food for thought

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Earlier this month, over at the New York Times, Helen Zoe Veit made the case for returning home economics to the public schools.

Her case was more noble than mine. She believes teaching people to cook would help overcome childhood obesity.

Having managed a media lab for over 20 years, I just wish college students could pick up their own pop cans.

Here is how she puts it:

Too many Americans simply don’t know how to cook. Our diets, consisting of highly processed foods made cheaply outside the home thanks to subsidized corn and soy, have contributed to an enormous health crisis. More than half of all adults and more than a third of all children are overweight or obese. Chronic diseases associated with weight gain, like heart disease and diabetes, are hobbling more and more Americans.

Taxing junk food or not allowing people to buy soda with food stamps has not worked, she observes. And so she asks, “what if the government put the tools of obesity prevention in the hands of children themselves, by teaching them how to cook?”

I’m not hopeful. In years of hosting students in our home, I’m not sure we have had more than a handful who could set a table without being shown how. Students often want to help prepare meals—but you have to show some of them how to slice a cucumber. And these are college students, not third graders.

So, I agree some basic education is in order. But it’s the parents who have a lot to learn. Stand in the supermarket and watch them unload their shopping carts. We could teach kids all we want, but it’s not like they would have anything to cook with that wasn’t reheated, remixed, or recolored.

I’m not sure elementary school is the place to start. Government has a way of creating programs that cost too much and produce too little. But moms and grandmoms, at home and at church, need to step up here. And dads too. My dad taught me how to cook and I am very grateful.

We often encounter college students who seem completely lacking in domestic skills, anxious to learn the simplest things about managing a home. They know they can’t eat in the college cafeteria the rest of their life.

And, with their student debt, they know they are completely unprepared for the task of being on their own. Then they move to the city and real estate agents show them apartments that don’t even have kitchens. Not that they know what to do with one.

Yes, some are clearly competent but many are not. And we have failed them in very basic ways. They know little about nutrition, less about laundry, nothing about cleaning a toilet.

So find some kid this week, or perhaps a more desperate college student, and show them how to select a melon or grate a carrot. Teach them to shop around the edges of the supermarket, buying vegetables, meat and dairy.

Or try it yourself.

Home economics, after all, begins at home.

4 thoughts on “food for thought”

  1. “They know little about nutrition, less about laundry, nothing about cleaning a toilet.”
    Preach it Dr. Metts!

    This is yet another reason why Bob & I homeschooled our children. Self-sufficiency skils are just as important as “book-learning.” In addition to household maintenance, cooking and money management, our daughters were taught how to sew (mending & making clothes) and how to use hand & power tools for home repairs or woodworking. They learned to change a flat tire & do other light auto maintenance. They planted vegetable gardens, mowed the lawn and did landscaping.

    Camping added a layer of “survival skills” to their repertoire.

    When my daughters went off to college they were surprised by the helplessness & slovenly habits of their dorm-mates. My girls soon became the popular “go to” gals whenever someone needed something fixed or a special meal prepared.

    While I agree with reinstating home ec in schools, this instruction works best when it builds on a foundation already established at home. Families with both parents working are unlikely to have time to teach self-sufficiency basics at home. Thus a school-based home ec course may be the only exposure to life skills for their children.

  2. I ALWAYS cleaned up my pop cans when I was editor of The Crusader (now The Pulse) 🙂 Perhaps, I was the exception to that example. I think I was also one of the few editors to actually get the paper done without having to pull an all nighter, too.

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