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It Might Be Time to Bring Back “Home Ec” Class

It Might Be Time to Bring Back “Home Ec” Class

Written by Katherine Martinko

Imagine if schools taught kids how to shop for groceries and cook healthy, delicious meals. Considering that almost a third of Americans under age 19 are now overweight or obese, accustomed to a diet of cheap, processed foods, adding an updated version of old-fashioned “home economics” to the education system could be a smart idea. Cooking used to be basic knowledge, passed on from one’s parents, but now it’s rare to find a young person who knows how to wield a chef’s knife and handle ingredients with creativity and confidence. A generation of kids has grown up with two working parents, or a single parent, who were too busy to prepare healthy, homemade food. The unfortunate result is kids who don’t understand good nutrition, aren’t self-sufficient, and don’t know how to grocery shop.

In her fascinating article “Bring back home ec!,” Ruth Graham traces the trajectory of home ec classes throughout the 20th century. They have gone from being “rooted in progressive and even feminist thinking” (ca. 1899) to being “combat troops against malnutrition” during the Depression. In the 1950s, teachers became salespeople for convenience foods. By the 1960s-70s, the crucial knowledge taught in home ec had become conventional knowledge and no longer seemed necessary. People also didn’t like thinking that home ec simply prepared young women for marriage, which is understandable.

Graham thinks that a revitalization of home ec would fit in nicely with the current shift toward teaching kids about conscientious eating and combating obesity. (Think Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Michelle Obama’s Lets Move campaign.) Michael Moss, author of “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” believes we are “at this tipping point where more and more people are caring about what they put in their bodies.”

So what would a revitalized home economics class look like? Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts, describes the following ideal curriculum:

“[It would include] basic cooking techniques; caloric requirements; sources of food, from farm to table; budget principles; food safety; nutrient information, where to find it and how to use it; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.”

Even a field trip to the grocery store would be very helpful to teach kids how to read the fine print and to manage a budget.

The thought of modernizing home ec excites me because it could go in so many interesting directions. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about sustainable eating and sourcing local ingredients; frugality and how to stretch food further; the ethics of industrial agriculture vs. small-scale farming; and how to cook foods from different cultures. This is the type of practical course that would stick with kids and have a real impact on their lives. So, by all means, let’s bring back home ec.

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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141 comments

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7:12PM PST on Nov 9, 2013

Is this not a parents job?

12:21PM PST on Nov 9, 2013

Great idea,thanks for sharing

11:43PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

thanks for sharing

3:22PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Scott Haakon there going to a very long time before very small apartment comes to the USA like in Asian city's there cooking and sewing skills are taught by the family as contrary to the Usa there are often two to three generations living in the same small apartment

3:13PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

When I was in my HS back in NY in 77 to 81I took electives such as photography oceanography 1 and 2 ecology and meteorology and shop
and when bush's no child left behind which sadly left a lot more behind then before as it concentrated on read writing and math and scores effected the funds a school got so funds were pulled there so even a lot of schools cut classes like I took and in Florida some schools did not even teach science and that became so widespread the FCAT had to change to add science so it would be taught again

2:42PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

David H. Too bad you missed your chance with learning around all those lovely young women. You would have probably had their undivided attention and could have eaten all the home cooked goodies in the cooking class also.

12:34PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

It use to be that most boys went to shop and girls went to home ec but should not be required to take as I fell they should be an elective but it should be required that schools offer it and tell you the truth I was a fool for not taking home ec in HS as it would be nice to work with and around a room full of lovey lady's

3:46AM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Bring back home ec. does that mean it’s no longer taught? I find this very sad, I did Home Ec. as an exam subject for 5 years with a great teacher and I am still reaping the benefits. Nutrition -a balanced diet=the correct amount of the right food, how to sew a button, interior design, having a work space triangle in my kitchen, baking and cooking, social science it was all useful and relevant. It should be compulsory for everyone in every school!

12:30PM PST on Nov 6, 2013

Now the article is on the page. Thank you again.

12:29PM PST on Nov 6, 2013

Thank you for the news; however, the article is missing.

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