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I knew this post was risky. I knew not everyone would agree with how I chose to handle a drink situation at a recent birthday party my daughter attended. I even was prepared to be called things like “preachy,” “condescending” and “judgmental.” I was prepared for that response because, even though I’m none of those things, that comes with the territory. You can be tactful to a fault — hell, you can even say nothing at all — and there will always be people who see your choices as criticism of their choices. It happens on the interwebs and in real life. All. The. Time.

But what caught me by surprise was how many people called my actions “rude” and “impolite.” I even heard that speaking up was “not my place.” (It’s interesting to ponder whether any of these words would have been used if I were a man.)

Here’s what troubles me about so many people protesting my “manners”: For all the (sometimes tragic) signs that we have become a less-civilized society, in one aspect we have taken the concept of civility to the extreme. And that is in the way we tiptoe around certain topics as though they were landmines. Top of that list is food. And especially food consumed by kids.

Deference around food has its roots in a good place, in cultural courtesy and comfort and hospitality. But as our food climate has shifted — to where it’s not just a matter of eating something that maybe isn’t your favorite, but eating something that actually could be harmful — those notions no longer cut it. I’ve come to believe that it’s time for more of us to step up and speak up, that quiet protest is not enough. We can sit around and worry about offending people (and then complain bitterly in private), or we can actually try to change things. That doesn’t mean we should be jerks. But nor does it mean that it’s “rude” when we do speak up. Humor and tact have taken me a long way in nine years of advocating for my daughter and other kids.

Now, we can agree to disagree on whether a birthday party was the appropriate place to do that. As I wrote in my initial post, prior to that party I’d never said anything to a host. (Ever.) And I may never do it again. Not because I regret what I did, but because every situation is different. Judging by most of the responses I got, many of you have done or would do the same, or at least appreciate that someone would do it. But I respect those who feel differently.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the food conversation in our country today is that, while we mostly avoid the topic in real life, there is a raging competition online to see who can be the best organic mom or, in typical backlash fashion, the best junk-food mom. (Did you know that’s now a badge of honor, too?) I see both sides on blogs, forums, article comment sections and Facebook pages every day.

On one hand you have extreme-food parents who brag at length about how their kids only eat this or have never eaten that. And who hesitate Not At All to slam another parent for choices they perceive as less than perfect. (And I mean slam. The internet provides far too easy a cover for not only snark, but outright hostility.) And I worry that these parents are producing preachy and annoying kids, too.

Then you have people who’ve made a sport of ragging on the organic moms, yet they also practice their own brand of one-upmanship, asserting their superiority precisely because they don’t care about this stuff (or claim they don’t care).

Yet someone speaks up at a party or at school or at a relative’s house, and that’s controversial?

I’m going with the Lorax on this one: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

 

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