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<b>Ralph Nader's Childhood Roots</b>
<b>By Annie Birdsong</b>
<p>One day when Ralph Nader was about 10 years old and was out in the
<br>backyard with his family, his mother asked the children, how much is
<br>dozen apples worth? The children gave their answers. How much is a
<br>eggs worth? The children gave their answers. "How much is the sunshine
<br>worth?" she asked. The children didn't know what to say. "Hear those
<br>birds?" asked Ralph's father, Nathra, "what is their price?" "You can't
<br>buy those," said young Ralph. "That's the point," said his father.
<p>"They wanted us to learn that some things that are valuable in life
<br>not be measured by the dollar," said Nader, who helped bring about
<br>Environmental Protection Agency, one in a long list of accomplishments.
<p>There were a rich abundance of experiences as these in his childhood
<br>were like seeds planted in the fertile field of his young mind--flowering
<br>today in his philosophy of life and in the concerns that surface in
<br>bid the presidency.
<p>He was raised on a quiet shaded street in a rambling white house in
<br>Winsted, Conn. near the courthouse where he listened to lawyers argue.
<p>"I got a flavor of advocacy and controversy," said Nader, and "wanted
<br>be a lawyer at a very early age." Years later he earned a law degree
<p>Also near his home were town-hall meetings where referendums were
<br>held--like those found across New England. Today, in his bid for
<br>president, Nader is calling for New England-style direct democracy.
<p>Nader's parents were immigrants from Lebanon. His mother, Rose, was
<br>school teacher, like six of her seven sisters, before she immigrated
<br>the United States with her new husband.
<p>She was raised under a sod roof in Lebanon with kerosene lanterns, nomadic
<br>rugs, seven sisters and four cousins.
<p>"My mother made almost everything from scratch," said Ms.Nader, "our
<br>clothes, our wool-filled mattresses and our food." Once or twice a
<br>baked bread in our mud-brick oven, she said.
<p>She remembers picking vegetables in the garden planted below their house
<br>and picking fruit in the kroum, a vineyard in the hills above the Bekaa
<p>The kitchen was the center of family life where they talked and where
<br>children listened to stories as they helped cook and clean. There was
<br>lot of laughter, said Ms. Nader.
<p>When raising her children, she continued the story-telling tradition.
<br>didn't read us stories," said Ralph's sister Clair. "She told them
<br>memory because she wanted to look into our faces."
<p>She often told the children hero stories for the "examples of strong
<br>character traits" and Jeha stories. "Jeha was a mythical town fool
<br>stories were both funny and instructive," she said.
<p>Sometimes, she would tell parts of a long historical novel that took
<br>to finish. We would rush home from school at lunchtime eager to hear
<br>next part, said Ralph's sister Laura Nader Milleron.
<p>Through these, she would "bring the stream of history into our
<br>lives," said Ralph. The stories were "full of lessons, homiles, things
<br>be concerned about and self improvement," he said.
<p>They wetted our appetite to learn about all kinds of cultures and
<br>geographies while she was feeding us very nourishing food, said Nader.
<p>He once told a reporter if he had chosen a different occupation, he
<br>have become an anthropologist, a writer and satirist like Voltaire
<br>explorer of far away places. He studied Chinese culture and language
<br>extensively at Princeton University.
<p>All of the Nader sons and daughters acquired an interest in culture.
<br>Nader Milleron said it is because they learned at an early age that
<br>cultures are different. "We lived between two cultures--in my family
<br>were Lebanese traditions and at school there were American
<br>traditions," she said. For instance, unlike American men, "Arabic men
<br>poetry," she said.
<p>"Our father taught us to take the best of both cultures," she said.
<br>Laura Nader became a social and cultural professor of anthropology
<br>University of Berkeley in California. One of her books, Naked Science,
<br>includes a discussion of how the farming methods of Indigenous peoples
<br>more sustainable than modern day agricultural practices.
<p>Nader's brother Shafeek, who is now deceased, studied anthropology before
<br>earning a law degree at Boston University. Claire Nader, who holds
<br>doctorate in political science, is a social scientist.
<p>When they were young, their mother was careful to ensure that they had
<br>times of quiet so they could "hear themselves," according to Claire
<p>When they did their chores after meals, Ms. Nader said she talked to
<br>using questions to bring out their insights while urging them to think
<p>Mr. Nader encouraged them to think independently, too. Once, when Ralph
<br>was coming home from school, his father said, "Hello Ralph, what did
<br>learn today in school? did you learn to believe or how to think?"
