Home Economics - Dinosaur or Answer?

Published by: M Henry Van Nostrand on 28th Sep 2011 | View all blogs by M Henry Van Nostrand
As some of you may know I volunteer with the Food Bank of South Jersey working as part of a team that teaches "Cooking Matters", a program of Share Our Strength and the Food Bank of South Jersey
We teach each class for 6 weeks (usually 1-1/2 to 2 hours at a time) in local community organizations, schools, domestic violence safehouses, churches etc. The topic, of course, is "Cooking Matters"
Liz Vukovic Gartlan, the program manager for FBSJ's Healthy Living Initiative, forwarded me an article from the NY Times that raised a lot of questions for me.
I went to school in the 60's and 70's and I admit - home economics was not in our curriculum. I went to a small private school with little funding and many of the niceties were missing. (I remember my mother lobbying to get microscopes in the science lab... but that's another story.)
I was lucky I guess. I had a stay at home mom (more common in those days) and I learned a lot from her... Not cooking - she wasn't a big fan of that, but she was good at the basics and made "square" meals for us breakfast, lunch and dinner. (McDonald's was a TREAT, not a fall back option and NEVER was it dinner.) So I got some education around home economics from mom in my home. Like I said - I was lucky.
I learned these things. My mom had the time (and the interest).
Today's recession is SO different than THAT recession...but let's not forget - we've been through this before. What gets people through is KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge like how to put together a healthful meal that is tasty AND budget conscious. Knowledge like how to replace a zipper. how to read a label. Like how to be self reliant and not at the mercy of someone who can charge you up the wazoo for performing these services for you. Cause they KNOW HOW and you don't!
We used to talk about "good old fashioned American Know How"... is it now "good old fashioned American typing"? More and more schools are reducing Home Economics programs (aka Consumer Science) in favor of computer and technology courses. But let's look closely, kids are growing up knowing how to use the technology around them because its everywhere... Information that on the surface seems ubiquitous, such as general food safety (the real root of home economics started with nutrition and sanitation) is lost on more of this country than you'd think. I hear stories in classes of people defrosting chickens in their BATHROOM SINKS - ALL DAY while they are at work. Leaving food on the stove overnight before refrigerating. Refreezing defrosted meat. And the list goes on....
It often surprises people to learn that there is NO SUCH THING as a 24 hour flu (or bug) - that it is indeed, FOOD POISONING.
We are out of whack.
In this country  1/3 of people are now considered to be overweight and ANOTHER 1/3 to be OBESE, Michelle Obama has been Campaigning for "Let's Move" - (an unfortunately slanted name for) a program aimed at physical fitness AND healthful food choices...wonderfully aimed at reducing the incidence of obesity and overweight in this country.
On the flip side, in 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children.
We need to learn to manage things better. I still hear women tell me that "fresh food is so expensive" and junk food is cheaper.
REALLY? I am very concerned about the fact that as Americans we have redefined food to mean "anything that can be eaten" versus stuff that is actually nourishing to the body (and to my way of thinking, soul). We need to learn to differentiate between food and it's imposters.
Companies are promising to provide "better choices", reduce sodium and questionable ingredients, etc, but really... how can we trust them to do so if we aren't able to understand what that really means... the ability to make informed choices relies on having knowledge that doesn't come from a source reliant on our buying their product. Some companies have taking to lowering the  numbers on unpopular ingredients on their nutrition labels not by actually changing the formula but by changing the serving size!
Since nutrition label laws allow for a 20% variance - reducing the size of the portion could seemingly make an unpopular ingredient disappear when there is actually quite a bit of it in the product.
For example - non dairy coffee creamer. I won't name brands but one of the most popular legally lists "no trans fats" and yet very clearly on the ingredients is hydrogenated oil (aka trans fat) since their serving size is TINY this falls within the 20% variance. HOWEVER, for the average person to make their coffee "regular" it takes 1-2 tablespoons of non dairy creamer... the serving size on most brands is 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon... meaning for every cup you are adding 6 to 24 servings of the products. Forgetting about trans fats... just think about calories!
Where does a kid today (or adult for that matter) learn how to discern such information to make informed choices?
With budgets being whittled down everywhere, should we really be cutting foundation and life skills from the curriculum?
In a quote from one of my favorite time traveling (yes, fictional) characters (and yeah, I am a sci fi geek) Lazarus Long:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
And while I myself am not out butchering hogs, or conning ships... Knowledge is power and the ability to know basics, is also intrinsic to our ability to be self reliant. AND To be self reliant enhances our ability to cope.
What do you think?

Check out my blog regularly on http://www.spatulawoman.com



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