BASIC INGREDIENTS

Many years ago, one of my most successful former students – she had been in a few of my undergrad classes at a previous institution – called me in a panic. I had heard from her fairly regularly on the internet, and our conversations were a mix of me giving her pep talks for the difficult first few years post-graduation and her regaling me with awesome Washington DC insider stories ("I saw ____ vomiting in the bushes last night.") But here I could tell something else was wrong.

Long story short, it turned out to be rather amusing (from my end). She had met a young man she liked, and had "panicked" and invited him over for dinner. Now in the cold light of day she was realizing that she didn't actually know how to cook anything. So, with considerable help from Rachel Ray I talked her through a basic action plan and the problem was solved.

Later, after I thought about the implications, I asked her: out of curiosity, you've been living independently for something like five years. Without even the most basic cooking skills (she really was at Ground Zero; I sent her a copy of the invaluable How to Boil Water cookbook) what the hell had she been eating all this time? Obviously a Young Professional is getting a lot of carry-out and delivery food, a lot of restaurant meals, and so on. But you have to make something to eat sometime. At least occasionally.

The answer: "Healthy Choice frozen meals. And nachos."

It was at that moment that I became convinced that American schools need to devote a semester or two during K-12 to teaching kids how to cook. Home Economics classes get a bad rap because of their historical role as something "For Girls" intended to shepherd young women into a lifetime of uncompensated domestic labor. But think about some of the problems that could be solved if every student left high school with the basic skills and knowledge to make 10 to 15 simple meals with ingredients costing between $5 and $10.

I know there are a lot of other problems, like the cost and geographic availability of food. But the knowledge simply isn't there in a lot of cases, and the blithe assumption that young people are learning to cook from their families or from osmosis or from the internet isn't helping. Imagine how much the dependence on low-priced fast food or high-calorie garbage food (Doritos can be a meal if you have a 2-liter with them!) if young adults were flung into independence with at least some knowledge of what to do with the kitchen part of the apartment other than fill it with chips and granola bars.

How hard would it be for each school district, combining contributions from parents, students, and teachers, to come up with a dozen things suitable to local preferences and spend less than schools routinely spend on less useful pursuits buying the ingredients? Hell, you could probably get half of it for free when the grocery stores are getting ready to throw it out. Or hell, just have the state pony up the money after admitting that this is going to save millions in the long run.

It seems uncontroversial enough, but I'm sure there's something I'm missing that would turn this into a pitched battle in the culture wars.

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94 thoughts on “BASIC INGREDIENTS”

  • "It seems uncontroversial enough, but I'm sure there's something I'm missing that would turn this into a pitched battle in the culture wars."

    Oh, that's easy.

    "Today we're going to be teaching you how to make falafel."

  • Also, some basic financial literacy. I had a (very smart) friend in college who once said to me, "My checking account can't be overdrawn, there are still checks in my checkbook."

    (A check is like a papery Venmo transaction, look it up, kids.)

  • Heaventree says:

    I agree. My fifth-grade son has an afterschool class called simply "Fun With Food" and has a blast. And actually learns to prepare some food!

  • Steve Mang says:

    How hard would it be for each school district, combining contributions from parents, students, and teachers, to come up with a dozen things suitable to local preferences and spend less than schools routinely spend on less useful pursuits buying the ingredients?

    I've been in several Baltimore City high schools where even the chemistry classrooms didn't have running water. Infrastructure is going to be a big problem for districts where the kids probably need the most help with this.

  • Makes sense to me.

    However I'm sure that the problem (as is the case for most things that would help people) is SOCIALISM.

  • This is also a genuine policy problem. Much of the food aid that Rethuglikkklans Love to hate on -SNAP and WIC- provide the ability to get wholesome, fresh foods. But many many many of the recipients don’t know how to prepare anything with those foods. Instead, they use SNAP aid (WIC is coupon-based, and each coupon specifies foodstuffs, so little choice is involved) to buy more expensive frozen or processed items (hot food like a rotisserie chicken is prohibited) so eat less well for money. This is NOT a criticism, but an unfortunate fact. Combined with a food desert, this kind of diet is simply rational. Then the shitbags start moaning about how we shouldn’t allow them to get soda or chips with SNAP cause them dirty pokes oughta have ta eat what we tells em! And (some) stupid lefties go along with this from a public health perspective and sooner or later SNAP is not useful so it becomes an example of gubmint waste and is throttled.

  • As a side note, a really great part of the Montessori pre-k instruction (which doesn’t require Montessori to scale) is its emphasis on building fine motor control through common household tasks like pouring and measuring and cleaning. That activity transfers very well to Home where kids love the responsibility and can become actually helpful in the kitchen too. Of course this requires that you are cooking yourself at least sometimes to teach them, but it’s one way to see how easy it can be to incorporate this kind of stuff into everyday instruction and activity.

  • If it takes time away from cramming for standardized tests, there's no room in the curriculum for it. Just like recess, art, music, and phys ed.

  • SeaTea1967 says:

    I was one of the few guys in my HS who opted for Home Ec. over Industrial Arts. While all the other guys were learning to pour lead in a mold or turn a chair leg on a lathe, I was learning to sew and cook. My love for cooking and knowledge in the kitchen has paid huge dividends with the opposite sex, and with groups of friends over the years. Have never once regretted the choice.

  • I was single until age 42. Taught myself to cook at some point in my 20's when I got tired of eating frozen meals. Had a few disasters, including a potentially catastrophic grease fire.

