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

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children · gardening · kids · organic · parenting · picky kids · slow food

Superfly

Did you know that flies actually live a lot longer than 24 hours? They can apparently live for about a month, which is closer to 720 hours. It must be true, I found this out on the internet. Sarcasm aside, it really must be a myth about the 24 hours because we’ve had the biggest, freakiest fly in our house for three days now, and it has made itself known all 72 hours it’s been visiting us. It’s so fat that my oldest can’t believe how fast it is, he thinks it should be like a Garfield Fly where it sleeps all the time and waits to be served lasagna. I told him maybe it is all muscle and some kind of super fly, a hero in the insect world. He said no, it just seems to want to be our pet. I have to agree, it follows us upstairs and downstairs, in and out of rooms, noisily adding a buzzing soundtrack to our home life and stealthily remaining just out of arms reach, or rolled up magazine reach to be more honest. We are trying to encourage it to go outside, I don’t want to kill it b/c it would make such a nasty mess I can’t even imagine, so we are leaving doors open and swatting it towards them, but that just never works and we end up feeling frustrated and foolish, Superfly laughing haughtily in the corner. Anyway, despite the new ever-present presence in the house, I did want to share a good news infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by way of the Edible Schoolyard Project. It shows improvement in kids’ lunches but I think the real news is that when kids actually have healthy choices they are more likely to eat healthy foods. It’s another myth that kids will always choose the pizza over the salad bar. Just like adults, kids want to make healthy choices, maybe not all the time, but if there is no healthy choice, then it will be none of the time. And that’s no myth.

From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
children · Education · kids · parenting

Schools and STEM

Chicken huggersIf you have a child in school these days then you surely have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) It’s the big thing right now~ there are STEM schools,  STEM measurements, and people compare the STEM-ness of schools when making decisions about where their child will go. Personally, I’m wondering where creativity fits into science, technology, engineering, and math. It seems to me innovation is tied to creativity and we need to foster that in our children just as much as the other things. Not only that, but creativity gives people the space to appreciate art, music, literature, and all the things that still exist beyond our screens. Our kids will be proficient in computers, that’s a given, but do we really want to tie our futures so inseparably with modern technology? Has there really been nothing of use in the world up until the computer chip was invented? What about the natural world? Science seems centered on dissecting it, but what about giving kids the chance to appreciate it? Breathe it. Realize they live in it along with billions of other beings and need to think about that fact. An example of what I’m talking about is the fact our school district does not have art teachers. There are volunteer parents that go in and teach art to classes at most once per month, but often a lot less. Why are we teaching these kids that art in not that important? They have music and PE and library at least once per week, but art for some reason is not valued enough to have at least a weekly class with a trained teacher. This just blows my mind. Kids get so much out of art class and I’m not just referring to the kids who are gifted in it. When I go in and help with art lessons I’m always struck by the highly intellectual students who are astounded they can make something aesthetically pleasing with their own hands, and the hyper-active students who can focus on something that is truly their own, and the quiet students who love being able to work on something as an individual and not be overwhelmed with the constant group activities that are also so vogue in modern education. It gives students a place to pause and consider what art means to them, to recognize every single one of them has some creativity and how good it feels to express it, and to understand it is valuable to work on something purely for aesthetic reasons. These are just a few of things that I see falling out of schools in favor of STEM, and I’d like to propose a post-STEM environment focused on Creativity and Nature. Computers will be integrated in their lives more and more with textbooks changing into tablets, research done on Google, Kindergarteners giving PowerPoint presentations~ that’s all part of the modern world and I’m not trying to stop it, there just needs to be some focus on what goes on outside of a screen and perhaps inside of a head. Of course, I have to bring up the Edible Schoolyard Project as I so often do because it embraces nature and creativity both in such a beautiful balance, and in an increasingly teched-out world kids need to be reminded of the importance of these things. Isn’t education about expanding the mind after all…? It certainly can’t just be about learning how to use a single tool. Our kids are brighter than that and they deserve more.

children · gluten free · Gluten free eating · gluten free food · gluten free foods · gluten free lifestyle · gluten intolerance · gluten intolerant

School Lunch

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Wheat, wheat, and more wheat

My sons normally bring their lunches to school, unless they are having waffles and then my oldest buys his lunch, therefore I don’t normally read the menu that comes home monthly except to mark the waffle days. (Usually every Wednesday.) For lack of better reading material with my coffee this morning I actually read February’s offerings, and was struck by the little key at the bottom that reads: “**Contains Wheat” and another symbol to show what contains dairy. I went back through the menu and realized every item had a double asterisks by it~ every single thing offered contains wheat. They do have a salad bar each day so I assume a gluten-free child could live off that if they didn’t bring their lunch, but I have a hard time imagining an elementary student getting much from it. It makes me sad for the free/reduced lunch kids who might have food intolerances, and the kids who just want to buy their lunches like their friends do but can’t because they never have good options. But the real thing that I think this says is that we are a wheat nation~ people generally have no idea how much wheat they take in on a daily basis but it is so easy to eat it at every meal. I lived on wheat before realizing I had a problem with it, which I don’t think is a coincidence. A bit more variety in my diet might have saved me some headaches, fatigue, and stomach issues. I love the schools that have gardens on their property and use the food in the schools. Imagine basing lunch menus on what is growing outside the window, what is in season and fresh and healthy, then adding in the other things, such as grains and beans, and dairy. Oh and meat if you like, I always forget that. There is an organization promoting school gardens called The Edible Schoolyard Project and they are very worth checking out. Last year I asked the principal at my sons’ school if we could plant a garden and he said he was thinking about a greenhouse after the school’s construction was finished. That’d work too, but ideally I think both would be best.