Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We all have a choice

I know that a lot of people think the whole organics thing is just a bunch of bull designed to make us spend more money on trendy foods…I know because I used to believe that too. It was about 10 years ago when the whole organics trend started popping up in my world and I remember thinking “Oh, great, eating fruits and vegetables is no longer good enough, now they have to be organic?!” Then I relied on what I normally do when faced with questions I don’t have the answers to, research, research, research.

Turns out that there is a multitude of research, stats and information regarding the organic movement (which has been around a lot longer than 10 years) and why it is so important to our health and the environment. Now, people in my parents’ generation are often the ones turning their nose up at the idea, but these ideas are not new. They have always been aware of the risks associated with all these chemicals on our food (hello, Silent Spring was published in 1962 and I’d hazard to guess that even though it resulted in DDT getting removed, this issue hasn't really improved since then), they were just hoping that they could dilute the facts enough to prove that the risks were minimal and by the time you get it on your plate, they’re even less.

Well, it’s not just the risk of ingesting these chemicals directly from the food (which is pretty significant by the way) but also through our daily lives. These chemicals leach into our soil, water systems and air, effecting the delicate balance our ecosystem hangs by and effecting all life on this planet. Now, I have heard people state that “people have been saying that the world is coming to an end for ages,” like that justifies us ignoring them or something. I find it truly abhorrent that we have become a society that doesn’t care about the impact of our actions today on future generations. Even if you don't care about the environment though, it doesn't take a huge mental leap to see there is a connection between our food choices (and sedentary lifestyles) and the astronomical rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in our country.

When I hear people say that “buying organic is too expensive” or even “buying healthy foods is too expensive,” I think to myself these same people who complain about the cost of buying 'healthy foods' (or organic) are the same ones that don’t have a problem laying down inordinate amounts of money on shoes, bags, cars or housing they can’t really afford. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is a price tag associated with buying organic, and there are people that honestly cannot stretch a dollar any further than they already are…I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about the people that support places like Wal-mart, stating that it’s cheaper and they’re just trying to save a buck, while pulling up in their Hummers and Escalades. Not to mention there have been a number of celebrity chefs, cook books and blogs showing how buying more plant based foods is not only the healthiest but also the cheapest. The problem is that most people don’t know how to prepare a meal if it doesn’t come out of a box or the freezer and in my opinion this is not by accident.

It didn't start overnight, it actually took a gradual shift to organics for me, I started buying from a local organic delivery service so I didn't have to hunt down organics and within a year most of our produce was organic or locally grown. When I choose to spend the extra money it takes to buy organic, I believe that not only am I making a decision for the health of myself and my family but I am also sending a message to the mass production food industry that they will not get my money or support. It comes down to more than just money here (at least for me), I feel that the importance of supporting local farming, sustainable business practices and providing food with the least amount of genetic engineering, chemicals, hormones and pesticides is worth the extra $.20/lb. We will continue to live in what most would call a modest home (which has more than enough room for the three of us), take care of our paid off cars so they run as long as possible for us (in the hopes that light rail will finally be available before then so we don’t have to buy another) and cook our meals at home where it is not only cheaper but healthier so spending the extra $.20-.50 for organic is not a hardship. This is the food that will nourish mine and my family’s bodies, so I really don’t see it as an option to choose price over health. It is only when we make a collective shift away from the foods that pose such great health and environmental risks that there will be real change in our food systems and health.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Princesses, fairies and kittens oh my!

I believe I was born a feminist, it’s the only explanation that in spite of my mother’s efforts to get me to conform to the gender roles of being female, I constantly questioned it’s rational and fairness. I remember being forced to wear dresses and pig tails and if it weren’t for my brothers and cousins the only toy choices I would’ve had growing up would’ve been dolls and an easy bake oven. I especially remember a time when I played on a co-ed soccer team with my little brother, after the game I saw the boys taking off their shirts to cool off (probably mimicking what they saw their fathers or older brothers do) and when I attempted to do the same, my mother told me that I couldn’t. When I asked why, she said ‘girls don’t do that.’ I was 7 years old and already learning about the inexplicable privileges of being a boy [man].

