I am a learner. I enjoy learning. I especially like to learn things that help me further understand things that I thought I already knew. This does not exclude a love of learning completely new things. I like that too. I had a friend in college who used to joke that I was a font of “useless information”. I don’t think any information is useless. Although, I do have clear memories of sitting in that pristine wood paneled math classroom, in 10th grade, thinking “why on Earth do I need to know this??!!”, lol. That said, I often make use of those useless pieces of knowledge when I least expect it. Or even, better, when someone else can really benefit from it.
So, it makes sense that I love to learn about food. Everybody knows something about food. Everybody eats. (Even though I recently discovered this movement that espouses not eating…in the conventional sense. These advocates want humans to consume nutrients in a type of smoothie two to three times a day and rarely have solid food. WHY?! So they can “focus on other, more interesting things than food preparation and eating”. Who are these sick folks?! Ok…I digress.) Because everyone eats, we all have some type of relationship with food. Not everyone cares to really learn about food in an educational way, but we all learn something about food out of necessity. It probably starts with learning how to chew solids, hold a utensil, shovel food into our mouths with our hands. Around this time we also learn our food preferances. I think for many this may be where our food learning plateaus.
Many people do not learn to cook as children. Someone cooks for them (if they are lucky…really cooks food, from scratch) or at least prepares food (yes, I do not consider those two things the same). We grow up knowing what we like and choosing those “likes” more often than not. In the best circumstances, we have adults in our lives who introduce us to new foods, flavors, styles of cooking, etc. and our food knowledge grows. Some have to wait until that is forced upon them: school trip, dinner at a friends home, homelessness, college, moving to a new area, illness…there are many ways one can encounter new foods. I was lucky. I lived in an area with a very diverse population of people and food options. My mother, while not terribly adventurous in hindsight, encouraged me and my sister to “at least try” foods that were new to us. Nine times out of ten I fournd the new foods to be quite tasty. Even the things I didn’t like gave me some understanding of the what and the why of food. Texture is a big thing for me. I generally don’t like mushy. This is funny to me because I do like, no LOVE mashed potatoes, grits, apple sauce…all plenty mushy. But some mushy is different and I can’t like it. (That is a long explanation better fit for another post.) I do my best to introduce my son to new foods almost weekly. He is five. I think this time 2-5yrs is when children get “picky” and in a rut of eating the same thing for years. I don’t blame the children. I think their food providers give up too quickly. Or perhaps, they are in a rut themselves and are going with the whole “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I don’t know. So far I have met much success with my boy. He will try things. He is often very frank with his assesment: “mmmm” with a thumbs up–he really liked it; thumbs up–he liked it; horizontal thumb (he calls this “thumbs in the middle”), it was so-so; thumbs down–didn’t like that; lastly, the ugly face and item pushing against the inside of his lips desperately trying to exit his mouth–this, obviously is not at all liked, disgusting. I pay very close attention to his reaction to foods. It helps me figure out his palate and what I might be able to get away with trying next. It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes he likes something then decides a few weeks later that he’s “off” whatever it was he used to like. Unlike many parents, I rarely have to tell people “he won’t/doesn’t eat that” or “he only eats______”.
Not learning to cook as a child is as harmful to me as not learning to properly brush your teeth or make your bed. You don’t have to do it, but you’ll be much better off if you learn and learn well. Some people don’t learn to cook, but do learn about food. There is some food education that goes on in schools. Food is a good medium for teaching about letters, colors, shapes, elementary science, etc. Then there is whatever geometric shape is currently en vogue to teach nutrition–the pyramid, pie chart…you name it. When children don’t learn to cook, they lack a life skill that is essential for good health. I think that is at the core of so many current problems –health, social, economic, environmental. I don’t expect everyone to be able to cook like a gourmet chef. That is a particular skill. I don’t expect everyone who can offer general first-aid to be able to perform life saving surgery. But there are a set of basic cooking skills I wish all kids had to be able to perform with proficiency by 10th grade. Home Economics may have been introduced (and consequently excluded) to/from curricula for sexist reasons, but it was such an all encompassing learning vehicle. One didn’t just learn about food/cooking. Other life skills were also taught: cleaning, laundry, simple repairs, consumer education, etc. It seems to me that right about the time that these classes might have been most useful to both boys and girls is when they were omitted from school programs altogether. And you know who gets taught these “life skills” now? The disabled/challenged members of our communities, so they can “live independently”. I find this ironic. The rest of our kids then are left to become dependent on processed foods and restaurnts if they don’t learn these “life skills” at home. (Are we assuming parents of the disabled don’t teach there kids at home?) The majority of kids won’t need to be able to chemically identify carbon. They will need to eat.
So now these kids who can’t cook and know very little about food, are adults some with pets and families of their own who are eating poorly. I am encouraged by the interest some schools and communities have in farming and gardening, wellness and fitness. That is elective. All schools do not have such programs. And of course, not everyone will take to it. That is fine. I didn’t “take” to math, but I have an appreciation for it that I believe helps me often. At some point, we all suffer when we encounter the food illiterate.
I love to learn about food and cooking. That is my thing. I don’t do it for a living to preserve my love for it. I have considered teaching it though. I spent many years teaching and I enjoyed it. If I had it to do over again I would have combined by love with my professional education skill set. Oddly enough, it would likely mean I’d still be unemployed today, but under different circumstances. So for now I continue to learn and share my knowledge with friends, family and anyone else who will listen.