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.