    I stuck it out and over the years became a very skilled cook. To this day I still cook all or our meals.

  • Foodinamug says:

    My preschooler demanded to sign up for an after-school cooking class. Hilariously, everything they make appears to be microwaved in a mug. Like, french toast… in a mug. Chocolate chip cookies… in a mug. My 3rd grader took some cooking classes at a local restaurant and came home talking about "mise en place" which I found amusing. Me, I had Home Ec in middle school in the early 90s, and didn't appreciate it because my teacher forced us to make gross things like breakfast sandwiches "so that you have something to cook for your husbands in the morning."

    Jamie Oliver has a clip that I often show to my college students in which he goes into an elementary classroom and holds up basic produce, and most kids can't name it. I haven't heard anything about his plan to educate kids on food recently, but this is a good post from a couple years ago – http://www.jamiesfoodrevolution.org/news/please-just-start-cooking-with-your-children/.

  • Don't parents have any role in preparing their kids for real life anymore?

    Why do I sound like an octegenarian for having chores as a kid that not only required me to learn that contributing to the household upkeep was mandatort but that learning to cook for yourself and others was a necessary life skill.

    Blaming the schools for failed parenting is getting old.

  • In the glorious future our Job Creators have in store for us, you won't need to cook anyway; you'll just report to the feeding station three times a day to have Soylent pumped directly into your jejunum through a tube. With this more efficient method of feeding, they can surgically remove your esophagus and stomach so they don't waste energy that could be spent producing more capital for the illustrious Job Creators, peace be upon them.

  • InstantPotCultist says:

    A few other ways that home ec could be turned into culture war fodder:

    From the right/conservative – if men learn how to cook, it will undermine the family. Why would a man need to marry if he can cook for himself?
    From the left/liberal – this is victim blaming!

    The previous poster’s falafel comment also highlights another problem: kids might learn (gasp!) about other cultures. I can imagine parents in Texas pulling their kids out of the class during vegan/vegetarian cooking week too.

    Anyway, political problems aside, two suggestions for the class. First, start with soup. Soup (and close analogues, stews, braises, etc.) are cooking universals. Soups can be made with a wide range of ingredients, so kids with allergies, food aversions, dietary restrictions (e.g., vegetarian), and so on can make and enjoy them. Soups invite creativity and improvisation (add a can of tomatoes – or don’t! add beans – or don’t! Noodles or rice – you decide!). They also teach most of the basic cooking skills that transfer to other areas (if you can chop an onion for soup, you can chop an onion for anything). Soups can also be made cheap, are filling, and store well, and can even impress boys that you invited over. They scale up or down easily, and can be made in a variety of ways (from slow cookers to Instant Pots. I’m not sure if anyone’s a part of the Instant Pot cult here, but it’s been a great investment).

    Second, incorporate other areas into the class. Laura Shapiro has written a few food histories examining women’s role in “scientific cooking,” and while many of attempts to “science up” home ec seem laughable from today’s perspective, they gave women a chance to do real science like chemistry and nutrition. This could be carried over into the class similar to inquiry learning or a (properly designed) science lab. Questions like “How does this cake rise?” “Why are these browned carrots sweeter than raw carrots?” “How can you be healthy without meat?” are actually deceptively deep questions that, once learned, can make you a better cook. Harold McGee has an excellent encyclopedia book on food science (On Food and Cooking) that I would recommend for anyone who’s progressed beyond novice level with their cooking.

  • Seems like Agribusiness would be wise to jump in here. If you learn how to cook 3-5 meals in school and most of them rely on ground beef, for example, you will probably cook a lot of ground beef in your life.

    SNAP is, after all, a program of the Department of Agriculture. Poor people catch the shit for that, but if it was really about poor people, it would be a different department.

  • I think SNAP actually got started when the military found themselves having to turn away recruits who were physically unfit do to being malnourished.

    Don't quote me on that.

  • I guess you've already forgotten how the right lost its collective shit when Michelle Obama suggested kids should eat a vegetable once in a while.

  • I'd like to see Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton come out strongly against drinking bleach.

    Nothing makes this little liberal snowflake run for his safe-space like someone chugging a gallon of Chlorox.

  • My husband subsisted on hot pockets when we met (he was 32 years old). I'm pretty sure by the second homemade meal he was in love.

  • I hadn't thought this in years, but in the mid-60's my public high school offered "Boy's Cooking," which I took, and "Girls Shop," which was always over-subscribed.
    Just a year or two before I got there, they had started allowing boys to take the typing class. Previously it had been a vocational-track class for girls who weren't going to college. I took it, and I still type with all 10 fingers, which most of my male contemporaries in college did not.
    We also had a mandatory swimming class, gender segregated, where the boys (swear to God) swam naked. No one who was there knows why that was the case. Maybe the coach liked it.
    The girls wore altogether shapeless cotton (or something) tanks, because lycra/spandex hadn't been invented.
    Sorry, I know this is slightly OT, but I thought it was an interesting historical note. Back then schools were important, and they got the money to do pretty much whatever they thought would be helpful.

  • I agree on Home Ec and have often also thought something similar about shop classes in general. My grade school and high school experiences did not make either one available to me, and I had to pick them up later.

  • I went to high school in the early 70's and was one of the few college prep students who took auto and wood shop classes. Invaluable.

