Not too cool for gruel: Wyoming, MI schoolkids interested in showers, oatmeal

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.)

11 Responsesto “Not too cool for gruel: Wyoming, MI schoolkids interested in showers, oatmeal”

  1. Ansa says:

    very interesting! Can I see the list?

  2. Love this, Steph! I’ll be sharing a Farm to School YouTube contest call to action soon…let’s get them to change their cafeteria options to local and fresh!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Hey Ansa,
    I keep trying to post the list here in the comments but for some reason it will not let me do it.  I will try to email them to you off the post but will keep trying to add them as a comment. If anyone else would like the list, please feel free to email me and ask.
    - stephanie

  4. amber says:

    “once you start eating truly flavorful, quality food, it’s often difficult to eat fast food and find it satisfying or tasty any more.”

    I love this!  It is so true, my boyfriend used to have a fast food addiction.  He still has found memories of fast food, but every time he gets some he will take like two bites not finish the rest, he says he feels bad and then goes off the fast food for weeks until he has to remind himself again!

    Hey I’d like the list too!  :)

  5. Stephanie says:

    OK, I’m going nuts trying to get this thing to post…I think it’s just too long for the comment box!  So I’ll just type in the places I have written out in the list. In the list itself, I gave them some background about what each of the items were and also tried to give them a lot of online info (including local sites) since I know that’s where they’d be likely to go first. I also listed books that I know are in our library system. And I included the local magazine Food For Thought Grand Rapids that they can pick up in local shops.  Here’s the list.  I’m curious if either of you would have suggested others?
    And for books:
    What to Eat by Marion Nestle
    The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Eater’s Manifesto by Michael POllan
    Wendell Berry (anything)
    Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

  6. Ansa says:

    Thanks a bunch Stephanie.
    Off the top of my head I would recommend (the site that brought me here in fact). I think fermentation is one of those things we lost at the advent of refridgeration that our digestive system sorely misses. For ages many cultures depended on fermentation for preservation, and now its suddenly vanished from our diets…ouch for the mircoflora!

  7. Don’t you find it odd when someone calls you out on living a ‘different’ lifestyle when, to you, it is just the way you live and so seems perfectly normal. Yesterday at a workshop I ran for healthy meal prep, someone piped up “I just noticed that you don’t have a microwave. How do you steam vegetables?”. This made me laugh a little and I told her I keep my microwave right next to my television. And they all started looking around as I don’t have either. A guy I was dating once said to me, “So… No TV huh? Then what’s your furniture pointed at?”.
    Well… it warms my little nutrition heart that the kiddies were envious of the oats (and if you throw a little lemon juice or plain yogurt in there to soak with them at room temperature, you can increase the digestibility greatly and not even need to cook them at all).

  8. amber says:

    ooh and I think ‘The Revolution will not be microwave’ would keep high scholl students interested.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Thank you all for weighing in – now I just learned a few new things, too!  Merci!

  10. Sandy says:

    Where does your furniture point with no TV?  (giggle)
    We don’t have a TV either (altho we do have a microwave – so nice, and evergy-efficient, for reheating leftovers & coffee), and our chairs point EVERYwhere – the dinner table (where we also sit to read), the computers, my sewing table, DH’s workbench . . . my mother does own a TV, but she grew up before they existed, so her living room has a coffee table in the center, and you look over the coffee table at either another person or the fireplace; the TV is off in a corner, turned on when there’s something she WANTS to watch.

  11. amber says:

    “New and potentially explosive findings on the biological effects of fast food suggest that eating yourself into obesity isn’t simply down to a lack of self-control. Some scientists are starting to believe that bingeing on foods that are excessively high in fat and sugar can cause changes to your brain and body that make it hard to say no. A few even believe that the foods can trigger changes that are similar to full-blown addiction. The research is still at a very early stage,”

    From: Fast food may be addictive