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Z is for Zillah, who drank too much gin

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 26, 2002


"Many things we need can wait. The children cannot." — Agnes D. Lattimer

I don't know about most folks but I can remember a time when this country was a relatively safe place to be a kid. In most places doors didn't need to be locked, and parents worried little about unsupervised play, other than the usual injury or hurt feelings. This was a time when tight-knit communities were a safe place to raise a family. Sadly that America has gone the way of the family farm and soda fountain.

Turn on the television today, or pick up a newspaper and you are immediately bombarded with the latest "Tragedy du jour" involving the abduction of a small, usually gregarious, child. Jon Benet Ramsey, Danielle van Dam, Elizabeth Smart, and Alexis Patterson are the most recent examples of how it's not safe to be a kid anymore. As always, this form of reality programming includes tearful parents who just "want our little angel back." Sorry folks, once innocence is stolen it can never be returned.

As sensational, and nefarious, as these crimes are, they only represent the televised extreme of a much larger problem. We are a nation that no longer values our children. Childhood asthma is epidemic, yet George W. Bush favors voluntary enforcement of air pollution standards. We tell kids to say no to drugs, but in the next breath scream at them to take their Ritalin. Madison Avenue sees childhood as nothing more than a demographic to be commodities and capitalized on. And we wonder why little Suzy needs Prozac.

America preys on its children. Perhaps it would be closer to the truth, to say capitalism feeds on children. But that's splitting hairs, and why bother with details? From womb to tomb corporate interests depend on consumers being satiated early and often, least they learn to live without. In a culture where consumption is a right, and "more for less" the cultural ideal, a symbiotic addiction is formed, and both the drug and user become dependent.

I am beginning to think the only family value remaining is the one that allows you to super size your meal for an additional dollar. The growing number of chronically obese in our society shapes this opinion. And as the number of fat adults increase so does the number of their porcine prodigy. Is this where evolution is taking us?

What does it say about a culture that finds it acceptable to feed their children garbage posing as nutrition? And what does it say when you compound the problem with increasingly larger proportions of fat laden, genetically altered, chemically enhanced, sugar sweetened "all natural", processed food for our budding couch potatoes. Not only is it acceptable to feed the future the latest scientific breakthrough, societal pressures make it nearly impossible for parents to provide healthy alternatives. Fast food results in slow children. And politicians wonder why test scores are down?

There are many forms of child abuse, some sanctioned by the state, many dictated by religion and tradition (can you say circumcision?), most however are filed under comfort and convenience. Pre-packaged food is now our national cuisine. Television, in between doses of the Westerfield trial, is a constant bombardment of industrial brand names aimed at luring young consumers to an "all-you-can-eat" buffet of boxes, cans, and shiny foil packages. When was the last time you saw a commercial for locally grown organic vegetables?

Hand made, and homegrown, meals were once considered an integral part of American culture, instead now we get Mc Donald's, Happy Meals and factory farms. And like the feedlots that bring us burgers, the agribusiness treadmill of chemically addicted monoculture has strayed so far from what can be considered natural, food production becomes more of threat with each passing day.

Using food as a metaphor it is easy to see how a culture of extremes can be seen as a form of child endangerment. And let's face it folks, being a child in the 21st century is about nothing but extremes. Freedom is no longer about sacrifice and responsibility; kids today are programmed to believe that freedom is about abundance, acquisition, and the promise of more. And as these ever increasing "wants" become defined as "needs," expectations go unmet. And to mask their disappointment, these same kids soon turn to the other extremes of drugs, denial, and defense.

In a sane society a happy meal would be one in which an extended family raised, prepared, and served the bounty they were about to receive. Sadly, this scenario is as dead as the Dodo.

Ironic, isn't it?

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