Independence Day

“Do you really feed the birds in America?”

That’s what an elderly Chinese man asked my mom years ago, when she was in China as a visiting nurse. It was around 1985.

She told him yes. She told him a story of our neighbor, who used to feed the birds every morning, without fail. He would tear apart a couple pieces of bread and throw the crumbs out to the birds, and watch as they flocked to eat.

Apparently, the Chinese man thought that this was one of the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.

When mom told my sister and me the story, we were confused. “What did he mean ‘Do we feed the birds in America?'”

She explained to us that there are places in the world where food is too precious to give to animals that weren’t livestock. Seeds would be put to use for other things — but feeding the birds was a luxury these people just couldn’t afford.

At the time, that was just inconceivable. It’s not that I grew up wealthy or anything … in the early 80s, we used food stamps, we ate generic-label food, I had a lot of hand-me down clothes — hell, we were all in the same boat in Western Pennsylvania when the steel industry died. But even growing up with all of that,  I still had a hard time imagining not having enough to feed the birds, should I want to.

Obviously, we can thank our ancestors for our life today. They put in a lot of work to enable us to have the kind of life that we have. We are in the land of plenty. Instead of wondering if we’ll eat, we think about what variety of food we’ll eat, and if we’ll keep the leftovers or not. Some fret over whether a meal is meatless. Others care not so much that they have the food in front of them, but how that food was grown and how it was prepared. And still others care not so much that there’s meat in front of them, but how that animal lived before it was butchered.

Our choices and options are staggering, if you stop to think about it.

And I think back to that elderly Chinese man. I wonder what he would think if I took him into an American grocery store. The variety that we see everyday was probably unimaginable for him.

If you’re an American celebrating Independence Day today, at some point, take a step back from the grill, look around you and listen. When you hear someone ask for wheat bread instead of white, or a Boca burger instead of a hamburger, or states a preference for one beer over another … look at Old Glory and smile.

You, my friend, are living the dream.

Happy birthday, America.

2 Responses to “Independence Day”

  1. July 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Every child in the USA should be taught that lesson. And then be reminded of it every Independence Day and every Thanksgiving. I’m starting the tradition today in my own home.

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