I’ve often discussed here on TLT the critical need to teach home cooking skills to American children, most recently in my post “My Son Learns to Cook But Who Is Teaching the Rest of Our Kids?” There I argued that merely lowering the price of whole foods (as recently proposed by Mark Bittman, among others) won’t get us anywhere in solving the obesity crisis unless we also teach Americans – accustomed to processed, convenience foods, and spending less time in the kitchen than any other nation surveyed – how to cook those staple items.
That’s why I was interested to read in this morning’s New York Times an editorial by Helen Zoe Veit, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State, advocating for the return of old-fashioned “home ec” classes in American schools. Doing so, she writes, would “put the tools of obesity prevention in the hands of children themselves, by teaching them how to cook.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Veit’s premise, and even made the same proposal in the essay I wrote for the Slate magazine anti-childhood-obesity Hive. But since writing that Slate piece, I’ve become less optimistic that we can put the responsibility for teaching home cooking at the doorstep of the public school — at least not now, when districts are so preoccupied with shrinking budgets and standardized test results. (Veit notes these problems, too, in the concluding paragraph of her piece, but doesn’t offer any solutions.) And bringing back home ec also means bringing back in-class kitchens, a significant financial investment at a time when many schools don’t even have cooking facilities to prepare their own school meals, let alone to teach cooking to children.
I fervently hope that school districts eventually do acknowledge the importance of teaching this critical life skill to kids and that someday all schools will have working instructional kitchens and dedicated teaching staff. But in the meantime, I’m holding out more hope for other ways of providing this education. Last week, for example, I shared with you my happy discovery of Jamie Oliver’s UK site, “Jamie’s Home Cooking Skills,” replete with videos, still photos and text to teach a wide range of basic cooking techniques to the novice cook. Private groups like Purple Asparagus and Recipe for Success (with which I regularly volunteer here in Houston) are also reaching as many children as they can with cooking classes. And, as many TLT readers pointed out in their comments to “My Son Learns to Cook But Who Is Teaching the Rest of Our Kids?,” schools could at least provide much needed nutrition ed classes right now — which incorporate math, science, biology and other academic subjects — without the need to invest in equipment for hands-on cooking.
But my own quibbles aside, I’m still glad the Times published Veit’s piece this morning and brought national attention to the issue. We desperately need to get this country cooking again — not rarefied-“Top Chef”-spectator-sport cooking, but the ability to put wholesome food on our tables with minimal fuss on a regular basis.
Until then, for many stressed, overworked Americans, the siren call of cheap, pre-prepared fat-salt-and-sugar-laden processed foods will almost always win out.
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