By Stephanie Pierce
I guess I have always known I was weird, but I didn't realize that I fit the profile for a bona-fide social deviant until a few weeks ago, when my good friend and housemate Catye asked my husband and me to come and speak to her high-school sociology classes about our lives as "productive social deviants." Her students usually love the chapter, but she did not want her point to be lost that deviation from the norm does not have to be destructive, and can actually be quite the opposite.
Catye teaches American history and sociology to juniors and seniors in Wyoming, Michigan, a working-class city that is part of the greater Grand Rapids metro area. She's regaled us with many stories about the kids in her classes, amused by the assumptions they make about the world. To wit, this year, as Catye was teaching the construction of the subway system at the turn of the 20th century she asked if anyone knew when the first subway opened in Boston, adding "and I mean the train system, not the restaurant."Most of the kids in the class said, "Oooh"- having thought she meant the Subway of the Meatball Marinara.
Before we spoke, we talked with Catye about possible examples of the ways we deviate from the norm. We could discuss how my husband and I met, and our low-cost, no-diamonds wedding, the fact that Tim took my name instead of the other way around, our beliefs about budgeting and being debt free, our recent cross-country trip that I've written about here (and here), our preference to live with others rather than by ourselves, and about how and what we eat. With so many possibilities, we figured that we'd end up actually talking about what the kids seemed interested in hearing. But I was a little nervous that talking about our food choices would induce extravagant eye-rolling over what might sound to them like another adult diatribe on eating well.
As usually happens when I make assumptions, I was wrong. We did get a lot of questions about how we showered while living in a van and traveling, but for the most part, the kids asked questions about food. One young man incredulously asked us, "So you guys never eat at McDonald's or fast food?" In my usual blunt fashion, I shook my head and said chirpily, "Nope!" Filling in my brusque commentary, as my poised husband often does, he explained that once you start eating truly flavorful, quality food, it's often difficult to eat fast food and find it satisfying or tasty any more.
But the conversations really didn't stay at the McDonald's level for very long. Once we clarified that individual health is just one of a host of reasons that we eat the food we do, the students asked questions that reached beyond issues of personal choice and let us introduce the concepts of local economies, environmental benefits, and humane treatment of animals. Here are my other two favorite questions:
"What did you eat for breakfast this morning?" I loved this question. Teenagers at this age have built-in bullshit detectors and are always ready to expose any hypocrisy. I told them that we had soaked oats overnight with dried coconut and then I'd cooked it with organic milk, local apples, and a bit of Michigan maple syrup, and some seasonings. Someone piped up, "I wish I'd had that."
"How did you learn all this stuff? Where can I find it?" I wanted to shout for joy! You just asked the right woman: I will make you a list! And that's what I will do as soon as I'm done with this little post. My Ethicurean heart overfloweth.
Stephanie Pierce spends part of her working time teaming up with Fourth Sector Consulting, a for-benefit company that works only with mission-driven organizations. A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Stephanie can tell you why she believes Lake Superior is better than Lake Michigan and how to correctly pronounce “sauna.” In January she will begin a yearlong kitchen/garden internship at the Yestermorrow Design/Build school. (Photo by Bart Nagel.)