When “Being the Change” Doesn’t Feel Like Enough

KathyToday is Pancake Day, AKA the only day Doodlebug buys lunch at school. I’m fine that she doesn’t buy more often, because as far as I can tell the food her cafeteria serves is not that great. I know some schools in our county are revamping their menus to include fresh, local produce and food that’s prepared on-site, but most of her options seem to be precooked, highly processed food-like-substances. Like, for instance, maple-flavored pancakes that are microwaved in a plastic pouch. Blech.

So I was really interested when I came across info about a new cookbook aimed at school cafeteria workers in this month’s issue of Eating Well magazine. A group called Vermont FEED put together healthy recipes that are popular in school cafeterias, all in big-batch portions so other school cooks can use them too.

For a minute I got all dreamy-eyed, imagining what it would be like if Doodlebug’s cafeteria served things like Mac & Trees (with broccoli – cute!) or Carrot & Quinoa Muffins. Her school is starting a garden this year, maybe some of the plants are vegetables that could be incorporated into the lunch program? I could let the staff know about the cookbook, and maybe…

No. No no no no.

Because I know what happens. The person who suggests a cool new idea also gets put in charge of implementing said idea. I hate gardening, I hate being in charge of things, and I don’t need an extra project in my life right now. I’m barely maintaining a good balance between other people’s demands on my time and my own needs as it is. Step away from the cookbook, introvert!

And I did, but it kind of breaks my heart. There are lots of things like this in my life – things I feel strongly about, things I think I should be advocating for, things I always end up leaving for someone else to take the lead on. If another parent saw this same article and started whipping our school lunches into shape, I’d help. In my small way. But spearheading the entire effort? No way, not me.

I’ve always liked the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (It’s usually attributed to Gandhi, although he may not have ever said it.) After my momentary flirtation with the cookbook idea, I had to remind myself that my smaller efforts are not worthless. Did I send organic apple slices and yogurt to Brownies last month for snack? Yes. Did I make from-scratch cupcakes with real ingredients for Doodlebug’s class on Valentine’s Day? Yes. Am I voting with my pocketbook by not having her buy lunch in the cafeteria more than once a month? Yes.

Am I worried that that last paragraph is obnoxious? Yes, and I know that’s part of my problem – sometimes I stick with being the change because I don’t want anyone else to feel bad about their choices. (And let me point out that we are definitely not perfect. There are currently five boxes of Girl Scout cookies in our pantry.) But the bigger reason is that I just don’t have the energy or personality for leading a huge project.

Maybe it’s like Susan Cain’s theory about introverts and public speaking – she argues that, once you find Your Topic, the thing you’re truly passionate about, talking about it to big groups becomes easier. Maybe I just haven’t found My Topic yet, the thing I’d be willing to upend my life to advocate for. In the meantime I’ll just be here, packing lunches, typing to other people who (hopefully) understand why I’m not doing more.

— Kathy

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