<p>Ralph walked off scratching his head wondering what the difference is
<br>between the two. He went up to his room trying to figure it out, then
<br>came down and said, "I learned to think today, dad." His father asked,
<br>"What do you mean?" Young Ralph said, "Well, I think I know the difference
<br>between believing and thinking. When you believe, you don't question
<br>you're taught. But when you think, you receive what you're taught and
<br>it over." His father said, "Not bad. You had a good day today."
<p>Ms. Nader said her serious talk was mixed with funny stories because
<br>"criticism should be mixed with teasing and joking." She gave them
<br>nicknames like "slow car" when they were slow to get a job done or
<br>would cite a proverb such as "wait until the grass grows, oh mule."
<p>Rose and Nathra Nader's native language, Arabic, is rich in proverbs,
<br>which they used often, along with their own sayings, in instructing
<br>children. For instance, Mr. Nader taught them, "Don't look down on
<br>and don't hold anybody in awe. You can learn from the garbage collector
<br>and you can learn from the King of England."
<p>When a child acted overconfident, Ms. Nader would say, "You'd better
<br>genius because you've clearly decided to stop learning. If one had
<br>little confidence, she'd say, "Too little self confidence is like putting
<br>a brake on your brain. The world is already full of obstacles, you
<br>need to make more."
<p>"Proverbs are helpful guides in absence of family--especially for a
<br>person encountering new experiences and new environments," said Ms.
<p>Ralph Nader said the children never rebelled against their parents because
<br>corrections were given in the form of "advice" rather than "demands."
<p>Ms. Nader never gave them gifts of games and dolls. "We wanted them
<br>their imaginations," she said.
<p>Young Ralph loved the library. It seemed to be a whole world of books
<br>magazines. But he could only check out two. So he would run home with
<br>these, curl up on a chair and read them, then run back to the library
<p>"I look back on those readings as the most delightful part of growing
<br>up," said Ralph.
<p>He would read the Congressional Record thoroughly, said Claire Nader,
<br>adding, "The school got it and nobody else wanted to read it."
<p>Ralph often read biographies of great men and women who he said were
<br>important role models for him. He began think about the distribution
<br>wealth and power in society as he read the biographies of Ida Tarbell,
<br>famous journalist whose writings led to Standard Oil being broken up
<br>38 companies and Upton Sinclair, the reform crusader.
<p>They were raised during the depression during World War II before
<br>television sets had made their way into American homes, said his Laura.
<br>meant they read more, did a lot more home work, played the piano more
<br>talked to each other more, she said.
<p>Ralph "was always secure in having had a lot of love," she said "He
<br>less intense than the rest of us. He was the last child, the most relaxed,
<br>the most regular. He was loved a lot." We argued a lot, she said, but
<br>also hugged a lot. "We were each others best friends," she said.
<p>The fact that Ralph is able to take a lot of criticism and able to be
<br>leader has its roots in his childhood, she said.
<p>Ralph was "always comical" with a "wry sense of humor" and an ability
<br>imitate people, she said. If it weren't for his sense of humor, he
<br>couldn't do what he does--"he deals with such seriousness," she said.
<p>Rose Nader, who won't tell her age, often went barefooted and cleaned
<br>house on her hands and knees. She went sledding with the children,
<br>did exercises with them before bed and played ball with them. Ralph
<br>learned to love sports--especially baseball.
<p>Ralph said he got a real education working in his father's restaurant
<br>bakery, the Highland Arms, which was across from mills up and down
<br>streams where knitted goods, woolens, clocks and pins were made.
<br>Once, he heard a customer discussing the horrible conditions he saw
<br>meatpacking plant. Years later, Nader would help toughen meat inspection
<p>When the mill workers poured into the restaurant for lunch, Ralph listened
<br>as the men discussed their hardships, for instance, how they were exposed
<br>to bad chemicals and how the assembly lines were speeded up making
<p>"It was the stuff of life," he said. Today's teenagers spend so much
<br>watching TV or playing video games they are out of contact with "real
<br>people," he said.
<p>These childhood experiences probably influenced his desire in later
<br>to found a magazine, the Multinational Monitor, that exposes, for
<br>instance, exploitation of workers across the world by corporate power.
