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
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
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
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
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
" - (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.
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
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
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
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
Where does a kid today (or adult for that matter)
learn how to discern such information to make informed
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