bike that far, my earlier posts attest to that here and here, but the thing is, no one actually lets their kid do that. Everyone drives their child to school and the traffic could rival a boy band concert at an all girls’ high school, and yet parents still prefer to put up with the frustration of sitting in traffic, and planning their mornings and afternoons around drop off and pick-up times that take a ridiculous amount of time rather than have their kid walk or bike. It just isn’t done. So, how do you turn around a cultural norm like that? Or should the school accept the fact that they could get a handle on their traffic mess, and it is a problem about which we get regular emails so it’s definitely an issue, by adding another bus or two and picking up most of the car riders? Or should they fight the cultural norm with setting up groups so kids can walk or bike together, perhaps get parent volunteers to escort the kids for the first week until they are used to it, somehow reward the students who show up on bike or by walking, or I don’t know….do something. Because the problem with just adding another bus or two is that we are branding that cultural norm into kids’ heads~ one does not walk or bike to a place that is less than a mile away. One takes a vehicle. Is that really what we want kids learning? Is that remotely healthy for any single person much less the earth as a whole? I don’t think so.

Another cultural norm on display at schools is the food. Oh dear. The cafeteria at my son’s middle school is packed with a dazzling array of junk food they can buy day in and day out~ donuts, chips as diverse as the languages spoken in the hallways, candy of all stripes, and sugar wrapped in a thousand disguises. The main offerings are mediocre at best (nutritionally, visually, taste-wise) and the salad bar offers unappetizing raw veggies which are probably as nutrient dense as the composition notebooks found in the kids’ backpacks. Again, is this how we want kids to learn to eat? What they expect from mealtimes is absolutely going to be influenced by the meals they have five days a week, even if the other mealtimes are different, they are still learning that the norm is to eat junk food. My friend from Israel was so surprised to find that here in the U.S. sandwiches routinely come with chips or fries. In her country sandwiches came with salad or a vegetable, or nothing. We don’t have to accept these norms just because they exist around us~ I often think of the Jane Austens and E.M.Forsters out there that have always written about the ridiculousness of their own cultural norms and eventually those norms did change. We can imprint our kids with healthy habits on a cultural level, or not. It just needs to be enough people’s priority I guess. It starts with recognizing the daily habits they we all partake in, sometimes mindlessly, sometimes joyfully, but all the time repetitively. oggl_00071

ecology

Happy Earth Day

ImageI love this time of year when the plum tree outside our bedroom window blooms. In the summer when we sleep with the window open I often am awoken by rustling in that very tree, and when I peer out I find bright raccoon eyes peering back at me. We share the plums. Actually, they get the lion’s share because picking the tree requires a ladder or sharp claws, and simplicity wins every time.

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This is what’s blooming in the front yard, along with lavender, rosemary, and some rogue tulips.

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Earth day is celebrated in over 192 countries now, according to Wikipedia, but I wish it were more. More countries and more celebration. I asked my boys when they got home from school if they discussed Earth Day and both said nothing was mentioned. Sad. They have a captive audience at schools, surely someone cares enough to explain what Earth day is…? My older son told me this weekend that I was an “Earth Helper” so he must have gotten that from somewhere~ I had assumed school, but maybe not.

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I had a strange thought today that I’m not even sure how to put into words, but I was thinking about Earth Day and the Earth and just how insanely we take it for granted, and I wondered, if just maybe humans had started off as Earth worshipers instead of Sun worshipers if perhaps we would have evolved with a greater respect for the Earth. I realize there was a time when people did worship the earth in ways, Gaia and all that, but we seem, as a species, to always be looking up and out, as though there has to be something bigger and brighter out there…

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And we forget to look under our own feet, where amazing things are happening.

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I guess I just thought if religions got involved in being conscious of how we treat the earth, something good might happen. People might listen more, and if all religions started working towards the same goal, maybe there wouldn’t be so much to fight over. I’m not saying we should replace all religions with Earth centered gods or anything, but it’s something all religions could get behind and it would be a good thing, for many reasons. A shared, concrete mission instead of endless squabbles over this and that. Not that being a conscious earthling requires religion at all, it’s just a thought I had…that maybe when the future species of the future world look at our human limitations, they will see our tragic flaw as our first instinct was to look at the glory of the sun instead of the soil between our toes.