21 November 2008

We are what we feed our kids

Rocking my world this week: a couple of talks, and Twitter, all inspiring in completely different ways.

The first talk was a tirade about what we are allowing schools to feed our kids for lunch every day. Ann Cooper, who turned things around in the Berkeley school district, unleashes her fiery torrent of rhetoric and statistics to paint a damning picture of a society that has allowed our government to climb into big businesses' comfy pockets and beds.

Cooper says in her talk that if we send our children to school and we feed them bad food, that's what they learn. And what happens? We get sick. I think she's right: there's something we can do about all those additives and preservatives and hormones and pesticides we're allowing the USDA to dump on all our crops because Monsanto's too big to fail, because we've got to keep doing business with them because it's our patriotic duty and not to do so would destabilize our economy too much. We can stand up and say, our kids need real food. The problem is a lot of parents don't know it's not nutritious; they assume if it's coming from the government, it's good for us. There's a midwestern stoicism among some of my relatives that is thrift-based and also very stoic. But there comes a point when those top 10 companies responsible for feeding a huge percentage of our country's population must be recognized as having a greater interest in their short-term profits than in their consumers' long-term health. And we have to be willing to stand up and say, not only is $8 billion a year not enough money, but we must double that at least and spend it in different ways to get value for our money, that is, the health of our children and our planet.

I have some friends who are starting a new venture, writing a book and starting an NGO, both called Goodness To Go. They are trying to provide a roadmap and toolkit for anyone wanting to start a new venture. (I will definitely put in a word to advocate employing social media in their networking strategies, given all I have seen and done this week. Just this week I signed up for some stuff on Facebook and started wearing a little white ribbon tied in a double-knot to symbolize my belief that any human being should be able to marry the person of their choice. The social media explosion makes enterprises like this seem so much easier. Such amazing opportunity. It is Web 2.0. People are reaching out to one another online; there's no going back. No putting that powerful genie back in any teensy little jar.)

One Less Coffee, One More Lunch might be a good name for a charity that supports school lunch improvements (that name might be too scolding, tho -- we can sleep on that awhile longer). You could give people a way to set up little electronic accounts that let them donate their Starbucks money weekly or monthly or even daily if so motivated. Heck, offer to give away a bunch of espresso makers to provide a direct incentive for saving money and resources (all those paper cups and plastic lids and stirrer sticks and napkins, not to mention the gas and pollution expended on auto trips just for coffee that's been flown halfway around the world). Channel all that not-spent-at-Starbucks money into feeding kids better foods, getting fresher, cleaner, more local produce and staples into school districts to support total community health.

My gosh, you could even have an app with little buttons you push to pick one or more causes you'd like to support. I want to send bikes and books to Akumal. To buy kids nutritious and fresh school lunches that stoke their appetites and imaginations. To publish novels that let people know it's okay to be who they are, or to write what they have to say.

The second inspiring talk I heard was a talk by Ken Robinson an engaging and urbane fellow, just my type (and the English accent never hurt his chances either) who spun a good twenty-minute tale (all you get at TED talks, apparently). His was about learning and how schools teach kids, delivered in quite the opposite way Ann Cooper speaks, softened and readied by funny jokes and self-effacing patter. He related a triumphant anecdote about a woman who took her child for a consultation, imagining ADD or ADHD or something equally dire. The doc invented a pretext for leaving the child alone in the room and turned on the office stereo on his way out with her mother. The girl was up as soon as music came on, moving around the room.

"She's a dancer," was his diagnosis. "Get her into a dance school." And it's true. She was and we all know people who must move to be able to think. (I think our daughter has that bent. She would be great at circus school. Can you imagine what our friends and family would say if we were to announce, "We're sending our daughter to circus school!") I think a little friend of my daughter's mom is like that: I see her running all over our neighborhood, deep in her world. I feel the same need to nurture my own key strength, I suppose; I have this inner world that requires me to park myself in front of a keyboard and record something, anything, fairly often. I have to write to think things through, and I need some restorative time alone or at least quiet pretty much every day. But I have a musical intelligence, too, so I find loud music organizing and appealing, especially when performed right in front of me. I crave quiet more as I get older, I notice, but I'll still take earplugs and go listen to some live music just about anytime. And I need to work up a sweat every day, too. And our schools need to be places where all of these behaviors are valued, not just places where people are taught to think "straight" so they can hold jobs.

I'm glad I saw those talks. I would considering starting something, and it makes me want to get back to what my character is doing in my novel (o how I love saying that: novel, singular. Still feels right to combine the two. Ahhhh). Maybe I'll have to volunteer to user-test my friends' new NGO starter kit.

In other news, I'm feeling a little mindwarped, like I've just had my first warp-speed flight and lived to tell the tale. Honestly, it's all because of Twitter. At first I didn't see it. Now I think it's amazing. I love it, really, but feel strongly compelled to issue one huuuuuge caveat: I think mania and Twitter would not or do not go well together. That's my safety tip for the day ('coz I'm all about that, dontcha know?): manics, take your Twitter in appropriate doses for your tolerance. It's has an addictive allure; the rabbit hole is endless. Use it with care and discretion and it can be your friend; abuse it and it can be your enemy.

Those are my pearls for today. Ciao and peace and out.

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