Thursday, August 15, 2013

Taking it on the road....

I received a call from my sister last night asking me if I would come to her class, armed with my CSA box, and talk about the joys of eating fresh and local.

My adorable sister Stephanie teaches Home ec (well that's what I call it but I hear that's not cool!)  Sad thing is that most high schools are doing away with classes that teach cooking and how to rum a household (it is far to "mid century" to be trendy!) and now we are left with people in their 20's and 30's who don't know anything about proper nutrition.  Not only am I talking my game on the road but I am back up on my soap box!!

Hillari Dowdle wrote this wonderful article in Cooking Light Magazine that asked the question "Cooking and Nutrition skills are crucial to a healthy, happy life.  So why don't schools teach them?"  Read on....very thought provoking!  So my faithful blog readers.....did you have home ec?  Who taught you about cooking and nutrition?  With our changing world and the lack of "slow foods" in our homes (this would be the way my Mom cooked "back in the day" when it wasn't chic!), who is going to teach tomorrow's young professionals on what's good to eat to live that long, healthy life?  Does anyone wonder what's going to happen to a generation that lives on drive thru or microwave cuisine? on and post your thoughts?

Bring Back Home Economics in Schools
In 1964, my mom, Nancy, received the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow award for the talent she demonstrated in home economics. She took the class four years in a row, learning to sew, maintain a tidy house, and care for children, as well as plan menus, balance food budgets, and cook nourishing dishes. She fully expected to become a housewife and raise a family. Which she did.
By the time I reached high school in the late '70s, the women's movement was in high gear. No way would I bother with the details of domestic life. I fully expected to go to college and have a career. Which I did.
For me, home ec had not been required, recommended, or—in many cases—available at all. What's more, it seemed like a faintly embarrassing relic of a life I never expected to live. Until, of course, I did. At 40, I quit my job, had a baby, and began playing house for the first time in my life to a sometimes comic, sometimes catastrophic effect.
Looking at the statistics, you'd never know that there is an entire generation of "lost girls" like me (and boys) who graduated from high school with few practical home-making skills. That's because the percentage of students who participated in Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS, as home ec was rechristened in 1994) was roughly the same in 2005 as it was in 1962, when my mom was in her heyday: about 25%, according to Carol Werhan, PhD, professor in FACS education at Pittsburgh State University. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.
"It used to be that when you took home ec, you took it for a full year at a time," Werhan says. "Now kids can take only one nine-week period, and there's no way to tell how comprehensive their education is. And beyond the question of quantity, the quality of education is vastly different."
In today's tight economic times, what remains of home ec has morphed into something more like vo tech. "FACS classes have had to shift their focus to the jobs market," Werhan explains. "Now you get classes designed to help train young chefs, caterers, hotel and restaurant managers, child-care workers, and fashion merchandisers. What you don't get are the skills everybody really needs: basic household management." Cooking and nutrition—two of the central tenets of traditional home ec curricula—have all but disappeared.
"We fought throughout the '70s and '80s to make the case that [home ec skills] were the skills everyone would need to survive in the world," says Marilyn Wagner, who has taught FACS at East High School in Pueblo, Colorado, for 23 years. "But when we lost the battle for a comprehensive education in the field, we ceded nutrition to science teachers—many of whom just don't teach it. And cooking skills fell off the map altogether."
East High is an International Baccalaureate School, known for its academic excellence and success in prepping kids for attendance at the best universities in the country. "We are so focused on getting them ready for college, but we're not preparing them for life," Wagner says.
Public health experts , nutritionists, and educators are beginning to realize that the lack of basic life skills, like cooking, presents a serious problem: Americans are growing up ignorant about the whats, whys, and hows of eating healthy.
Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, believes this has a direct link to the obesity epidemic. Since 1980, as traditional home ec classes waned, the rate of obesity among children ages 2 to 19 tripled.
"Prevention is more powerful than treatment, but it is difficult when our education system is not teaching children how to prepare fresh food," Lichtenstein says. "Every child—male and female—should have those skills, but many don't grow up in an environment where there's someone to teach or model them."
Werhan and Wagner agree that change will only happen when parents demand it—when women like me begin to realize we lost out on something important and demand that our kids receive the education we missed.


  1. In 1965, at Sun Empire School, way out in the Kerman vineyards, we got a home-ec teacher right out of college who had a degree in animal husbandry. The woman wasn't too good at the sewing and home decor aspect of the class like the previous teacher had been (I was now in 8th grade, second year of home-ec as it was called way back then), however she knew MEATS. She must have spent at least a semester on all types of animals. We had to memorize each part of the animal and all the cuts of meat that came from each part and how to cook each cut.

    Fast forward 45 years and I am standing at the meat counter at Whole Foods, pointing out the well-marbled rib roast that I want to the butcher. "You sure know your meats," he replies as he pulls that roast out to weigh and wrap it. Darn tootin' I do. I still remember those lessons taught by Mrs. Topham in that home-ec class, and I use them almost every day.

    Who will teach today's 8th graders about cuts of meat? And how to cook vegetables? And how to get a meal on the table?

  2. OMG, I remember her. My Dad was a first year teacher and I was dragged to her house (for a faculty BBQ). They had a POOL (which was a BIG deal back then!) I forgot about her background but you are SO one teaches that anymore and it is vital to know. Problem is....people who don't really cook (other than to open a package and dump) don't understand the value of knowing this info. My advice: Spread the word to ANYONE who will listen!! We need to teach youngsters the value of good nutrition, cooking and "home arts"! I venture to say that the national problems of obesity, cancer and diabetes are related to the ca-ca fast food eaten on a daily basis!

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