Saturday, January 01, 2011

Walking the line.

Usually, when faced with a reminder that my kids are being raised without much of the industrialized food that normal Americans eat, I smile. I am happy for the lifelong habits that they are developing, happy that they eat enough variety to not be dependent on industrialized food, happy that when industrialized food is the only choice, they generally choose the best option. For example, when they are faced with the über-American choice of pepperoni or cheese pizza (like at Costco or at the pool in the summertime), they ask me, "Is the pepperoni happy?" Meaning, does the pepperoni come from local, humanely and sustainably-raised pigs? "Happy" is the word we use in our house. The answer is almost always "Nope. It's not happy meat," and usually they choose the non-meat version. Callie chooses the non-meat version 100% of the time. Brynn chooses it the majority of the time, but not always. And the choice is always hers.

Combined with our unusual attitude toward food is this: my kids don't watch much tv and they see almost no commercials. They mostly watch shows that are available via Netflix instant downloads (Martha Speaks, Sid the Science Kid, Cake Boss, Say Yes to the Dress, and Dhani Tackles the Globe are their current favorites), and they occasionally watch PBS. But we don't have cable, so that's about it. They didn't know what to ask for for Christmas this year because they don't know what is out there (which is fine with me). But, sometimes I fear that this lack of knowledge of the world, or at least the world that is familiar to their peers, could turn into a social handicap. I sometimes feel like we're walking the line between raising healthy kids and raising social outcasts.

Take, for instance, the conversation I had with Brynn this weekend. We were watching some New Year's Eve coverage and there was a McDonald's commercial. The idea of eating at McD's generally evokes choruses of "ewwww" or "grooooosssss" from my kids. Usually, Callie follows it up with a statement about how McD's serves burgers made from old dairy cows who spent their lives standing in poop up to their knees. But this time, the commercial was for McD's Happy Meals. Brynn had apparently never heard of a Happy Meal and was absolutely astonished, mouth agape, as she watched the commercial. As it ended, she questioned, "Mom, did you KNOW that McDonald's has HAPPY meals?"

"Brynn, do you know what a Happy Meal is?" I asked.

"A meal with happy meat!?"

Ahhhhh, so sad. And this is my point: by raising my kids in an environment where they are encouraged (though by no means forced) to choose "happy" options, and an environment where they have little exposure to the consumerism encouraged by our modern media, are they weird? Are they the kids you remember from your childhood whose parents chose not to even own a TV?

I believe that because I am honest with my kids and do my best to explain all of the consequences of choosing regular meat or happy meat, organic or not organic, sustainable or not sustainable, local or global, that they will mature with not only good habits, but an understanding of why they choose what they choose and the effects that their choices have on their health, the environment, and our local economy. Still, when I realize that my eight year old doesn't know what a Happy Meal is, I wonder whether I am doing the right thing!

She does now, by the way, know what a Happy Meal is. Here is the explanation I gave her: A Happy Meal is a meal that McDonald's makes for kids. It has a little burger with a pickle slice and ketchup on it, a small bag of french fries, a drink, and a toy that breaks shortly after you take it out of the package.

She is much less interested trying a Happy Meal now that she knows what it is.


Fulton said...

are you serious?!? I think that's phenomenal!! I keep telling Liz "our kids won't know what McDonald's is until they are at least 6". Although I'm sure at some point one of their friend's parents will take them and ruin it all. I just hope we have the same experience as you.

Annalea said...

Fwiw, I'm not sure our kids know what a Happy Meal is, either. The older ones might, as they have a cousin who loooooves McD's; but they've also watched her have to deal with excess weight, too. Eleven years old and a youth size 16 already.

So, don't worry. There are plenty enough of us out there that long before our children are adults, they'll find that there are quite a number of them out there. Who knows? Maybe there'll be forums and bloggers' conferences for the Micky-D-Free generation. ;o)

As parents, we do the best we can, and explain it to our children as we go along (and again as many times as necessary). It sounds like you're doing pretty well.

Lisa Sharp said...

I think it's awesome that your kids didn't know what they are!!