National Home Economics Day

This morning, one of my favorite tweeps (and a recent guest poster here!), Mairlyn Smith posted a link to her blog entry today – “Celebrating World Home Economics Day”

I had no idea that there was such a thing as World Home Economics Day. Not that it surprises me or anything, I just hadn’t given it much thought. As I read Mairlyn’s blog entry, all sorts of warm, fuzzy memories about Home Ec class came flooding back.

Now, as I’d mentioned before… for the most part, my school life was an utter nightmare. During Jr High – the Home Ec years … well, those were the worst years of my school career. Pretty sure I managed to be harassed and bullied by every degenerate in the Fort Garry School Division – it wasn’t fun.

Home Ec day was my favorite day of the week, and I’m pretty sure the only thing that kept me sane. Once a week, we would all spend the afternoon at the nearby high school, which had an entire wing for Home Ec and Shop. I LOVED it! I loved learning all kinds of new skills – silk screening, wood working, etc – as well as “honing” existing skills.

When it came to cooking and sewing, I wasn’t so much honing, as spending a pleasant afternoon doing easy busy-work. By Jr High, I was already making a nice bit of change making custom skating dresses, so… well, “learning” how to make draw string gym bags or boxer shorts were… well, a bit of a vacation! It was fun though!

You may not know this, but I once actually got a failing mark in 9th grade Home Ec – Sewing. The teacher really disliked me, and it showed. She had a problem with the fact that the students would be asking me for help, before her… even though I did NOTHING to encourage it. She got her “revenge” on me eventually, though.

We were allowed to pick our own projects. I’d already made my grad dress, and wanted a project that would keep me occupied a bit longer. I designed and made a skating dress, for an upcoming dance test. It was gorgeous – The under layer was purple, with a sweetheart neckline and deep dip in the back. The whole thing was overlaid with black stretch lace – shoulders and sleeves also – and then hand beaded on top of the overlay, along the edge of where the purple ended, underneath. We’re talking.. Probably 3″ band of sequins, bugle beads, and seed beads. I was super excited, because it was a dance specific dress, with a bit of a “tail”… I loved it. It turned out perfectly.

Unfortunately, it picked up a bit of a cigarette odor, as my grandparents (who I lived with) were smokers. So.. She failed me for that. UGH.

Anyway, whatever – I went on to a year in fashion school, and a pretty successful career in the fashion industry. I digress!

While the sewing part of Home Ec was a little bit of a (usually pleasant!) snoozefest for me, I really did enjoy cooking class. While I was already quite proficient at cooking and baking, the cooking class tended to cover areas that I hadn’t yet experimented with… my favorite being Indian cooking. I still remember those homemade Rotis… SO good!

In Mairlyn’s post, she mentions that Home Ec is no longer mandatory! So.. Here comes the rant.

I’m 32 years old, and I’m constantly surprised at the number of my friends – people my age, younger, older, whatever – who never learned how to cook. Where do I even start with this?

As a society, we are becoming less and less healthy. As people move away from learning the basic skills in the kitchen, and more and more to complete reliance on convenience foods, is this any surprise at all?

Being able to cook is a basic life skill that everyone should possess. Everyone learns the basics of self care, and you’re considered an outsider if you don’t learn to drive at a very young age. Why should it be so common to not know the basics in the kitchen? In my view, it’s far more important – and far reaching! – a skill than driving. Nothing drove this point home for us more clearly than losing our kitchen.

1. Being able to cook saves you money. A LOT of it, too. I’m still aghast at how much money we hemorrhaged after the tornado, just in having to eat out. Not having a kitchen crippled us financially, even though we were very, very thrifty.

2. Cooking for yourself can be SO much healthier. Living on prepared foods for that long was a serious downer. It was enough to be dealing with tornado repairs alone, but eating out constantly really left us feeling just… gross. Restaurants will do some crazy stuff to make their food good.. Or in the case of fast food, at all palatable. We you cook at home, you’re far more conscious of what’s actually going into what you’re eating.

3. It’s more convenient. Whether it’s grabbing the ingredients from your fridge and whipping something up, or reheating leftovers of what you made the night before, it’s a LOT quicker and easier than driving to a restaurant, dealing with parking, waiting for your order, etc. Bonus: You don’t have to deal with obnoxious idiots at the next table!

4. Being able to cook gives you a flexibility you will never, ever get from restaurants and prepared food products. This is something that I’m even more keenly aware of, since developing a gluten allergy.

It is stunning, just how many products have gluten it in. (Or corn, or soy, or dairy…) When you’re without a kitchen – or without cooking skills! – your options are extremely limited. In the case of quick take out options… let’s just say that I ate FAR more Wendy’s “sour cream and chive baked potatoes” this summer than anyone should consume in a lifetime!

When you learn basic cooking skills, your options open up wildly. Craving something that’s normally not in your acceptable foods list? You can figure out how to make a modified version! Even beyond actual allergies, you can make and adapt any dish to your own personal tastes.

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit worried for future generations. I already see some skills dying out over time. How many people learn to bake bread as a kid now? I mean – gasp – without a pre measured mix and a bread machine?

While I’m glad to see that certain skills are becoming “trendy” among foodies – canning, for instance – … I just think there needs to be far more of a focus on teaching these skills to the children of today. Teach them to reach for fresh ingredients, rather than phoning for pizza delivery.

Teach them not only about how to cook ingredients, but what’s out there, and what makes them awesome. That 9th grade Roti class was the first exposure I had to Indian food, and it fueled a LOVE for the style, those spices… How long would I have missed out on that joy, had it not been for that class?

Seriously, the way that the subject of vegetables is handled on TV makes me sad. They’re the butt of jokes, demonized… it’s constant, subtle brainwashing. Kids aren’t born hating vegetables, they’re conditioned to. Don’t get me started on that Chef Boyardee commercial with the mom RAMMING AND KNOCKING OVER A DISPLAY (!!!), so that her precious kid won’t hear that there are – gasp! – vegetables in there.

What message is that sending?

As a kid, I loved Brussels sprouts and asparagus – they were my absolute favorites. Would I be able to say the same, if I were to have grown up in today’s anti-vegetable media environment? Probably not. Again… I’d be missing out. These kids today? THEY are missing out.

I could ramble on for far too long, and I’ve probably gotten off on way more of a tangent than I should have. The thing is… it’s all connected. North America, in particular, has a very broken relationship with food. How much of this would be remedied by making Home Ec a required subject?

Probably a LOT. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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