  • I took Home Ec, I'm a dude, and it was awesome. I'm not exactly sure it's a problem of low demand because word got around that there's this class where instead of studying out of a textbook or watching a lecture you get to make bomb ass food and eat an extra meal, for free, and it was always well-attended. Of course we also learned things like how to sew, balance a checkbook, and change a diaper. The problem must be something like, funneling all of the students into classes on shit that is on a standardized exam, or gutting the kitchen because "we need this space for a REAL classroom" or whatever.

  • I agree that classes in basic cooking and nutrition, basic home repair, and basic finance would be very useful, but I doubt your average school has the ability to set these up.

    In the late 1970s, the junior high schools in Hawaii demanded a semester of art, a semester of music, a semester of home ec, and a semester of shop. I wish the home ec and shop classes had been more useful–in home ec one of our assignments was to create hors d'oeuvres by squirting canned cheese into olives. Another assignment was to create spaghetti sauce from raw ingredients…but since decent sauce can be bought cheaper than you can buy the raw ingredients, that was absolutely useless. it would have been more practical to teach us to cook a roast chicken or make hamburgers from a pound of ground beef.

    In shop we learned how to jigsaw hunks of plastic into various shapes and glue the shapes together with colored glue…how often does anyone actually do this? We also learned to build a silk screener to silk screen t-shirts. Again, not anything I've ever needed to do in my adult life.

  • I took both Woodshop and Home Ec in elementary school. They were only 6 week courses, but I learned to cook eggs, and make a meatloaf and dessert, and how to do some basic sewing.
    I would love to see a mandatory "life skills" course in high school. In Canada, we all get a few electives every year, which could (and should) be replaced with a course on how to survive in the world once you are done school. I actually designed such a course, but of course it didn't fly with my board. Instead the students have to take this half-credit stupid civics class where the gov't gets to tell them how to be a good "citizen". I would rather spend that time teaching kids how to balance their bank account and keep track of their utilities and bills.

  • Regarding teaching kids to cook; unless the parent is lucky and has kids who want to learn, it's such an uphill battle. It also requires the time and resources to have food to cook–that is, in a food desert, there's not much *to* cook because it's all junk food and prepared foods.

    A lot of Gen X never learned to cook because our parents, the Boomers, were in love with the ease and cheapness of fast food. They could get pizzas delivered to your door and hamburgers, fried chicken, and crappy fake-Mexican foods were a 5-minute drive away–why would they bother to cook?

    I taught myself to cook with the help of various PBS cooking shows, bookstore cookbooks, and the pamphlet that came with the crockpot. Now there's the internet, and that's also helpful, but I wish I'd had a parent who cooked/a class in cooking when I was growing up I did my best with my own kids and both will happily whip up a batch of brownies from scratch, but ask them to put together a crockpot meal and they panic.

  • By the beginning of Chinese New Year this year I was tired of teaching my seniors biology (and they were tired of learning it) so I assigned them a homework project of "cook a meal and video it". These are all students going to the west for college and most have never even boiled water since their parents wait on them hand and foot so that they have more time for study. (Rereading I caught the "for study" instead of "to study". Apparently I now speak Chinglish.) I prepared them for this by showing them a video of basic cooking techniques and yammering a bit. I justified this assignment – not that I needed to since no one cares what I teach the students – by saying "since eating is one of the characteristics of life, learning how to cook something is biology".

    They did it and all came back with vids showing them cooking essentially the same meal: scrambled eggs with tomato, stir-fried cabbage and pork, watery pork bones soup and, of course, rice. Everything cut with a meat cleaver, which is the only knife most homes own, and seasoned essentially the same way – rice wine, soy sauce, corn starch, salt, MSG.

    What was interesting to me is that, not only did the parents not complain about the project and, in fact, thought it was a great idea, but the kids seemed to love it too! They actually learned something useful (unlike all the stupid, boring biology I've been cramming down their throats for a year and a half)! My follow-up lesson was a discussion of various herbs and spices to teach them that not every dish has to taste the same, but they went back to sleep for that. Ah, well, baby steps.

    BTW, the youtube channel "Double Chen" is a series of vids made by two Chinese-American guys (+ guests) showing differences between there and here. It's a pretty accurate representation of life here if anyone's interested.

  • You may not like his poitics but Alton Brown had the perfect (albeit campy) mix of cooking and scientific explanations of WHY the various cooking techniques work.

    I knew how to cook before seeing "Good Eats" but my ability to improvise improved enormously be learning the chemistry and physics behind the rules.

  • I love it…frying pan 101!
    Throw anything into a pan and learn how to not burn it. Once you get that down you can move on. Eggs and oatmeal are so cheap you can feed and classroom of grade schoolers breakfast for a buck two fifty a day. And they learn something.

  • Hey, April; good point.

    Here in the USA, I had to squeeze in cooking lessons with "studying" (with phones and tv, giving the side-eye here that any studying actually got done), sports, driving lessons, mandatory "volunteer" hours, and part-time jobs.

  • I just ate lunch.
    A nice sort of stewish mix of ham, 'maters, onions, shrooms, kidney beans, some hot sauce, chipotle powder, celery, onion, peppers–other stuff lost in the mix. Served that on a bed of basmati & brown rice cooked with sesame oil and soy sauce. It's all good, it actually even looked tasty. I think per serving* it works out to probably a $1.50.

    That v a shitty sub that's mostly bread with a sugary drink some sort for $7-8 bucks.

