We live in a time when knowledge about food is becoming rarer and rarer and obesity levels are reaching ever increasing highs in the western world. We are facing a severe health crisis for the entire human race and food (and exercise) seems to be at the heart of it. Food inequality around the world is a severe issue as is the kinds of foods that people are eating. Many celebrity chefs and organizations such as the Women’s Institute in the United Kingdom have argued that if cooking was taught in more schools then the problem that we face would be far smaller. At the moment, it is left up to parents to teach their children how to cook or up to the children themselves to figure it all out once they have left home. More often than not, those children who have not been raised with a passion for food and a basic knowledge of cookery will choose to not cook from scratch and instead opt for a takeaway or grab an instant ready meal. In the age of the microwave and the 10 minute ready meal, why would many young people want to cook in the first place?
Well, those young people who have learned to cook will say that this knowledge gives them a step up when it comes to the adult world. It allows them to eat more cheaply and usually eat better quality food. Cooking is also a highly social activity and being able to cook means that you can invite your friends round to dinner and impress them with your cookery skills. These young people probably won’t have learned their skills at school though because, more often than not, the option is not available to them.
Cooking should be a fundamental part of adult life and being able to cook puts an individual at a distinct advantage. Schools should be providing these skills to children in the same way as they are meant to teach kids Maths or English or Science. Cooking is a practical activity that lots of kids would enjoy and therefore want to learn more. Lessons need only instil a basic knowledge of how cooking works. Once these basics have been taught the student can usually take it further themselves. However, a gentle push would have a huge impact if it was provided.
By teaching basic cookery you can also instil a respect for food and an understanding of where food comes from. The food chain is a bizarrely foreign concept for many young people, who are mostly removed from the food chain, from farms and the animals from which their meat is derived. By cooking the food these discussions can be had. The number of children who know where milk comes from is sadly very low but if they were to use it in making puddings or sauces, they will improve their understanding of what the product is and where it comes from. The issues surrounding meat production and land issues can also be discussed.
Health is a core part of cookery education and at the moment a trick is being missed by limiting health education to subjects such as biology or science. Embedding health education as part of cookery would suggest to students that what they eat has a direct impact on their health. This message is very rarely getting through to kids from their parents, hence why child obesity levels are scarily high in the western world.
Another important lesson to be taught through cookery would be the issue of food waste. By cooking food themselves students can become aware of both the amount of packaging that ready meals use, unnecessarily as well as the issue of keeping food for the right amount of time and the need to not throw any food away. Lots of households will end up buying more food than is necessary for the week and so will have to throw a lot of this away. It soon becomes normal for children and so they do not question it. These issues can be discussed in the classroom setting and students can begin to question these practices. When they cook themselves, the knowledge they gain can also be put to good use and they will learn to only use what they need. When it comes to washing up as well they will learn to not use more than they need in terms of utensils etc!
There is a strong need for cookery to be rolled out as a subject across the western world. Some education systems do include a degree of cookery but this is often on a small scale. We need to go further and instil in our students a love for food, a respect for where it has come from and a knowledge of what will happen to it if it is wasted.