Most folks would be appalled by the following question: do we really love our children? How dare any individual ask such a probing and intimidate question. Watching a slender, pale faced young high school girl, walking down the hallway yesterday morning, with a 2 liter bottle, of radioactive red colored Mountain Dew, I decided to ask this loaded question.
Have we abdicated our roles as the 'elders' in society, those experience laden, adults whose wisdom is incumbent for the youth to seek out and learn from? The beauty of having numerous years on this earth, should translate into a group of elders who will not let their youth be exploited, will take the lead in defending the innocence of our young and set parameters in society that teach our children well.
That girl I watched go down that hallway, may be doomed to a life of type-2 diabetes, unless, many of us are willing to stand in the way of the status quo: profits at any expense. Yet some may shrug their shoulders and state: 20% of our nations' one and two year olds, now drink pop. Pepsi, Dr.Pepper and Seven-Up encourage feeding soft drinks to babies by licensing their logos to a major maker of baby bottles! With the average American drinking 56 gallons of pop annually, who is going to be willing to tell the children, that this consumption of pop is going to make you sick? I am, how about joining me?
In the new perverse world of corporate profit over any ethical, community based or moral values, maybe we are building the next economic model: disease is good: disease makes money. We can follow the example of Philip Morris, who calculated that the nation of Czechoslovakia could earn a net GAIN per year of 147.1 million dollars by allowing their citizens to continue to smoke! Let them die, and you will pay out less in pension funds.This 1999 study proves that many multinational corporations still view humans as pawns on their profit sheets. Where are the collective outrage, the boycotts and civil actions?In this time of shouting out against terrorism, why do our federal dollars still subsidize the dealers of death, the tobacco industry?
Elders in a community are the purveyors of tradition, of culture and ceremonies. Corporate America is vanquishing those adults who remain silent about their predation of children, as mere empty suits, an enigma of a time long ago. We now have more shopping malls than secondary high schools, where the tradition is mindless consumption, where holiday ceremonies have been transformed into an orgy of quick gratification, at the expense of families, mental health and happiness. Defined as 'tweens', these 'consumers' between early childhood and teenage years are being targeted as never before and the results will be disastrous. I tell students that how you treat your place, your environment (including the people in your space), along with your diet, may be the most important two decisions you will make: for your own health and the health of the planet.
The fast food industry is destroying the family structure and the rituals of families cooking together, sharing stories and beliefs. I learned more about my Polish grandparents, or my own parents' virtues and dreams, during the ritual of dinner and holiday meals. Toss in the walks in the park, the time fishing on lakes and the everyday chat, my 'elders' were giving me the gift of cultural identity, values, and setting parameters of right and wrong. Fast food chains annually spend over $3 billion on advertising, especially on television. Why television, because the average American child now watches 21 hours of this mindlessness a week. That comes out to approximately 30,000 commercials a year. Between McDonald's and Burger King, they have invested in over 10,000 play structures! As a producer of a play structure states, 'play-lands bring in children, who bring in parents, who bring in money'. Put that together with the coalitions between fast food joints, leading toy manufactures and theme parks, and we are devising the new America for our children. An America of shallow souls and the numb citizen, with no connection to place, no memory of home life, except a trip to a homogenous chain of burger places, where a toy made by sweat labor is your prize?Over $100 billion dollars were spent at fast food places last year, ensuring that our children will lead sickly lives. The October issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology states that 25% of U.S. kids are carrying more weight than may be healthy. Some will state that we need to stimulate the economy by consuming fast food. I say nonsense. Invest your monies in produce from local farms, your local coop, 'natural' food store or community diner. Yes, invest in our economy, but in your local economy, endorsing wholesome and safe food products.
With schools giving in to promotions and corporate logos, the plan is complete. Between the malls, the school-rooms, burger joints and television, corporate profiteers are shaping the lives, minds and rituals of our most precious resource on earth, our children. Is it not ironic, that in 1978, the Federal Trade Commission tried to ban ALL commercial television ads to children under the age of seven years old. When Reagan took office, this quest came to a screeching halt, because of the lobbying of the National Toy Manufacturers and the Association of National Advertisers.
That student, carrying the pop with about 51 or so teaspoons of sugar in her red brew, watches Channel 1, a news program beamed into the classrooms of 12 million students a day: complete with pop and candy commercials. I refuse to show it. I will not allow pop or candy in my classroom, while fruit and water is warmly accepted. I am an elder who has recognized that I cannot turn away. I say it is time to toss out, all those defeatist comments ingrained in our vocabulary. 'You cannot swim upstream', 'don't upset the apple cart', 'you can't fight city hall.' With the smile of my daughters faces emblazoned in my spirit, how can I not believe this is a winnable fight?
So, I ask the question again, 'do we really love our children?'
Will we remove pop machines from our schools? Will we storm our boards of education, and tell them, no more fast food in our schools, no more corporate come-ons? Will we cook meals at home, healthy meals that are grounded in the health of our children and their world? The day after Thanksgiving Day, will we say no to shopping, but, instead make a photo album with our children and discuss our families' values? Will we walk down to the homeless shelter and spread joy to those who know pain? Will we simply take a walk down our neighborhood? Will we just talk and instill values of love, responsibilities, humility and frugalness amongst our kids?
And in the bigger picture, will we say no to overt consumption? Will we fight for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, by driving less, making life style changes that do not reduce quality of our lives, but, indeed improve them? I have my children eating soy butter, we have rice milk in the house, we are saying no to empty calories and meat diets. There is no soda pop in this house. It is a start, a start where you can look your children in the eye, and tell them, that their diet, their life decisions will ensure a healthier group of young citizens and a sustainable environment for generations to come. And, now you can answer the question, yes. I really love my children, and actually, I really love all children. And I will not compromise, seek politically correct, pragmatic half truths, I will fight for our children.
John F. Borowski