    Yeah, it took me an hour or so to prepare the stew–enough to make 3 quarts–7-9 meals for me. The rice took about 2-3 minutes, start to finish (other than turning on the rice cooker).

    I make ice cream that costs MORE than Ben&Jerry's (but less than that new stuff $10/qt) and while there are fewer flavors they are awesome. I just made some mocha ice cream that is delicious and a little over a pint will last me 8 helpings, it's exremely rich.

    I learned how to cook, starting when I was 23, by working in various food businesses–usually at the shit-end of the kitchen, reading tons of Gourmet, Food&Wine, Saveur and other mags and watching cooking shows.

    I'm happy to NOT be a gourmet cook. I make food that I like and on the rare occasion that I feed others I don't hear much but pleasure.

    * 2-3 times what those idiots put on a box of anything that tastes good.

  • Evil Overwench says:

    Alas, at some point in the 90s, home ex was displaced by DARE, or its bastard cousin “Life Skills”. It was not a fair exchange.

  • I learned to cook when I complained to my mother that I didn't LIKE hobnailed liver and harvard beets and her response was "I cook what I like. You want something YOU like? Learn to cook it."

    She had a 1950s "Joy of Cooking" (she was a Home Ec major, Cornell, 1951) and I putzed my way through it until I could make a bunch of basic pasta dishes, homemade burgers, you basic Fifties-style boiled carrots/peas.green beans…and then I got bored and started looking for alternatives.

    Today I do most of the cooking.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Me, I can sweat copper pipe and conjugate Greek -μι verbs. On a good day, I can conjugate the verbs while I sweat the pipe.

    'Hands to work and hearts to God', as the Shakers up the road used to say.

  • I work in a place that has a really awful cafeteria; overpriced and really awful quality–you can pay $10 from a basic green salad from the salad bar, $8 for a sub (cheap bread, cold cuts), $6 for french fries, pizza, or some kind of pasta dish.

    I bring in my lunch every day. I started it for health reasons and quickly saw the cost savings, as well. I don't make anything fancy, but everything I make is something I had to teach myself to make. It's not hard–there's nothing magic about basic cooking–but everyone has to learn how. Whether they learn it at home or in school or on their own, it still has to be learned. Like anything else, once someone has a basic repertoire down, it gets easier to improvise (e.g. What if I make tacos with shredded chicken instead of beef? Will I like it?)

  • As noted on the board here, food options and knowledge are sadly limited in the public sphere. What to eat, what to eat? What's available? It's a wasteland of factory food tainted from start to finish, even organic. You think Amy's whatever is saintly? Har!
    Spent some time teaching culinary arts to a handful of select students from a local alternative school. It was food for life and basic cooking techniques coupled with intuitive philosophy, or call it common sense. No one went into the profession, except one student who became my sous chef/right hand man, when still gigging caterings and restaurants. (Wouldn't cook for the public now, nor for money in general since cooking for those who could afford the service are not my people.) My former assistant does metal work now, while still feeding his family. I hope other former students employ their culinary skills similarly.
    When living in a relatively remote tropical surf spot I learned there was a 30 to 40 something demographic who knew jack about cooking. I was dumbfounded.
    Whaddya gonna do when the well runs dry and you get old and resources are scarce? Ain't no 911 for that. Get your game on and learn the basics if you have the luxury, including knowing where your food comes from. But that, alas, isn't anything that's gonna happen in the public school system in this culture in these times, no matter how vital.
    Wow, my longest comment ever and I've just been skimming.
    Hey, thanks for the post, Ed. Basic Ingredients, indeed.

  • @katydid Ah…salads. I SO miss salads. (The Chinese don't eat raw vegs, so don't have any good lettuces.) For a while after I get back I am gonna be one of those stock photos of a woman having an orgasm eating a salad (though not as young and pretty.)

  • One thing more about China and food..I have to give credit for this; pretty much every job comes with 3 cafeteria meals a day either for free or really really cheap. (At my school, for example, the breakfast buffet costs 16cents and lunch and dinner are both about a buck each.) This is in addition to all the cheap eateries everywhere.

    And of course there's always ramen.

  • Camembert says:

    There's another question here — why do white kids' parents so routinely hate them that they don't teach them basic life skills?

  • Jacquilynne says:

    My high school had mandatory cooking, sewing, woodwork and metalwork classes for all 8th graders. It would have been better if they'd subbed auto shop for metalwork (who the hell has a drill press at home such that they need to know how to use one?) but it was useful as it was.

    We also took a mandatory life skills class in the 10th grade that taught things like how credit cards work, how to balance your chequebook (I'm old), basic computer skills, how to read a balance sheet, basic information about the legal system, how to write a resume and cover letter and not make an ass of yourself in a job interview, etc.

    They remain some of the most useful classes I have ever taken, and I have a couple of university degrees.

  • @Jacquilynne; I remember learning how to write out a check (practice, not real!!!) in cursive in the second grade as a way to practice penmenship, and again in basic 7th grade math class, where it was part of a life-skill unit that included the notion of balancing a checkbook–a skill we were going to need in adult life. In high school we also got basic law, but all I remember about that was how to define a tort–nothing the average citizen might deal with as an adult. I wish we'd had "how to interview for a job". I was a computer nerd and I fought hard to get into the BASIC and COBOL classes the school taught–girls weren't supposed to take them.

    My own kids had no time for any of that in school because they had to practice endlessly in how to fill out bubbles in pencil for the No Child Left Untested farce at their schools.

