On Memorial Day, my family and I attended a veterans service at a cemetery in Costa Mesa. It was my first attempt to teach our children about the sacrifices men and women in the U.S. armed forces made so that we might enjoy freedom.
"Imagine this," I told my wide-eyed 7-and 5-year-olds. "In some countries you aren't allowed to walk down the street and play in the park. There are soldiers who tell you what to do, and sometimes throw you in jail if you make them mad."
OK, my explanation is simplistic. But since most kids think that national holidays are about getting out of school and beach barbecues, I thought their first history lesson was due.
The release of the movie "Pearl Harbor," for all of its poor reviews, has done something incredible for Americans. It has made us reconnect with our vulnerability.
We are forced to witness firsthand our own helplessness and the idea of being overcome by a foreign power. Realizing this threat, as uncomfortable as it makes us, provides us with the benefit of renewed gratification for even the simplest of pleasures.
In fact, when you stack up the reasons of things to be grateful for in the United States, the list is long. Yet it's amazing what we call deprivation. Gas prices rising to more than $2 has us wringing our hands. But fill up a tank in most other countries, and you'll find that ours is still a pretty good deal. Looking at the real suffering of Third World nations, and war-torn Bosnia, I'll take a higher utility bill any day.
If there is any single good example of how complacent we've become about the abundance of our well-being, it is in the wasting of food.
I am dismayed and saddened by half-eaten sandwiches tossed in the trash and by hasty decisions to throw away something when it has touched the ground for 2.3 seconds.
This is odd, considering that Californians are especially conscious about the preservation of other precious resources. We religiously recycle and are vehement about the environment's integrity. Paper, aluminum and plastic are never thrown away.
And while I applaud recycling efforts, why is the value of food not included in this ongoing cause? Do we really believe it's a sin to throw away cartons, but OK to ditch a salad?
I believe Orange County residents are particularly accountable for wasting food. We are permanently in motion, grabbing meals in the car on the way to the game, the beach or a weekend destination. We are not an agricultural community so we don't appreciate the sweat and effort required to harvest just a couple of bags of tangerines. We are so panic-stricken about bacteria, anything that isn't perfectly fresh gets put out on the curb.
As a mother of three, I regularly witness how parents struggle with children being ungrateful for food. During visits to fast-food establishments, I observe kids all the time taking two bites out of their burger and then bolting to the restaurant's play structure. The moms shrug and sheepishly dump well more than half the meal in the receptacle. Funny, why not say, "Kids, nobody plays until the food disappears"?
Being married to a European has afforded me a greater understanding of the shame in wasting food. My French mother-in-law and father-in-law stood in food lines after World War II and hoped to get a meat ration once a month. Babies were rarely breast-fed because mothers were so malnourished. To this day, if I haven't scraped my yogurt container to the bone, my in-laws send it back to me, saying, "Finit!"
That's not to say we should stuff ourselves after we're full. Having battled with weight as a teen, I am very careful to eat when I'm hungry and not force myself to finish. But instead of tossing it, I put it away for another time.
My husband recalls as a child growing up in France, "Whatever I didn't eat at lunch became my dinner, or even my breakfast." Not a bad way to ensure that the plate is clean.
If you think making kids save food until the next meal is impractical, you'll have my understanding. I doubt I could convince my 5-year-old to finish his green beans from the night before in place of Lucky Charms for breakfast. But some middle ground is in order.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers this incentive: If 5% of food wasted annually in the country could be recovered, we could feed 4 million people every day.
Talk about food for thought.