<br>Laura Nader Milleron said the things Ralph Nader talks about today
<br>things they discussed at the evening meal: "greed, wisdom, food additives
<p>Rose Nader said she remembers her husband, Nathra, decrying the "stifling
<br>of small business by big business" and colonialism at evening meals.
<p>After Nathra Nader died, his son and daughters collected some of his
<br>sayings and truisms he taught then at the table. Here are a few:
<br>"If the government in Washington is so opposed to communism, why does
<br>work overtime fertilizing so much ground for communism overseas? When
<br>Washington going to side with the peasants?"
<p>"Everytime I hear someone say 'dumb animal,' I have to laugh. Dumb animals
<br>do not smoke or drink, they don't kill their own, they don't wage
<br>organized war, they don't soil their own nests and they don't watch
<br>television when they eat ... otherwise they're stupid."
<p>"Television replaced the dictator's ban on three or more people gathering
<br>in public without a permit."
<p>"When the rich get our money it's called a subsidy; when the poor get
<br>money it's called welfare. Actually the rich are our biggest welfare
<p>Rose Nader included the collection of quotes in a book she wrote called
<br>"It All Happened in the Kitchen: Recipes for Food and Thought." The
<br>also includes her philosophy of child rearing. (Available from Kitchen
<br>19367 Washington, DC 20036. $9)
<p>Ms. Nader fed her family on home-baked bread and a traditional
<br>Mediterranean diet with dishes such as tabouli, hummus and grape leaves
<br>stuffed with chick peas--all made with garlic, herbs and spices she
<br>pounded with a mortar and pestle.
<p>Scientists often recommend the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle because
<br>the low incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and
<br>because of the longevity of many that eat it in Spain, France, Italy,
<br>Greece and Lebanon. Nathra Nader lived to be 98 years old.
<p>The Mediterranean diet is low in salt, uses a lot of olive oil, which
<br>contains flavonoids--an antioxidant, (apples also contain flavonoids),
<br>does not emphasize meat. Ms. Nader said she uses only one pound of
<br>for six people.
<p>The Nader's ate homegrown vegetables using no chemical pesticides or
<br>fertilizers. They canned vegetables and made blueberry jam. There were
<br>never any processed foods, such as hotdogs, canned foods, white bleached
<br>flour or fatty meats in the house.
<p>"When you eat junk food, you feel irritated and you don't know why,"
<br>Ms. Nader, whose mother was a nurse and who had doctors in her
<br>family. When the children did not want to eat nutritious food, she
<br>ask, "What does your tongue have against your lungs, heart, kidney
<p>For snacks, she gave the children raw chick peas soaked overnight instead
<br>of chocolate. They did have sweets, but in moderation. Ralph's father
<br>wonderful ice cream with fresh fruit.
<p>Ralph Nader continues his family's healthy eating patterns and says
<br>rarely sick. He said the reason he can work 16-18 hours a day seven
<br>week, lecturing, researching and writing is because he doesn't smoke
<br>he shuns such foods as soft drinks, coffee, sugar, snacks out of the
<br>and food additives. He said he hasn't had a hotdog in 37 years.
<p>He became a semi-vegetarian, with fish being the only flesh food he
<br>consumes, after his brother died of cancer.
<p>The Nader children had an old-fashioned upbringing. Ms. Nader, who was
<br>raised a Christian Orthodox, only allowed them to go to a movie if
<p>A reporter once asked Ralph what he does for fun. He said he likes
<br>visiting a meat-packing plant or a coal mine when traveling, enjoys
<br>reading Chinese poetry, playing chess and taking long walks in Canadian
<br>woods, though he said "there's almost never time for these activities."
<br>When you get laws passed strengthening auto safety standards that saves
<br>100,000 lives every year--"that's fun," he said. And when you get a
<br>from someone saying a seatbelt saved her life or the life of her
<p>Nader, whose name the New York Times has mentioned more than 1,000 times,
<br>is often praised for his integrity. The editor of the Texas Observer
<br>"He has the integrity of a Thoreau and the conscience of St. Francis."
<br>praising the strength of a campaign finance reform bill written by
<br>democrats, Nation Magazine said, "It almost could have been written
<br>Ralph Nader." The Wallstreet Journal called him "St. Ralph."
<p>When someone told Laura Nader Milleron that Ralph Nader is stuck in
<br>old days, she said, "He's stuck in the 1860's when there were enduring
<br>themes of social justice."