  • What are parents teaching the kids? Wow, is that a hard question to answer. I'm sure there are whole books written on the topic. The short answer is that even parents who are motivated to teach life skills and have everything they need to do it have to compete with the school system that favors sending home hours of homework because they have no time to actually teach, with a sportzball culture that demands 3-year-olds spend 10 hours a week in t-ball on the off-chance they might want to play baseball when they're 7 (which requires hudreds of hours travelling), music/dance lessons because for sure the kids aren't getting it in school (and this is nothing new; I didn't get any of this in elemenary or high school and I'm an old), with videogames and smartphones and friends and–when they get older–dates.

    And that's if the parents are equipped to teach–most of Gen X never learned this stuff either–and who aren't themselves lost in their phones for most of the day. Or have a 3-hour commute to a crappy job. Or aren't working a tapestry of gigs just to keep a roof over everyone's heads.

  • @April; how do you find Chinese cooking in China? In the USA, it's mostly Americanized, super-sweet stuff that's best taken in small doses. I've seen a few cooking shows that stress the freshness of the ingredients and the variety of the meals…but then again, a lot of strains of flu begin in China because of the miserable way the chickens and ducks are raised. What's been your experience?

  • @Katydid Pretty much every "Chinese" food we eat in the west is either Americanized or completely made up (Chop suey, anyone?) except perhaps for fried rice, which tastes exactly the same wherever you go. (I ate FR at THE place that supposedly invented it and is "world famous" for it…tasted like fried rice. Go figure.) Having said that, American Chinese food is delicious (IIRC…been a while).

    Over here, you have to split the food into two categories…that which people cook, eat and get served at general restaurants, and that which is served at the finest establishments at a high price for very special people. For the purposes of this answer, I'm only going to address the former.

    Most of the food sucks.

    Meat is used in smallish doses, which would be fine except for the fact that they consider the fat, tendons, gristle and bone as "meat". Have you ever actually LOOKED at a chicken foot? THERE'S NOTHING TO EAT THERE! Likewise pork dishes are mostly fat with small pieces of meat. Chicken meat is very dry. I've cooked fresh chicken a million ways over the years here and it still tastes like cotton. And many of the fish they eat are those absolutely filled with tiny bones. Eat carefully, my friends.

    Yes, they eat a lot of vegs, but they are all fried in lots of oil with the same flavors. The only difference is how many peppers are used. Garlic, ginger, various peppers and cilantro are they only herbs and spices. It gets old.

    Dumplings are good. They have this fried bread thingy that is tasty. Muslim barbecue meat skewers are delicious. And northern China cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Russia has some hearty beef and potato dishes that will keep you warm and comfy through the winter. If you live near a northern coast the shellfish is plentiful and fresh and good, except for some reason the crabs, which they will not allow to grow bigger than a hand. There is no significant meat on a crab the size of a hand, but that goes back to their love of meat-less bones.

    The breads are too sweet, the cakes are wrong sweet (can't explain, just…they taste wrong), a lot of Chinese vegs are pretty tasteless – like tofu, they just absorb the flavors of the sauce. (Think zucchini)

    But it's all cheap as hell, so if you can cook (circling back to the original essay) you can eat well.

  • I've made soup with chicken feet in it! You have to have a lot of them and let them sit in the crockpot for, oh, about a day, and yes, there's not a lot of meat…I use them for the collagen. And because I buy my chickens from a farmer who saves me all the feet I want for free. I realize this is a privilege.

    My understanding is that for most of China for most of history, meat has been a luxury item. If you're feeding twelve people with one, 3-pound chicken, nobody's getting a whole lot.

    Circling back to the point of Ed's lastest post, in the USA we've gotten away from home cooking for a number of reasons including cooking being seen as demeaning work because (generally speaking) it's been women doing it.

    Another reason cooking is a foreign art is that some of the basic supplies that have to be kept on hand are highly perishable. I love to cook and have the resources to keep a basic pantry…and I have a head of lettuce (NOT ROMAINE!!!) that's spent the week slowly disintegrating in my refrigerator. This isn't a problem with frozen food, highly-processed food, takeout food, or pricey we-send-you-the-ingredients-you-do-the-work plans.

    Another issue is the notion that we're "too busy". People who spend 10 hours a day on social media will say with a straight face that they simply don't have time to shape a patty out of a hunk of ground beef, or scoop a cup of frozen veggies out of a bag and pop them in the microwave.

  • I'm not necessarily bemoaning the lack of meat in the dishes….I do understand the starvation complex that has been handed down. I'm complaining about the PIECES of meat they use; stuff we use for stock or dog treats is "meat" to them. Beef (when you can get it) and pork is all cut in such a way that every piece has a lot of fat/tendons/gristle/bone and very little muscle. I suspect that most of the muscle of meat is either exported or sold to the very rich. What beef you can get – easier in the north, hard to find here in the south – is tough as nails and only good for stew.

    I buy Australian beef from Costco-like stores called Metro.

  • So…due to brain injury, my boy didn't want to load up his freshman year. He honestly took "Intro to Culinary Arts", thinking he'd get to eat, and learning basic cooking (not DAD's WAY) might impress the girls. But it was really that he wasn't prepared to take "tougher" courses.

    I believe it's his favorite class. He will request items to be added to the grocery list, so he can 'try something' the following weekend.
    And honestly, how much more useful will this be, for him, than the more intense courses?

