Common Sense & Frugality: Let’s Bring Back Home Economics Classes « Frugal Café Blog Zone

Common Sense & Frugality: Let’s Bring Back Home Economics Classes

Posted By on September 6, 2011

Washington, DC junior high school Home Ec class, circa 1921

Credit to Molly at Pininterest for the above vintage photo.

I rarely agree with the ultra-liberal opinions posted at New York Times. But one written yesterday by Helen Zoe Veit, on the importance of reviving Home Economics classes in our schools to not only teach home cooking but nutrition, is close to my frugal heart. Too many younger adults today don’t know the first thing about cooking for themselves, and often resort to buying pricey boxed mixes or frozen pre-made meals made with highly processed foods, or eating out or getting take-out foods.

A while back, my daughter, then about 17, was dating a young man who was at the house around dinner time. I asked her if he would like to stay for dinner. When she told him he was invited to have my famous homemade chicken noodle soup (I simmer saved chicken bones and veggies for hours — it’s one of my fave DIY comfort foods to make that saves a ton of money), he was stunned. He’d never heard of homemade soup and said, “I didn’t know you could make soup without a can.” Heaven help us.

Fundamental principles of simple cooking and nutrition escape many adults in their 20’s and 30’s. Even those in their 40’s. This is bizarre when you look at how popular cooking shows on cable and PBS are. Many TV cooks and chefs, like Rachael Ray, are now millionaires.

Without basic food prepping and nutrition skills, too many people are nearly helpless to feed themselves unless there’s a jar of peanut butter or a bag of chips in the cupboard or a McDonald’s or deli around the corner. And feeding themselves and their families healthfully and thriftily on an ongoing basis becomes a huge challenge. Parents should be teaching their children nutrition and cooking skills from an early age, but if parents themselves are clueless, the problem grows from one generation to the next. Public school, private school, charter school, home school, parochial school, doesn’t matter: if home economics aren’t being taught at home, courses need to be resurrected in an educational environment at the junior and/or senior high levels for girls as well as boys.

There’s nothing wrong with dining out in restaurants or eating junk food once in a while. But to rely frequently on food establishments for day-to-day sustenance, to not know how to create cheap, healthy meals from scratch in your own kitchen, is downright scary. I do believe this has contributed to the nation’s growing obesity and health problems.

The NYT piece, by pushing for Home Ec training, also indirectly (or unknowingly) slams First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Food Police” agenda, while she and the president chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, chocolate shakes, and French fries.

By empowering people with the knowledge on how to cook for themselves and an understanding of nutrition — rather than simply parroting that they need to eat more healthfully, but not providing any of the tools to do so — success is more assured. Likely far more successful in the long run than is the current mandating of the food industry through overreaching government programs and shortsighted, tax-hungry Nanny State “sin taxes” on soda and junk food.

As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

Knowledge is power. Knowledge in the kitchen saves money, saves time, and promotes good health. I think bringing back Home Ec classes in junior and senior high schools is an excellent idea.

Posted at NY Times, Time to Revive Home Ec:

NOBODY likes home economics. For most people, the phrase evokes bland food, bad sewing and self-righteous fussiness.

But home economics is more than a 1950s teacher in cat’s-eye glasses showing her female students how to make a white sauce. Reviving the program, and its original premises — that producing good, nutritious food is profoundly important, that it takes study and practice, and that it can and should be taught through the public school system — could help us in the fight against obesity and chronic disease today.

The home economics movement was founded on the belief that housework and food preparation were important subjects that should be studied scientifically. The first classes occurred in the agricultural and technical colleges that were built from the proceeds of federal land grants in the 1860s. By the early 20th century, and increasingly after the passage of federal legislation like the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act, which provided support for the training of teachers in home economics, there were classes in elementary, middle and high schools across the country. When universities excluded women from most departments, home economics was a back door into higher education. Once there, women worked hard to make the case that “domestic science” was in fact a scientific discipline, linked to chemistry, biology and bacteriology.

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. As a result, their early proponents came to look like old maids stating the obvious instead of the innovators and scientists that many of them really were. Increasingly, home economists’ eagerness to dispense advice on everything from eating to sleeping to posture galled.

Today we remember only the stereotypes about home economics, while forgetting the movement’s crucial lessons on healthy eating and cooking.

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.

Click here to read more.

Barack Obama eating at an Italian market in 2008


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About the author

I'm a conservative frugalist. My priorities: Watchdogging the government, making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely, living within our budgets (at home and in Washington, DC), and adhering to our Constitution and the conservative principles upon which it was developed by our founding fathers. Also, loving God, my family, and my country. Be wise, be frugal. God bless America!      


4 Responses to “Common Sense & Frugality: Let’s Bring Back Home Economics Classes”

  1. lin says:

    Hurrah! “for girls as well as boys.” The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but one way to win a woman’s heart is to cook her a gourmet meal.

  2. Beckybeq says:

    I am very excited to find out that one quarter of my son’s exploratory classes in seventh grade will be Family & Consumer Science. Also known as Home Ec. It’s only an introductory class, but goes over decision making, finances, budgeting, nutrition, cooking and child care. I think it’s great our school teaches that class!

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