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Kitchen Illiteracy

There have been a number of articles and books in the past few years citing the concern that we are becoming a nation of kitchen illiterates, especially among the 20-30 year old age groups. Despite all of the interest in food preparation, cooking shows and development of new food products, there is a lack of basic kitchen knowledge in knowing how to actually purchase, store, prepare and cook food. In my conversations with people about kitchen illiteracy, they have been quick to share their stories to confirm how true this is becoming.

My niece shared with me that her newly married friend had bought a supersized jar of Prego Spaghetti Sauce. She made spaghetti one night for dinner, again a few days later and then about a week and a half later using the same jar of Prego. When she took the opened jar out of the cupboard, her husband noticed and asked her if she had been storing the Prego in the refrigerator once she had opened the jar. She had responded that she didn’t know she had to and had been keeping it in the cupboard.

A colleague shared with me that a friend of hers had picked up some fresh fruit from a farmer’s market. Upon getting to her security apartment building she couldn’t open the door and hold the box of fruit at the same time. While she was maneuvering to unlock the door, a fellow resident came in and held the door open for her. She thanked him and while they were waiting at the elevator, put the box down and selected a cantaloupe to give him in appreciation. She thanked him again and held out the fruit to him. He put his hands out in front of him and said, “No thanks, I don’t know how to cook.”

A new student to my school district told a fellow teacher that his older brother had called home from college and wanted to know how to make toast.

One of my favorite stories is from a Seattle newspaper about the angry person who started his oven on fire because he followed the recipe directions “to only grease the bottom of the pan.”
With the decline of required Family & Consumer Sciences classes in some school districts, over the past few decades we have seen the rise in kitchen illiteracy, a lack of consumer awareness on wise grocery shopping and food storage and an increase in eating out. (Not to mention a rise in obesity and food related health concerns.)

Food and nutrition are important life skills needed for individuals and families. Not only does it help to provide them with more nutritious and wholesome food that is safe to eat, it provides them with a wise use of their financial and time resources. Knowing basic preparation and food measurement skills will help the cook to have successful food outcomes and to be creative and wise in their use of ingredients. Other contributing factors in our society that have contributed to kitchen illiteracy are the busy lifestyles, dual career and single parent families who just want to get dinner on the table, prepackaged and fast food meals high in fat, sugar and salt, and cooking shows.

Perhaps, you have noticed as I have, that preparing recipes is a huge topic on television. However, most shows prepare a 30 minute meal in a 3 minute time slot. Everything is premeasured and/or precooked to have a finished product in just minutes. There is an assumption in our society that just because you eat means you know how to cook. We know how far this is from the truth.

Family & Consumer Sciences classes provide students with the opportunity to learn how to plan and prepare safe and wholesome food. In addition to becoming kitchen literate, students are developing their skills in teamwork, planning and organizing, critical thinking, math, and problem-solving. Students also become confident in their cooking ability helping them to become a self-reliant individual who can share this skill with their family and friends. I applaud school districts that want their students to participate in Family & Consumer Sciences foods and nutrition classes to ensure that their students learns skills that will help them in all areas of their lives, especially in their personal health and well being.

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