  • I feel I'm lucky in that both of my parents are really good cooks. Even though they were both working, one of them still managed to bang out dinner every night. It bums me out how much of a picky asshole I was when i was a kid.

    His Gen-X'er 3rd wife has no fucking clue what she's doing in the kitchen, so all the cooking falls on him though.

    On the subject of East Asian cuisine, Korean food is my absolute favorite. It's amazing the variety of dishes you can make using like 4-5 of the same ingredients in every one.

  • Sorry, April, I wasn't ignoring your comments on the quality of the meat, my thoughts were just going in another direction.

    @Ben, I really like Korean food, too. And yeah, Gen X really got screwed over in the cooking department; our mothers were either working and not in the mood to cook and less in the mood to teach cooking, or not working but still not in the mood to cook or teach cooking because hey, they can order a pizza to come right to the house. If we were offered cooking lessons in school, it was more of the "make appalling hors d'oeurves that nobody wants to impress your husband's boss at the next cocktail party you throw", which ignores the fact that most of us became adults in a world where every adult needed to work just to keep a roof overhead and none of us got time for planning elaborate parties with crappy hors d'oeurves.

    @Hazy Davy; learning to cook will be a great skill for your son to have because everyone needs to eat, and being able to look in the refrigerator and assemble a meal out of what you find there is a useful skill.

  • Such a funny coincidence—my master's advisor (who I think may have overlapped with Ed at one school or other, but I'd have to look it up) turned to me once during office hours, breaking from our at least medium-serious academic discussion, to give me some basic but valuable cooking advice. I reproduce it in full below (my paraphrase):

    1. Get the New Basics cookbook.
    2. Commit three recipes to memory:
    2a. one actually good recipe that will impress a date
    2b. something you can make at the end of the day in 5 minutes
    2c. one thing you can make in huge quantities on Sunday and have as leftovers all week

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Taught myself to cook at some point in my 20's when I got tired of eating frozen meals. Had a few disasters, including a potentially catastrophic grease fire.

    Same deal here, including the grease fire. Let a skillet get too hot (easy to do on an electric range) and when I poured in the oil, it burst into flames. I carried the flaming skillet out to the balcony and poured it out into the snow below. (Pro tip: THAT'S NOT RECOMMENDED. Instead, slide the skillet away from the burner and smother the flames with a pot lid.) A few years after I moved out, I saw on the news that that apartment house burned down in a fire that started exactly the same way.

    But as the cliche goes, if you can read, you can cook.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    SNAP is, after all, a program of the Department of Agriculture. Poor people catch the shit for that, but if it was really about poor people, it would be a different department.

    You have IMO put your finger on a central contradiction in the Department of Agriculture's mission. On one hand, they're responsible for the nation's nutrition; on the other, they represent farmers.

    Seems reasonable, until you think about it.

    Advocating for farmers means encouraging the consumption of two basic agricultural commodities that have to get subsidized because American farmers produce more of them than the market can support: corn and dairy.

    Subsidizing corn means encouraging consumption of pork, chicken and beef (which all come from animals fed largely or solely with corn), as well as high-fructose corn syrup. Subsidizing dairy means pushing not only milk, but everything that's made from it, especially cheese.

    That's why abominations like pizza crust stuffed with cheese along the rim were developed in USDA labs. It's why those inane USDA "food pyramids" showed absurdities like strips of bacon alongside a whole chicken, as if they were both equally good for you.

    The USDA is there to help farmers. Fine. But the interests of farmers (or, let's be real, big agribusiness) does not align, except very briefly by accident, with the interests of consumers who aspire to healthy eating. USDA should hand off the consumer-nutrition part of its mandate to some other entity like the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Building on Bitter Scribe's information, I want to share that the USDA also manages school meals. My kids' elementary, back in the day, offered school breakfasts that met their full day's requirement for mini powdered donuts. I swear I am not making that up; they served toaster pastries and powdered donuts at breakfast. I never let my kids buy breakfast; I was *not* the cool mom. Additionally, school lunch back in the day was often so dreadful that on taco day, my oldest ate just the lettuce and threw away the rest as inedible.

    Michelle Obama had some things to say about school meals and healthy eating and the Republicans howled for her head for suggesting such heresy! Let the kids eat their powdered donuts for breakfast!

  • I've cooked most meals in most of the four live-in relationships I've been in.

    Once, when I was just starting supper, the woman I was living with walked up to me and put her hand on my shoulder to see what I was making and said, "Wow, you're wound up tight.". I told her it had been a shitty day at work. She suggested I sit down and have a drink and let her do dinner. I told her that cooking would help to decompress. 15 minutes later dinner was done and when she gave me a hug after I sat down, she said, "Wow, the tensions all gone!". I knew whereof I spoke.

  • Interesting read… I cooked dinner, sat down at the computer, opened up G&T to see what's new… to find we're discussing our respective dinners.

    There's a lot of strong opinions over what constitutes healthy food and healthy eating these days. (I don't have strong opinions myself, but my stomach and doctors do!)

    Anyway, to address Ed's ending thought: given that the typical American grocery store fare is mostly a slow-poison buffet imposed by the food processing corporate interests, just what should we teach in school if we could? As other posters have pointed out, the attempt to introduce vegetables into school meals has already been shot down by the cheeseburger crowd. Do we tell students in home economics to "cook as we teach you, and not as we serve you at lunch" ?!

