The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Americans’ guilt over affluence misses the mark

I have been living a life of shame and guilt. There are certain aspects of my personality that cause me to act in certain ways of which I’ve always been ashamed. I’m not here to apologize or make amends. I’m here to tell you why I was in the right all along. 

I am a picky eater. I’m somewhere between your has-to-bring-chicken-nuggets-into-a-fancy-restaurant seven-year-old and that guy on the Food Network who would eat wet cement if it were served on a plate with some garnish. Sparing you the laundry list of foods I do and do not like, just understand that I like more food than not. But if I don’t like it, I can barely stomach smelling it. 

My polarity in taste of food has not been without its struggles. I’ve always felt guilty about passing over food that has been prepared for me. The source of my guilt came from this: “There are starving kids in Africa.” 

Until recently, I’ve accepted the “Finish those carrots, there are starving kids in Africa” guilting as a logical argument. It isn’t. 

I had the great fortune of traveling to Senegal about a month ago. About an hour outside of Dakar, the capital, we hosted a three-day camp and were joined by nearly 200 kids ranging from infants to 18 year olds. 

One of my favorite parts of my time in Senegal was the food. I’ve explained my pickiness, so it should come as no surprise that I was leery about the food. But I was relieved when each meal was a combination of rice, meat and a few assorted vegetables, just my speed. But the quality of the food wasn’t what made it my favorite part. It was how we ate. 

Food was served in large, circular pans and around eight people ate from each pan. There were enough spoons for most people to use, but for the rest: “Mi yeti e jungo” (as best I remember it) means “I eat with my hands,” in Pulaar. 

I loved it. There was such a sense of community and connectedness that sharing a meal in the American style just doesn’t accomplish. 

But as I was enjoying the wonderful food and sharing it with some wonderful people, Poppy nearly ruined it for me. Poppy is about six years old, and we became great friends over the course of my time there. He was my shadow. But as he was eating, he kept making a stack of mushrooms right in front of my little section of the pan. I was getting a little annoyed because I hate mushrooms, and so when I would graciously return them to his section, he would scoff and try to give them back. Through some pantomiming and facial expressions it was clear that he didn’t like mushrooms either and had no intentions of eating them. 

Now I was in a pickle. Here I have a kid who lives in Africa, and in poverty, and still refuses to eat mushrooms. How can this be? And take my word for it; Poppy was one of my kids that didn’t have a change of clothes, so his aversion to mushrooms has nothing to do with any kind of affluence. 

As trivial as this episode may seem, it really struck me on a deep level. I thought about this for the rest of my time in Africa, and I came to a conclusion: kids are kids. 

We’re all born a little tabula rasa (blank slate). Only after we’re born are we gifted with whatever quirks and complexities come ingrained in our respective cultures. 

But even that realization weighed heavy. A child born into poverty here, having access to quality education and other resources, has a real chance to escape that poverty with hard work and dedication. That just isn’t the case for many of the kids I so quickly grew to love in Senegal. 

I wish there truly was equal opportunity for a child both here and there. But until that is the case, we should behave cognizant of the differences. 

Maybe we should start by instilling gratitude into our children and not shaming them for disliking mushrooms. We are a blessed and fortunate people. For that we should feel gratitude, not guilt.

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Americans’ guilt over affluence misses the mark