When the story ran last week about the free kids cooking class at Café Laura organized by the HRIM students under the guidance of Dr. Vivienne Wildes, some of my friends worried that someone was trying to cut in on my “territory” or steal my “thunder.” Au contraire! Rather, I felt like a vegetarian who found another non-meat eater at a Texas barbecue, or a Buddhist who discovers a meditation group in central Pennsylvania. Kindred spirits kindle.
I am delighted that there is a sustained interest in cooking classes for the middle school aged set, a particularly sensitive age group in terms of just beginning to be physically capable of satisfying food choices. Teaching children at this age how to cook simple, satisfying recipes from scratch will have a long term beneficial effect on their health.
Longtime CDT food page reader Jim McClure recently dropped off a book he thought I would like, Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost the Knowledge of Where Our Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back. Author Ann Vileisis, a historian, chronicles our changing awareness about food in a lucid trajectory based on period journal and magazine articles, and the advertising therein. If it were my own book I would have it filled with red ink, underlining key points on every page.
Our culture is disconnected from the foods that we eat. Most of us go to the supermarket, choose foods from a dizzying array and never consider where they are actually from and how they happened to get there—or what preservatives are used to make them shelf stable.
Our current detachment stems from the progress of the twentieth century:
The opening of a Piggly Wiggly in Memphis in 1916, the first of America’s cash and carry grocery stores.
The loss of many of this country’s local small farms when they folded into the concentric rings of factory farms.
The flight of women from the home and to the workforce and their subsequent dependence on convenience foods.
The 1950s-60s advent of television with its ad blitz for breakfast cereals and foods that would appeal to kids who then influenced the family dollar at the supermarkets.
It’s easy to follow Vileisis’s track, easy to see where we went wrong—but what do we do about it now? I’m not finished the book yet, but I have my own reasons for hope that includes children’s cooking classes, the Food Network and the mimicking that ensues, the Cooking Mama Wii game, the current mandate in Britain that cooking classes are compulsory for children between the ages of 11 and 14. The pendulum is swinging back, we can reclaim our kitchen literacy—and our health—by going back to the old ways of preparing our own food.
Another encouraging sign of the times appeared in my inbox in the form of a paper from one of my senior HRIM students. While most of the students chose topics that related to their current interest in beer, wine, or fugu, Zac Penrod, a pensive returning adult student who has worked in the industry for many years titled his paper “Effects of Recession on Food Culture.” His closing paragraphs indicate someone who is aiming for a career in the food service industry that has his eyes wide open:
“As we move forward into a recession that none of our leaders will admit, what can we expect?...As our food system and food culture reflect the economic changes, it is likely that our diets will more closely resemble peasant diets. These diets are regional and flexible, based on seasons. These diets require a little more effort to go into the food before we consume it….It is fitting that a country fattened by the over consumption of abundance may get a little skinnier during its hardship.”
Are we all ready for this coming hardship? The cost of food these days is so high we may all soon be getting food stamps along with our pay checks. Here are some ways to get proactive and prepare our children.
Free cooking classes for 10 year olds will be offered next spring by the HRIM students at Café Laura.
Two cooking camp programs for 11 to 13 year olds will be offered this summer through Penn State Conferences and Institutes.
July 14-18, 2008 Cook like a Chef! is a day camp designed to introduce boys and girls ages 11 to 13 to healthy cooking and eating habits that will set them on the right path for their lifetime. Scholarships for this program are available in part due to funding from the PENNSYLVANIA NUTRITION EDUCATION TRACKS, a part of USDA's Food Stamp Program. The Food Stamp Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. July 21-25, 2008 American Chef: Road Trip is a day camp designed to introduce boys and girls ages 11 to 13 to healthy cooking and eating habits. The campers will learn basic cooking techniques while exploring the cultural diversity in our country.
Here is the link for information about the camp and registration http://www.outreach.psu.edu/programs/cooking-camp/