  • @bitter scribe Speaking of dairy, that's another category of food (along with raw vegs) Chinese don't eat (or don't eat much of. There is a push to get them – or at least their kids – to eat more and you now see more milk, yogurt and very bland moz-type cheese. Wanna laugh your ass off? Give a Chinese person a bite of a chedder….the screwed-up "ohmygodareyoutryingtopoisonme?" look as they spit it out is butt-gusting funny!)

  • (Before I get yelled at, yes they can get the same reaction from me with 1000 year-old (read – pickled, rotten) eggs.)

  • @jcastarz; over the years, I've fostered dozens of cats and dogs for a local rescue, and along the way it became obvious to me that different bodies need different things. The same thing applies to humans. Within reason, of course. Nobody does well in the long run on an all-Twinkie diet, for example. However, millions of people in the world are happily vegetarians and/or vegans and it works for them. Others can't handle the carb load of the vegetarian diet–even healthy carbs. Most of the world is lactose-intolerant after childhood, but there's a faction that loves and thrives on dairy. Some people avoid entire classes of food for religious reasons. Then there's the cultural food aversions that make no sense–for example, some Northern Europeans still believe cucumbers are poisonous.

    @April; what is cheese but rotted, fermented dairy? :-) What is yogurt but spoiled milk? I say this as someone who consumes a lot of both.

    There's a whole, growing field of "functional nutrition", which is based on the idea that people are individuals and their individual needs vary. How in the world could any school teach all that? Peanuts are deadly for some, fine for others. Gluten destroys the intestines of some but is fine for others.

    On the other hand, there are what Cookie Monster from Sesame Street calls "sometimes foods" that we can all agree aren't healthy for anyone, but most people enjoy eating anyway. Processed foods and snacks, high-sugar foods, etc. should be eaten sparingly and other foods eaten more frequently–fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy.

    Then we open up the can of worms on healthy foods–is organic better than conventional? Heirloom better than commercial? Pastured meat is always better than commercially-farmed meat…but what can people afford? Is a commercially-farmed chicken breast beter than a bag of corn chips?

  • Pretty sure this is a college educated white kids thing. I live in New Orleans, in the Lower 9th Ward. All our neighbors are black. The kids cook. The parents cook. Uncle David across the street is a line cook at Arnaeux's in the French Quarter, and one of the neighborhood kids just started his first job on the cold apps line. Nobody, of any age, doesn't know how to cook here.

  • @Katydid.

    " Is a commercially-farmed chicken breast beter than a bag of corn chips?"

    Tell you what, boo. For the next two weeks, I'll eat a "commercially farmed chicken breast" as my main course, and you eat a bag of corn chips for yours.

  • Oh, crap, I really did type "beter" instead of "better". Crap.

    Also, I have family in New Orleans and let me tell you, not a one of them cooks. Why? Because that's the home of the food trucks–they come to you. When you can get world-class food outside your door, why cook? Why buy food? So I guess you're not as smart as you thought you were, John.

  • Nutrition tip; people with celiac and other gluten-intolerant genetic conditions can't tolerate commercially-raised chickens because they're fed a high-gluten diet. So they'd be far worse off eating a commercial chicken breast than a bag of corn chips made without wheat.

  • @John Doheny I think you called it.

    Before both TeensFromOhio graduated high school, they knew kitchen basics, no way were we letting them out into this vertically fornicated world without knowing how to shop, how to store and prep, how to cook. Older TFO just finished nine months at a local bakery-breakfast place as line cook, and she's got the chops now. Younger TFO can crank out a mean Dutch Baby as well as a casserole. Both have moderate grill skills. Neither learned jack shit about cooking, shopping, or personal nutrition in the No Child Left Unpunished world. Neither will starve, though they may occasionally go hungry.

  • "people with celiac and other gluten-intolerant genetic conditions "

    So, that's like 500 people plus the 10 million who jumped on the no-gluten fad.

    They're so afraid of glutens in San Francisco you could rob a bank with a bagel.

  • @Kaydid,

    "When you can get world-class food outside your door, why cook? "

    Nice work if you can afford it.

    " Because that's the home of the food trucks–they come to you."

    The only "food truck" I've ever seen in the lower 9 is the Taco truck up on Claiborn and Delrey. That and the odd snowball cart.

    My neighborhood is actually classified as a food desert. There is no supermarket, we have to drive down to St. Bernard Parish to the Breaux Mart. Or maybe up across the canal to the "St. Rock Market" in "the Byewater," but none of my neighbors can afford small plate fusion-cajun or gluten free desserts and if they could I doubt they'd be dumb enough to waste money on them.

    Again, my original point was that not knowing how to cook is a white college kid problem. And the idea that a bag of corn chips is the nutritional equivalent of a factory produced chicken breast is absurd.

  • AND NOT JUST COOKING!! Lol, a lot of kids nowadays don't know how to check tire inflation, much less change a flat – or put up a picture on their apartment wall – or fix a balky toilet. It's a money maker for fixit people …

  • As I read the bag of relatively generic tortilla chips I brought home from Safeway earlier today it says the ingredients are corn, salt, and oil. No adrenaline, animal parts, anti-biotics, chemicals, drugs, effluent or hormones. Just corn, salt, and oil. I'll grant corn isn't all that nutritious, though milled and cooked into tortillas or chips is the most efficient delivery of its nutrients, as I'd grant a chicken breast no doubt more overall food value than a chip. But the chip is corn, salt, and oil. A factory chicken breast is adrenaline, animal parts, anti-biotics, chemicals, drugs, and hormones.

