Teach the Children to Cook

Good evening, friends and neighbors! Happy New Year! I hope your New Year’s Eve was spent with friends and loved ones, eating good food and giving 2015 a fond farewell- or maybe a swift kick on it’s way out.
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Well, we can try anyway…

In a few previous entries, I wrote about education, but only as far as culinary school- that is, education for adults that want to make a career in the food industry. In my opinion, however, culinary education should start LONG before that.
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Maybe not THIS early… but eh- worth a shot.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that loved cooking and eating. Both of my parents cooked regularly, but usually it was my mom. There wasn’t an idea of cooking being “women’s work-” my sisters and I were raised to know that cooking was something EVERYONE did if they wanted to eat and not get take out every night.
When I got to junior high, everyone had to take both woodshop and home economics, or “Home Ec.” In Home Ec, we got a cursory introduction to nutrition and sanitation in a kitchen before going on to learn how to bake cookies and brownies. That was about it- though my older sister apparently go to make compound butter as well in her class.

Later on, in high school, there was a “Foods” class that one could take as an elective. Once again, a cursory look at nutrition and meal planning, followed by learning basic preparations- baking, broiling, learning how to make soups and salads. After that, that was IT. Any other education we got about cooking for ourselves, much less nutrition, came from home or health class- which had other, theoretically more important, things to tell the students of an city high school about.

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There were videos… and a cucumber… and you can use your imagination.

“So what’s the problem? Sounds pretty good!” I might hear you say.

The problem is that I WAS LUCKY. The education I got about cooking and nutrition from my family and schooling is not common in all parts of the country. Unfortunately, with the economy being what it is, many families are finding it easier and less time-consuming to buy processed foods, or go out for fast food, than make things at home.
We are increasingly at risk of our great-grandchildren being able to have a cake that actually IS “just like grandma used to make.”

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Ah yes, Grannie’s “Ye Olde Funfetti.”

What’s worse is that, because school systems are constantly on a lookout for ways to trim the budget, school lunch programs are being forced to choose between healthiness and “convenience.”

Between crappy food at school and crappy food at home, the future is looking increasingly bleak for today’s children. With obesity on the rise in America and diet-related illnesses our top-ranking killers, it seems that the great and terrible enemies of the American people are not the Liberals/Conservatives, or Daesh/ISIL, but the King, the Clown, and the Colonel.

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Public Enemies #1 – 5

I’m willing to bet you didn’t click over to my blog (or Facebook page) to hear yet another screed about obesity in America. There are plenty of other people more qualified and informed than myself that can do that, and I recommend you give them a listen sometime. While making children more aware of their food and food choices IS a big benefit to teaching them about cooking, that’s actually NOT my focus right now.
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Though it should be- for real.

Instead, I want to offer a different angle on why we need culinary education in our schools.
As another unfortunate side effect of perpetual budget-slimming, school systems tend to put their arts programs on the chopping block first. Dance, music, art, and yes, cooking/Home Ec- these are considered “extraneous” or unnecessary expenditures. With how testing-happy our country has become, school boards tend to focus more on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, saying “Sure it’s all very nice, but how is playing the violin and baking cookies going to help you score on the SATs?”
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What “popular wisdom” says you might as well get along with cooking lessons in school.

Emily and I talk about this frequently, and being a piano teacher, Em is very familiar with the scholastic benefits of being in a music program- improved mental flexibility, greater command of languages and numbers, improved emotiveness and empathy among them.

This got me thinking about all the reasons a culinary program could be useful to children, beyond the obvious skills that would help them look after themselves as adults and the nutritional education to help them make good choices.

It came down to the miracle of tangential learning.

Tangential learning is when people seek out information and education on a topic that was presented in a different, more enjoyable situation. For example, someone playing the video game “Brothers In Arms” might be inspired to look up the history and battles of World War II, or  a kid playing Sim City might seek information on civil engineering and how cities are laid out.

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“Awesome! Now… how do I build that in Minecraft?”

With that in mind, I sat down the other night and started making a list of all the subjects and disciplines I had to at least be familiar with- if not have a mastery of- in order to be a professional cook and baker. 

What Cooking REALLY Teaches

  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • The Scientific Method
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Botany
  • Physiology
  • Zoology
  • History
  • Literature
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Geography
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • Theology
  • Psychology
  • Nutritional Science
  • Business / Personal Management
  • Finance (Business and Personal)

How’s THAT for a curriculum?

Next week, I’ll go a bit more in-depth on each of these, how they connect to cooking, and why a culinary education really is an education in… well, life itself!

Stay Classy,