Claudia is a school teacher, and only recently put her profession on hold to take care of my grandmother full time.
Claudia and I had an animated conversation about teaching children to cook. I wondered aloud if perhaps the best way to teach children to cook would be to have the students cook lunch daily for the student body. Instead of employing kitchen staff, schools could employ cooking teachers that would teach and supervise students who would do the actual cooking and serving.
The teaching opportunities would be varied and numerous:
- Meal planning
- Customer service
School kitchens already have certified cooking and food preparation appliances, and by turning the kitchen into a classroom for use throughout the school day, the classroom area of the school is automatically increased at zero or small cost.
Claudia thought my idea is worthwhile. She has dozens of ideas she wants to pursue to increase the quality of education. She hopes to open her own small school, where she can implement many of her ideas. I encouraged her to start a blog to write about her ideas to make friends with likeminded readers. She said she’s been wanted to set up a blog for a while now, and asked me to help her set up her blog during my current visit. Of course I agreed, and that’s on our agenda.
Certainly there is a risk if students are charged with cooking for their classmates. Someone might poison the food, for example. But, to my knowledge, prisoners cook for fellow inmates, and I haven’t heard of poisonings happening in that context.
I would think that daily cooking for classmates would help students feel connected to their classmates to such a degree that poisonings would be quite rare. Something is clearly wrong in US schools — so wrong that students are regularly shooting their classmates and instructors with guns. I wonder if cooking for classmates might reduce school shootings by helping students feel more connected to and empathetic towards their fellow students.
The advantages to having every student know how to cook for themselves and for a crowd I believe would strongly outweigh any possible dangers from accidental or intentional kitchen related incidents.
The way the system works in the US now is millions of students can’t cook a healthy, delicious and balanced meal when they graduate. As a result, they rely on corporations to cook for them. The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan details the many horrors that result when corporations cook food to feed a populace.
When corporations cook for people, health suffers and people get sick and die. The number of people that get sick from eating corporate food is likely orders of magnitude higher than the numbers of students that perhaps might get sick by eating student prepared food.
Society should be able to accept a potential small incremental risk to the immediate safety of school lunches in exchange for a dramatic improvement in food safety long term by the population turning away from corporate food in favor of home cooked healthy and delectable meals.
The gold standard even today for desirable food is a ‘home cooked meal.’ Why aren’t we teaching the entire population how to prepare a great home cooked meal? It is unfortunate that cooking isn’t a required class each year of school. With my plan, described here, to turn school kitchens into classrooms, and to turn students into trained cooks and kitchen managers, adding 12 years of cooking classes to every K-12 educational system in the country doesn’t have to cost extra, and the dividends society will reap are potentially shockingly dramatic.
I predict that a rigorous analysis of my plan will show that the lifecycle cost benefit to my plan will total trillions of dollars per generation, as the health care costs to treat the illnesses associated with poor diet will likely be shown to dwarf any direct costs associated with turning school kitchens into cooking and management classrooms.
Many others are advocating for healthy school lunches. Here are some links:
- High School Students Bring Healthy School Lunch to DC – and Cook with White House Chef Sam Kass
- Two schools grow, cook food in lunch partnership
- Healthy School Lunches
- Students Will Cook Their Lunch and Eat It, Too
I predict a firestorm of protest from various powerful unions if they were to seriously consider adopting what I write above. The existing school lunch cooks would probably not have teaching credentials, so the teachers’ unions would probably not want them to become teachers. I also suspect the existing lunch staff would not want to teach hundreds or thousands of students how to do their jobs.
I don’t know what type of person would be best suited to the position of cooking teacher, but I am nearly certain there would be many applicants for a job like I’ve outlined above. I think a special type of person is needed — someone who is passionate about food and nutrition and teaching, yet can handle the daily grind of operating what amounts to a busy commercial kitchen with student workers.
I am passionate about teaching people to cook. I created and published my first cooking show in January. I sadly haven’t published follow on episodes yet, but I remain committed to publishing 11 more shows this year.