Kids and the Preparation of Food

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“Cooking classes” is the term found in the titles of many articles about how schools can help in the struggle against childhood obesity. Linguistically speaking, “cooking classes” is a term that signifies defeat before the battle even begins. Who says food has to be cooked? Experts tell us the most healthful food of all is fresh. Vegetables and fruits straight out of the ground or directly from the tree or vine or bush — it doesn’t get any better than that.

But in the real world, apparently, the notion of a raw diet is too radical to even suggest. Maybe people can be persuaded to cook different foods or cook them differently, but to not cook at all? Lotsa luck on that one! Since the world isn’t perfect, cooking classes are better than nothing. What do a couple of random websites say about the idea?

Slate staff writer Torie Bosch is all for it, opining that if parents are unable to teach the basics of cooking and nutrition, then the schools definitely ought to take on the responsibility. Consumer economics should be part of the package too, including definitive proof that it you do it right, home cooking is definitely better than junk food for the family budget. The “junk food is cheaper” myth is a misconception the American public has bought into, and the mistaken notion needs to be corrected.

Some claim the situation is really not so bad. Schools still have what used to be called Home Economics, they say, but it’s now called Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS). According to statistics, about one-quarter of all students have taken some version of FACS, the same proportion as back in the 50s, the golden age of Home Ec. But, as Bosch points out, today’s kid might take a single nine-week course, while a student back then might have been in Home Ec class for an hour a day, five days a week, for four years. Big difference. Bosch characterizes Home Ec as “much more useful than algebra later than life.”

Elsewhere, another authority said:

If I were king of the world, I’d bring back home ec… those are valuable skills. I gotta think more valuable than reading Euripides.

That interesting observation was wrested by Janine D’Arcy of The Washington Post from American Academy of Pediatrics president Dr. Robert Block. D’Arcy also notes that a resurgence of Home Ec has been encouraged for some time. Two years ago, the Journal of the American Medicine Association published an article that recommended the mandatory inclusion of food preparation in the curriculum as one of the best investments society could make. D’Arcy says:

A combination of changing social and academic trends pushed home economics off the curriculum in the 1970s, and for years there wasn’t much interest in bringing back a course associated with antiquated gender roles… [I]t’s in the area of nutrition where we can witness the spoiled fruits of our modern focus on speed and efficiency.

Margarita Gallardo of Stanford University has written about another study, undertaken by Colorado State University, indicating that more cooking classes could very well promote healthy habits and make a dent in the childhood obesity statistics.

In Britain, reports Toby Helm of The Guardian, cooking is very much a part of the national curriculum — but the whole question of what is taught schools is under review. A number of distinguished Brits, including medical experts, wrote a letter to the government authorities, who are already under for fire for not doing enough about childhood obesity.

They urge that such classes not be abandoned, and continue to be compulsory. One of the signers is international sports star Steven Gerrard, who is especially worried that poor dietary practices will deny his country the services and the glory of youth who should be its future sports heroes, but will instead be lost to obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bring Back Home Ec!,” Slate, 05/05/12
Source: “A solution to childhood obesity: Home ec?,” The Washington Post, 06/12/2012
Source: “Can cooking classes help curb childhood obesity?,” Scope, 11/08/12
Source: “Steve Gerrard joins call for school cookery lessons to fight obesity,” The Guardian, 05/05/12
Image by USAG-Humphreys, used under its Creative Commons license.

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