Don’t get me wrong, I liked being a girl (and still do). I was the only girl in my immediate family and the first granddaughter to my paternal grandmother who had two boys and no daughters. I realized at a very young age that being a girl was special and a good thing, and this message is something I credit with my self-confidence growing up and avoiding nasty relationships with boys/men. It is a message I hope to send very clearly to my daughter, which is one of the reasons her father and I choose not to limit her to traditional girl roles…which sounds crazy when you think about the fact that we are talking about a 1 year old. It seems our need to force our children into ‘appropriate’ gender roles is something that begins before they even show their beautiful little faces, which is exactly why I chose not to find out the gender of our baby when I was pregnant. I didn’t want my unborn child inundated with gender specific wardrobe, toys and stroller before they even took a breath. I wanted to focus on the joy of bringing a life into this world and all the possibilities that go along with that. I felt that once we found out the gender of our baby, others (and possibly even us) would begin limiting the possibilities based on this one characteristic without seeing the whole person.

I know a lot of people saw my views as wacky because most have not delved into the vast amount of sociological, educational and developmental research that shows the effects of our traditional gender roles on boys and girls and how they feel about themselves as a son/daughter, student, brother/sister, and later in life, wife/husband/partner, employee and parent. I get strange looks whenever I bring this up because lets face it this is an issue that is systemic and therefore rarely thought about or even noticed (although there are a lot of very valuable programs out there that are trying to make a difference). It just seems natural to push pink, purple and dolls on girls and blue, green and trucks on boys without considering the message we send with these ‘choices.’ While I won’t go into all the research that shows that these gender roles tend to stack the deck against girls, stifling their development, dreams and choices, I will mention that there is significant longitudinal research findings that indicate that there is a point in a young girls’ education (somewhere between elementary and middle school) where her answer to the popular “What do you want to be when you grow up” question turns from “doctor,” “astronaut,” and “lawyer” to “nurse,” “teacher,” and “mom” (while boys answers don’t change much over time). There is also extensive research that tries to discount the gender wage gap (in case you aren’t aware, women are still making approximately $.75 to every $1.00 a man does) by showing that women are only getting paid less than men because they choose traditionally lower paying jobs like teaching and social work or they are choosing to take part-time work to spend more time with their families. Is it really a choice or are girls following the limited paths they were given growing up through the messages sent to them either at home, through media or at school?

While dressed as a green dragon for Halloween my adorable little girl kept getting called a boy (something that truly doesn’t bother me in the least) and some even had the nerve to say “but she’s a girl, she should be dressed as a princess or something frilly.” The fact of the matter is that she picked out her costume (as much as a pointing, grunting, mostly non-verbal human can) and any observer could tell that she felt pretty special wearing it and she was in fact the cutest dragon around if I do say so myself. Isn’t Halloween all about pretending and fantasizing anyhow? Wouldn’t this be an opportunity to instead of trying to cement those gender roles by dressing our girls as princesses, fairies and kittens encourage them to explore their imagination and be anything they want, why not wizards, ninjas or lions?

I know what most would say “but she wanted to be a princess.” I suppose that could be true but only based on the limited choices given to girls in the first place and the messages sent from the time they are born (sometimes even before). I mean, if given the choice to ‘dress up’ for Halloween as a kitten where I get to wear a set of ears, whiskers, a black leotard and a tail or a princess where I get to wear a big frilly dress, shiny shoes, glittery make up, jewelry and a tiara…it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a child will most likely choose the flashier of these two choices. The same can be said when perusing the clothing racks and toy shelves of children’s stores where I am forced to shop in the boys section in order to get my little girl a pair of pants that aren’t pink or purple or has ruffles on the butt (or shorts that actually cover up her butt!). Girls are given the choice of pink, pink or purple and princesses or flowers; boys are given the choice of blue, grey, green, red, orange and yellow and cars/trucks, animals, airplanes/rocket ships, bugs and robots…get my drift?

I have heard people say that boys and girls are ‘just different’ and while I agree that there are obvious physical differences and even some physiological differences that distinguish the two, I would also like to point out that each of us humans, both male and female, are different from the next, so why differentiate based on this one aspect? The fact of the matter is that we are all unique and this is the message that should be sent to our children find your uniqueness and flourish. Being yet another princess or fairy in a land of other princesses and fairies sends the message that you should try to blend in and be like every other girl, which is not only impossible but sends a pretty significant message to our daughters…don’t stand out, hide your uniqueness, just try and be the prettiest of princesses. It filled me with such joy to watch our little girl walk around in her dragon costume with a big smile on her face feeling special I hope she never loses that smile, confidence or feeling that she is unique and special. Because like a National Organization for Women (NOW) bumper sticker that I’m sure most of you have read, “Well Behaved Women Rarely make history.” Go ahead little girl make some history.