Service work, like any position, has its unique highs and lows. Reading our blogs, you can see that we try to provide a realistic snapshot of what our days are like, with all the highs, lows, and in betweens. Finding tiny victories helps balance my perspective and weather the roller coaster.
I tried to keep this balance after our December Regional Youth Leadership Training. Heading back to Waukon, our three student representatives begged to go to McDonalds. I was flabbergasted. They spent the morning on a grocery store tour while learning tips for healthy shopping on a small budget. They had focused on active living and watched clips of documentaries laying out issues with the typical American diet. Had nothing sunk in? Was our messaging totally lost? I’m going to be honest, I gave in. I took the students to McDonalds, but tried to use it as a teachable moment. Disclaimer: I remember asking, “Is there anything you can get here that you can feel good about eating”? (A bad question, both grammatically and judgmentally.) So we sat down and talked about food while they ate their meals. We talked about who does the cooking in their homes, their thoughts on school lunch, and the nutrition of their burgers (since the label is on the carton). They were shocked I had not yet eaten at McDonalds in Decorah. That alone almost caused me to launch into a food-filled rant, but I hesitated. These are thoughtful, intelligent young adults. Instead of focusing on the negative, I’m choosing to see the positive. We had meaningful conversation. They listened attentively and answered my questions; each shared insights about their food choices. I’m walking away better informed and humbled, and they now see me as someone who occasionally takes people to fast food places. For better or worse, we shared time together. Despite this meal, I know change is being made. Actually, maybe because of this meal I know change is being made.
This week I taught seventh graders. We talked about the benefits of eating locally and seasonally, then worked in our greenhouse (those tomatoes don’t prune themselves). At the end of the lesson, groups of students had to do a “table challenge”. The final question asked them to explain what local food means, in their own words. Most responses blew me away. “Local food means food that is grown near where you live and grown by people you know.” “Local food can come from your backyard.” “Local food is grown within a certain amount of miles.” The students had internalized some of the messaging, or at the very least demonstrated a small awareness of what I was trying to teach.
So, from a low point to a high point, I’m ready for winter break. I’m ready to reset my brain and plan exciting lessons for spring. Most of all, I’m ready to rest, so I can face the challenge of changing hearts and minds, one lesson, shared meal, or conversation at a time. See you in the new year!