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Home Ec in the New York Times

By now, I’m sure many of our regular readers have seen the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Time to Revive Home Ec by Helen Zoe Veit, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University and author of the forthcoming Victory Over Ourselves: American Food in the Era of the Great War. Those of us who have been promoting, supporting and living Home Ec – or Family and Consumer Science (FACS) for years will question a couple statements from the article but will want to shout many sentiments from the mountain tops.

First I think we can agree on the premise…

The home economics movement was founded on the belief that housework and food preparation were important subjects that should be studied scientifically.

And we can agree that the statement is at least as true now as it was in the 1800’s, as reflected by the fact that Veit adds…

Too many Americans simply don’t know how to cook. Our diets, consisting of highly processed foods made cheaply outside the home thanks to subsidized corn and soy, have contributed to an enormous health crisis. More than half of all adults and more than a third of all children are overweight or obese. Chronic diseases associated with weight gain, like heart disease and diabetes, are hobbling more and more Americans.

From a human perspective, our poor health of today makes the case that there should be an increased focus on teaching healthy eating, nutrition and life skills in schools. From a public health perspective, it makes financial sense to invest in FACS education today to reduce health care costs in the future.

Veit makes the case herself…

Indeed, in the early 20th century, home economics was a serious subject. When few understood germ theory and almost no one had heard of vitamins, home economics classes offered vital information about washing hands regularly, eating fruits and vegetables and not feeding coffee to babies, among other lessons.

Eventually, however, the discipline’s basic tenets about health and hygiene became so thoroughly popularized that they came to seem like common sense.

Wouldn’t we love to see nutrition and life skills once again become so popularized as to seem like common sense? Again, we in the field know that good work is being done by folks such as the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences and National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Just this summer, the USDA unveiled the USDA MyPlate, which is a tool we can use to help teach healthy eating. So while there are some statements in the original Op Ed that may have rubbed us the wrong way (“NOBODY likes home economics.”), there is certainly truth in the idea that we need an increased focus on teaching healthy eating, nutrition and life skills in schools.

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