Nostalgia Without the Fumes.

Posted: May 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I remember as a child standing in the mall parking lot, thinking about breakfast. “Mmmm. What smells like waffles?”  I asked my mom. She explained that that delicious smell was antifreeze leaking from the car. Let me tell you, Eggos and Aunt Jemima are not the tools with which to disabuse a child of that notion. Indeed, that breakfast smells uncannily similar to a leaky automobile.

Gross. For some reason, many of my childhood memories revolve around the smells of cars and food, and, disconcertingly (now), those smells are often interchangeable. I remember the sharp plasticky smell of the inside of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon, which made me think of Smoke-Y-Links (and kind of gave me a headache, to tell you the truth), and I remember pulling into the gas station and breathing deeply the stingy, eye-watering smell that makes me think of Combos and pop (my high school lunch). I also remember watching the waves emanate from the vehicles all around us in a McDonald’s drive thru (not “through”): hot asphalt and fries.

Blech. Now, this post isn’t just about how gross car smells remind me of gross food. It’s about memory.  Much of what I remember about growing up seems to have had to do with being in the car and eating processed foods. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. My stay-at-home-mom was 25 and had 3 small kids to feed while she worked to keep her family and her house in order through buying things at stores (and my dad worked, building cars). In the 1980’s, that meant driving around a lot and eating convenience foods because there was no option to do things any other way: life was too busy. This, of course, was painstakingly designed and unabashedly sold.

Ick. “You, harrowed housewife and busy working man, are FAR too busy for the things that slow life down (growing food, locomoting sans vehicle). Don’t you worry, little lady; we’ve got you covered.”  Thus, we got a country built for cars, and a brand-new (note that descriptor) mindset: convenience.

Thirty years later, we know that those mad men were bs-ing us, and we know two things:

  1. The food that was created and processed (instead of cultivated and cooked) to save us time has brought us epidemics of obesity and cancer, and the notion that someone else should be providing sustenance for our families.
  2. The machine that gets each of us going quickly and bestows upon us independence theretofore unknown, has brought us polluted air, an insatiable thirst for a limited resource, and the notion that we are each in this alone.

So, why do we keep it up? Why do we continue to eat foods that are made from the cheapest, grossest stuff possible and are dangerous to us and damaging to our land and water? Why do we continue to demand to move ourselves around with a 2-ton machine that makes dangerous the air we breathe and helps to change our climate? I think it’s because we don’t yet know the third thing:

  1. We are NOT so busy that we must sacrifice our earth, our health, and our happiness for convenient eating and swift transportation.

“Oh, I would LOVE to grow some of my own food…ride a bike…shop locally…etc., but I simply don’t have the time!”

Sure, it feels that way. We’ve got kids to raise and jobs to do and stuff to buy and television to watch and more money to make and more stuff to buy and more driving to do and…etc. Of course. But, really, we act in accordance with what we value.

The interesting thing is that these are all fond memories for me. I enjoyed the time I spent with my family doing the things that we did. The point is that our world has changed, so we need to change with it. I don’t want to raise my kids in the car headed to McDonald’s or Dominick’s. I want their memories to be of the time we spent growing our own food and getting ourselves around on our bikes. I don’t want them to simply believe that that cinnamon roll and/or chocolate smell wafting over Chicago and the ‘burbs is just some little bakery getting ready for their day. It’s the antifreeze leaking from that car that just passed us, or something way grosser.

  1. It amazes me how many people (post “Fast Food Nation” still regularly eat fast food, quite often claiming that it is “cheap”. I saw an ad for a chicken chain (KFC?) that read feed a family of four a meal for $20. How is that cheap? In addition to not being an economic value (despite slogans like “Value Meal Deal”), these “meals” don’t offer nutritional value either.

  2. Kurt says:

    While I absolutely agree with the sentiment put forth in this piece, it seems more than a bit naive.

    If your stay-at-home mother was too busy to cook for her kids in the early 80’s, how does a mother or father in a family where BOTH parents work find the time to cultivate a garden? And where? In the bathroom of their 2 room apartment that they can barely afford?

    It’s all to easy to say “We can find time if we truly value our children’s future”, but the reality is that a lot of folks just … can’t.

    I understand your point: we need to be less focused on material goods, watching mindless reality programs and perpetuating the rat race. But unfortunately, some folks are rats caught on an endless wheel, struggling to just get by – sans cable televsion and taking the bus (not their car, because they don’t own one) to work every day. In fact, sometimes the only new toys kids get are the ones in a Happy Meal.

    And yes, I am being a bit melodramatic here. That doesn’t make my statements any less true. I want the author to understand that I truly DO appreciate what she’s saying and I absolutely agree with the essence of this piece; it just isn’t as easy as saying “We are NOT so busy…”

    How I wish it were.

  3. Jane says:

    For a few minutes a day, a few square feet of soil (in a backyard or a deck), a few seeds, and a little attention, supplying yourself and your family with freshly grown food IS possible, no matter where you live. You’d be amazed how many peas come from 3 plants, how easy it is to jar your own beans, how quick it is to prepare strawberries for jam when you have children to help you wash, cut, and jar. It is a life choice and a darn good one.

  4. Jenny Jocks Stelzer says:

    Well said, Jane. Kurt, thanks for your insights! I believe it is naive to fall for the “too busy” trap. Not only does it strip us of what we value, neither civilization nor our planet will suffer it much longer!

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