Thursday, July 24, 2008

There's This Guy

He's a single dad, apparently not at all well-off financially, and he's in my neighborhood. Talking to him briefly, he seemed like the sort of person who might feel comfortable at my church. Since this is a small city and people tend to know who's who, even when someone's been here a short time, I mentioned him to one of the ladies I went to the Florida church conference with.

Sure 'nough, she knew him. She knew all about him. She warned me to keep a distance.

According to her, he had come to church a few times and brought his child. He had raised a huge fuss with the religious education people because they offered his child a snack, as is customary. It was the opinion of my church friend that the guy was borderline abusive toward his child.

From her observation, it wasn't the fact that the child had a food allergy or dietary restriction of any kind -- it was because the food wasn't home made -- it was store-bought and therefore had ingredients that came from factories or non-union corporations, where workers are exploited, etc.

It's not clear whether he notified the staff beforehand that no snacks were allowed; my impression is that he landed on them with both feet, as though the idea of giving kids snacks is so "out there" he couldn't believe it.

Now, I know perfectly well that N.D. (Neighborhood Dad) is hardly alone in his ideology. But here in this li'l corner of the world, he's more alone than he would be in, say, Seattle or Portland or some parts of New England. Not only is this very much the South, but our neighborhood isn't exactly known for its vegan population! I recycle, vote Democrat and attend a liberal church and I'm sure some people around here would consider me kind of fringe-y, despite my otherwise conventional ways.

At this evening's neighborhood meeting, N.D. and the youngun were on hand. We discussed an upcoming outdoor event and one of the organizers said "We'll have a crew there ahead of time to spray for mosquitoes so we won't all suffer." N.D. spoke up as if on cue, asking if she was talking about bug repellent or bug killer. "I don't like poisons," he said. A perfectly admirable sentiment, but again, this is the kind of place where people drive cars that rolled off the line when Iaccocca was actually president of Chrysler; they dump motor oil down the sewers and throw old pork bones out in the yard for the "dawg." Most of the folks 'round here would agree that "the only good bug is a dead one." I wager that N.D.'s anti-poison stance is the first such thing many people in the room had ever heard.

Finally, the meeting adjourned and we were invited to collect our food to either eat on-site or take home. They had box lunches which were probably either fried chicken or BBQ, and grilled chicken salads in plastic clamshell boxes (along with cookies & chips). N.D. steered his child out the door quickly; when someone invited him to at least take a salad, he informed them that he was vegetarian, and left. I heard someone say, "Well, what's the big deal? You get a salad, throw out the meat and eat the rest." Again, these are people who believe that to be fussy about food is to reject God's bounty -- which is why so many are obese, hypertense, and/or diabetic.

So what we've got here is two very different cultures trying to speak to each other. I see N.D. as someone who strives to make a political statement at every possible opportunity. I'm not sure he's looking to "convert" others to his way of thinking, but he holds his worldview so very sacred that he will not compromise one iota, ever, and feels compelled to spell it out whenever the question arises. On the other side you've got your basic salt-of-the-earth people who believe that if something was good enough for their great-grandparents it's good enough for them and their great-grandchildren.

And of course, there's me in the middle, Ms. Go Along to Get Along. I see the validity of both sides. I love the environment; hate the mass-production consumer culture we're in, yet understand that when you don't have a lot of money, you tend to buy cheap stuff and settle for convenience over principle.

Being in the middle has been the story of my life.

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