Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Learning to Cook

Okay, so it took me a couple days, but I just finished Michael Pollan's long essay in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine about food policy. Matt and Ezra have good points, but there is one I want to add. This particular passage about schools seems significant:

Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy announced a national initiative to improve the physical fitness of American children. He did it by elevating the importance of physical education, pressing states to make it a requirement in public schools. We need to bring the same commitment to “edible education” — in Alice Waters’s phrase — by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary-school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals.

To change our children’s food culture, we’ll need to plant gardens in every primary school, build fully equipped kitchens, train a new generation of lunchroom ladies (and gentlemen) who can once again cook and teach cooking to children. We should introduce a School Lunch Corps program that forgives federal student loans to culinary-school graduates in exchange for two years of service in the public-school lunch program. And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.
The components to this proposal are twofold. First, that we are going to extra lengths to feed our children crap instead of delicious, nutritious food. As Eliza Krigman pointed out in her review of School Lunch Politics, what passes for nutritional standards for school-sponsored lunches is a joke. We all remember the scene in Super Size Me where Morgan Spurlock looked at the low-grade quality of meat served in schools. Rather than viewing schools as a dumping ground for bad food, children should be served some of their best in the formative years where they spend the majority of their waking hours.

The second part of that is proposing a shift to including valuable life skills in part of a standard public education. Rather than taking a home ec class where students are asked to make a pan of brownies in one week of a six-week class, why not take a life skill like cooking seriously as part of a comprehensive education? After all, the default has be come that people need to opt in to learning how to cook rather than opting out.

I'd actually like to see schools take on other life skills as part of a required education: learning basic financial skills about how to use a credit card, comprehensive sex education, and learning how to buy for and cook healthy, balanced meals on a budget. After all, these are skills that everyone can use. Rather than assuming everyone pick them up outside of the education system, why don't we make them part of a required education along with math, English, and physical education?

Image courtesy Flickr user Joshua Davis (jdavis.info) used with a CC license.


Nate said...

I'm a teacher in a Seattle-area school, and while I also would love to see a class in good cooking/nutrition (actually we have one); I'd also just caution people who advocate solving every societal problem by asking schools to fix it. It might be that teaching kids how to grow, cook, and eat nutritious food might be so important as a priority that we would place it above, say, Driver's ed, Career Exploration, AIDS education, and fixing you car, but at some point we have to decide on a relative small number of priorities.

Seth D. said...

this is a really great idea. i'd add "filling out a basic job application" and "finding a doctor/dentist."

none said...

I'd add "planning for retirement" and "how to pay taxes."

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