Teaching my kids to look

The Omnivore’s Dilemma was one of those books that I really should have read so long ago. It was beginning to be embarrassing. I finally just had to clear some time on my calendar to read it.

I feel so much better now, except, of course, for the resurgence of guilt and angst about what to feed my kids, and how, and the ways in which the choices that I make every single day contribute, or don’t, to the industrial food system that has serious ramifications for our planet, our health, and our future.

Except this post isn’t about that.

No, while the whole book was excellent, the two pages that I marked related to the author’s assertion that, key to making ethical choices about the food we eat, is the action of looking.

He argues convincingly that it’s the ignorance, the blind eye turned so that we can try to forget the realities of how our food gets to us or what that means, that holds the greatest sin…that, if we really take a hard look, and can live with what we see, then we’re making a conscious choice that can be defended.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about most.

About looking, and really seeing, and how very many things we pretend not to see, or even really can’t see anymore, because we have forgotten where to look, or never learned, or wouldn’t recognize if we saw. And it’s that not looking that really does lie at the root of so much of the injustice we perpetrate in our world…the cruelty, intentional and not, whose consequences we never have to see, the unfairness that doesn’t look so unfair when you’re only seeing from your own perspective, the ease with which we can deny another’s humanity when we refuse to look eye-to-eye.

And, so, it’s that aim to which I dedicate myself, as a mom who cares very deeply not only about social justice writ large, but also about raising children who will contribute to that justice and who will find their own ways to stand on the right side of the critical questions of their day, whatever they may be, but who also believes fervently in teaching those same children to use their own hearts and minds to make decisions and to arrive at their own conclusions about the world as it should be.

Because, after all, I can’t force my kids to share my passions, nor would I want to. The way, really, that Michael Pollan can’t force everyone to be vegetarians, nor, as he compellingly illustrates, would that solve all of our food-related problems.

But I can teach them to look.

I can make sure that their little worlds get bigger as they grow, that there is room for people who are vulnerable and marginalized and often overlooked. I can teach them that we talk about people as people, that we value the dignity and worth of every human being, and that our every action has consequences.

I can make sure that I don’t close my eyes. To the child with autism at the park whose tired grandfather can’t stop from throwing sand on my daughter. To the man living homeless who stands in front of the bookstore where we go to play trains. To the people in faraway countries whose daily lives are so different from mine, but whose dreams should matter just as much.

And as we look, together, I can hope that they will see. And I can hope that, as a result, what we’ll all see together will start to change.

Starting, with a look.

2 responses to “Teaching my kids to look

  1. Hi Melinda,

    While I haven’t yet read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I totally agree with the concept of what you pointed out as the book’s key argument: “it’s the ignorance, the blind eye turned so that we can try to forget the realities of how our food gets to us or what that means, that holds the greatest sin.”

    Jumping from there to the need to keep our eyes open to the stark realities all around us (and teach our children to see as well) may indeed lead to a situation that will bring about some positive change for the impoverished and disadvantaged populations. It is only once we acknowledge that there are indeed inequities in our system and that so many people are suffering as a result of these inequities that something can be done to bring about a change.

    P.S. I love your style of writing 🙂

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