The Transformation of Home Ec

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There are many students who have never heard of the class known as “Home Ec.” Home Economics now goes by several names, but most commonly “Family and Consumer Science.” When I worked as a high school substitute teacher in a cooking class a few years back, the students thought Home Ec sounded weird and outdated. In some ways, I agree with them. When they hear Home Ec, visions of sewing a dress, canning peaches, or making the perfect roast come to mind. Not that there is anything wrong with doing those projects, in fact, I’m all for it. It’s just that the world has changed, and Home Ec as it used to be had to go with the flow.

In the very early days of Home Ec classes, girls (no males yet) learned soap making, spinning yarn, quilting, cooking on woodburning stoves, and preserving food by drying or canning. By the time I was in junior high and high school, it was just cooking and sewing. When I did substitute teaching, the classes also included money management, sanitation, hygiene, family relationships, and child care. I find it very disheartening that so many schools across the nation are eliminating cooking, sewing, art, theatre, shop, and other valuable artistic programs. Our society is so technology and business driven, that the arts are left out of the picture. People need all kinds of skills, not just in the business world, but in the business of life.

It seems that on a daily basis, we are reading about the obesity problem with our young population. Our first lady has entered the arena to fight this critical issue by urging the large food manufacturers to market healthier foods to children. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has a reality show where he is attempting to develop good eating and cooking habits in schools and at home.  Everyone wants our children to learn proper nutrition habits and cooking skills, but where are they learning how to cook? Of course, many children learn good habits from their family, but some do not. One of my daughters had a classmate who knew nothing about cooking or nutrition. In this classmate’s home, literally every meal was take-out food. The family had a large box where coupons or menus were placed. Each day the kids took turns reaching into the box, and whatever coupon or menu they pulled out, that would be dinner. And the leftovers would be their lunch the next day.

This is why we cannot forget the importance of Home Ec. I must admit, I still like the old-fashioned sound of “home ec,” but realize that it must sound more modern and updated to keep kids interested. There are hundreds of culinary schools for those who desire to enter the food world as a career. Last month, my daughter, Kristina, and I attended the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago. At one event with celebrity chef Guy Fieri, he was promoting a program to encourage students to enter culinary school. The appetizers served at the event were made by students from a local school. If you could have seen the faces on the kids, it would melt your heart. They were so excited about preparing and serving the food, and their faces beamed as they spoke about their experiences in the kitchen.
I was fortunate to have a mother and grandmother who taught me the joy of cooking, but I also had a wonderful 7th grade Home Ec teacher who gave me confidence in the kitchen. I still have the notebook and recipes from that 7th grade class. I found it sometime last year while cleaning out some boxes in the basement, and found myself wondering why I had saved it all these years. The recipes were just the basics, nothing fancy, but I learned so much more than just cooking, which is probably why I couldn’t throw it out. The class taught me to enjoy my successes, and learn from the failures. I felt proud to go home and show my mom what what I learned in class, which created family and bonding time. I learned planning, creativity, imagination, and how to make choices. Cooking activities are a great way for kids to express themselves and enjoy their creations. My one and only bad experience in home ec was the class on pressure cookers. One of the girls obviously hadn’t listened to the proper instructions, and her cooker did what everyone fears about pressure cooking. The lid blew off and flew up to the ceiling, with the food inside redecorating the kitchen walls. To us, it sounded like a bomb went off. The poor teacher didn’t stop shaking for the rest of the class. I have to admit, I am still a little afraid of pressure cookers, but I would be willing to go back to Home Ec 101 to learn the basics of pressure cooking. That is, if there is a class available.

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