Saturday, March 24, 2012

That's someone's child

I’m an avid road cyclist, and my riding buddies fit the stereotype: tough, quiet, spandexed. Before Eliot was born, I liked to soften these guys up by telling them how excited I was about my imminent fatherhood. I remember one of them—one of our team’s tougher, quieter, more spandexed members—telling me that after having his first child he could no longer watch Law & Order or CSI, or any of those procedurals whose drama revolves around the killed and the killing, or the dead and the dying.

“That’s someone’s child,” he said. “I just can’t handle it anymore.”

It’s a simple sentiment, perhaps, but the force of its generalization still moves me. Even if I felt then that it was somewhat overstated, it feels considerably less so now that I’ve made the transition from expectant father to father. At the very least, it’s become far more difficult to handle stories about children dying—and almost impossible to hear about them being killed.

There’s nothing I can say about Trayvon Martin, or his case, that hasn’t already been said. Ta-Nehisi Coates and his Atlantic Monthly colleagues have been our best guides to his story's twists and turns. Bruce Reyes-Chow at Hyphen’s blog has even tried to make sense of the overlap of Asian American privilege and what he calls “white” privilege that he sees lurking beneath the “lack of privilege” that marked Trayvon as a body to be targeted, pursued and shot down. Numerous others have attempted to see themselves through the lens of Trayvon’s death, and to mourn the persistence of racism.

But the voices that have affected me the most aren’t the angry ones, or the historical ones, or the legal or political ones, though each of these have played a crucial part in how I’ve come to understand Trayvon’s death. The most affecting voices have been the ones that see their own children in Trayvon, or even their own hypothetical children. I’m not in the habit of being moved by the emotional ploys of politicians, but I really did believe in the pain Obama was trying to convey when he said that if he had had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon.

Trayvon’s death hurts in many ways, not least of them historically, so of course the old divisions have been busy policing the authenticity of pain and identification. Black commentators have criticized white commentators’ claims that Trayvon reminds them of their own children, and confessionals of white guilt have flooded the airwaves and blogosphere. These discussions certainly have their place and I think we owe it to Trayvon to think through them as carefully as possible, in all their uncomfortable complexity. But the reason I’m writing this post is not to add to any of that.

The reason is because… well, it’s because I thought I'd ask us to pause for a moment and look at Trayvon's face. I think most of us have already done this, but there's something important in that pause. There's a feeling I get that I think most of you get as well, and I'd venture to say it's the powerful feeling of the general and specific coinciding. He belongs to us—and that matters tremendously.

Just look at him.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Being an "elitist," or just protecting your kids from processed food?

It has been a grueling last couple of weeks for me, as some concerned neighbors in my area have banded up together and tried to fight against developers seeking to build a Taco Bell in our community, right down the street from our elementary public schools. It's been grueling because while I'm fairly good at getting conversation going on a blog, it's an entirely different world when it comes to food. Life is complex. I think most of the people in the community are against Taco Bell for the same reasons: processed unhealthy food, increased traffic, late night carousing in a family neighborhood, and increased litter and petty crime.

The issue--and I will admit that I didn't know this was an issue beforehand--is that there's a huge gulf in our culture with respect to food, and it is very much related to money. I thought I was doing the right thing by telling people and linking to one restaurant's views on how Taco Bell threatens the local food businesses in our area, but that may not have been the best thing to do--I had never eaten at this restaurant and hadn't realized how expensive it was and how it could keep most people out! Obviously, not everyone, including me, can afford an $11 hamburger made with meat from grass-fed vegetarian cows. People think my perspective is elitist. Which is partly undeniable--even though I can't afford to eat at high class restaurants, I feel it's undeniable that restaurants that serve organic and responsible food are better for the health of the country than a chain that pops out processed meat in tacos that cost 99 cents. While I can't afford an $11 hamburger or a $17 pasta dish, I buy organic chickens and eggs, and I mostly buy organic vegetables--which cost a hell of a lot of money. We keep salt, sugar, and processed food to a minimum in my house. I could probably cut my grocery bill in half if I brought in more flavored cereals, chips, and ready-made TV dinners. But I don't it's good for my kids, which is very elitist. We've got a horrible epidemic of childhood obesity in this country, childhood allergies and genetic issues are out of control, and while I don't know if I would blame it on the food industry, it's one of the main variables that has changed during the 70's when I was born. I'm not against Taco Bell, per se, but it doesn't belong around kids. The food is bad for kids, and the traffic for the neighborhood is bad too.

So what is the solution? It seems like it's hard to be a good parent without being somewhat elitist.  There are just too many choices, and when you cut down the cheap choices and insist on food that is more expensive, you're being elitist because you're discriminating against people who don't want to pay a lot for food. There just is no way around this political minefield. You can't win them all, and you have to do what's best for your kids. Right now, corporate America and fast food corporations are declaring a war on our kids, and they're winning. Even a rich and famous guy like Jamie Oliver gets push back.