We have been intentional about limiting our children’s exposure to consumer culture. We also live in an intentional Christian community with a substantially different culture than that of the world around us, which helps to make our efforts easier. We do not not get television in our home (and most of our kids’ community friends don’t either). We have little exposure to advertisements or billboards in the area where we live. We avoid most children’s items marketed with characters, although our children have become familiar with some of these. We also cook almost all of our food from scratch, so our children are completely unfamiliar with any food product names, including candies, cereals, and snack foods (with the exception of Annie’s Bunnies & “Pirate Booty” – an all-natural puffed snack).
Sometimes I forget how different our kids experience has been. But, I had a funny moment with them in the grocery store the other day that reminded me of this reality. Here’s the story: we have a friend without a car who comes grocery shopping with us every week. We had finished our shopping and even put our groceries in the car, but our friend was still finishing up her shopping. So, the kids and I decided to wander the international grocery store aisles to see what interesting things we might find. Somehow, though, we ended up on the cereal aisle. The kids were particularly interested in the Rice Crispies box. They especially wanted to know who those three people on the box were. I explained that they are “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” and that they are cartoon characters who supposedly make the cereal. The kids discussed all their funny hats and whether or not one of them just might be a girl. They asked about why they were named Snap, Crackle, and Pop. And, they wanted to be sure they knew which one was which. They really never asked to try the cereal, they were just interested in the characters. I told them that there’s actually a yummy treat you can make with that kind of cereal and that maybe we could buy the Whole Foods version sometime and make it together (Jedidiah REALLY cannot eat any mainstream cereals, due to food dyes and preservatives).
We were standing in front of the whole slew of popular cereals, but they didn’t pay much attention to any of the other kinds. I, however, took a moment to scan the shelves, and I realized that I knew the names and stories of all of the cereal box characters I saw. What a strange indoctrination, that whether or not I’d even ever tried these cereals as a child, I knew these odd characters quite well. I must have learned their names and stories through the commercials I saw on t.v., especially during Saturday morning cartoons. Of course, with a health food store-owning mom, I was well-versed in the evils of sugar cereals (something I am oh so grateful for). Still, it seems like just a part of our culture that we all know these cereal mascots – kind of a strange cultural thing, when you think about it.
Anyway, the incident made me thankful that all our efforts training our children up in a different culture: one that values real food made by God, one that respects the health needs of children instead of marketing to their young interests, and one that cherishes eating home-cooked meals together instead of buying what is quick and easy. I know that, as the years go on, they will be exposed to more and more of the values of this world, but I am thankful for this wholesome, loving beginning for my little ones. And, I hope that these values stick with them, on some level, as they grow and learn and choose their own paths.