    Not to mention considerably more expensive than a bag of chips.

  • One of our nieces is in her 20s, and we've been helping her learn how to cook over the phone and Facetime. It's really funny when she holds up a packet from the market and asks us if it contains chicken breasts or aims her laptop camera at a dish and asks us if we think it's done. She works for a company that provides three meals a day, but she likes being able to cook for herself and her friends.

  • @Ten Bears,

    "Not to mention considerably more expensive than a bag of chips."

    Congratulations, you've solved world hunger! And at pennies on the dollar too. The poor no longer need a main course of meat, just a bag of Tortilla chips and a salad.:-P

  • @Major Kong; I happen to be related to two people with severe gluten allergy. It's not a minor thing to those people directly affected by it.

    @John, clearly you're just a superior troll.

  • Rechecked. Looks like it never got off the ground. Would have deleted this comment if I was able.

  • I’m calling this now, Major Kong is my spirit animal.

    Back when I worked in a cubicle the ladies would remark on my lunches (chicken and rice with a muffin and green beans, usually) that I knew how to cook! My response was that it was basic survival and feeding myself. I guess they were impressed I didn’t eat microwave dinners. I’m nigh 33 and still single, to me it’s just functioning as an adult. The other day I was sweeeping up at a voluteeer food bank and a woman remarked how odd it was to see a man do sweeping…my response was that work was work…

    Lastly, lots of people subsist on grains, oil, and salt.

  • OMG, John, you just need to stop talking, you're just digging yourself in deeper. Of course, everyone you know is a gourmet chef who has to walk 20 miles uphill both ways in a blizzard just to get food.

    Since you're apparently too superior to Google, here you go: https://www.yelp.com › New Orleans, LA › Lower Ninth Ward › Food › Food Trucks

    Also, a salad–with or without chips–is a food much of the world eats every day. Perhaps you're so blinded by your superiority that you've never heard of the countries of India and China, both places with millions of vegetarians. Or parts of South America, where meat is barely eaten. Oh, but wait, that's using facts and not whatever you're pulling from your backside.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    If any school district seriously considers providing Home Ec education, you can bet that some "independent thinking" group, which of course will be financed by junk-food corporations, will run campaigns against:
    "Those broccoli eating, health crazed liberals, who want to curtail the All-American freedom to choose what we eat, even if what we want to eat is shit".

    Heck, they will lobby the Congress, whose Republican majority will pass a Bill, which will be immediately signed into law by the POTUS.

  • @ John Doheny:

    Non-college educated after a few failed attempts. Learned how to cook without doing much of it at home.

    Those who live in the shithole countries (and the shithole counties of this country) live in those places largely because of educated white men who don't have to know how to cook. Poor people have to know how to cook because they don't have money to buy high end produce and animal proteins. And that shit that is sold by the likes of KFC is not much tastier than a bag of chips.

  • This is where I think my Alaskan and Community College education paid off. I had to take Home Ec in middle school/high school where I learned the basics of cooking and sewing. It's served me well. I learned how to balance a check book and understand a mortgage in community college, also a required class.

  • @Katydid,

    "OMG, John, you just need to stop talking, you're just digging yourself in deeper. ."

    I stopped talking two days ago. You're the one who keeps rattling on about this.

    "Of course, everyone you know is a gourmet chef who has to walk 20 miles uphill both ways in a blizzard just to get food."

    That's not what I said. I said pretty much everyone in my neighborhood can cook. My neighborhood. Where I live. Where you DON'T live.

    "Since you're apparently too superior to Google, here you go: https://www.yelp.com › New Orleans, LA › Lower Ninth Ward › Food › Food Trucks"

    Strangely enough, I don't feel the need to google stuff about a neighborhood I actually live in.

    I don't see anything particularly controversial or troll-like in my observances. Ed's original post didn't make any referrences to people of color, or New Orleans. Aside from the fact that this is a renowned food town, Black people just like to cook. This is not speculation on my part, but observation over 45 years of living in black neighborhoods and playing in black bands.

    You have family here? Were they born here? What part of town do they live in? What's their ethnic background? I ask these questions because New Orleans, boasting three major universities, does have a large population of college kids who couldn't cook if you paid them and subsist largely on Ubereats and crappy cafeteria food. We also have some rich white people who employ servants to cook for them, and your relatives who apparently have the money to eat food truck food. But we also have a large population of African Americans (about 70% of the population) who tend to cook for themselves.

  • @Katydid,

    ""Since you're apparently too superior to Google, here you go: https://www.yelp.com › New Orleans, LA › Lower Ninth Ward › Food › Food Trucks""

    You know what they say about white people, right? They love snitching so much, they invented Yelp.:)

    Okay, so I did the google thing, as you suggested (but first ascertaining that there were no food trucks "at my front door" by um…looking out the window.) and saw that the results came up as follows: One food truck actually IN the lower 9th Ward (Taqueria La Coyota , the one I mentioned), and a whole crowd f food trucks NOT in the Lower 9th Ward. Which rather strongly suggests that googling this sort of stuff while apparently knowing nothing about the geography of Orleans Parish doesn't get you much.

    Look, I understand that you have a great deal of knowledge of things like nutrition and world cuisine. I'm not even going to pretend that stuff is in my wheelhouse. But you might want to stop making a fool of yourself here by presenting yourself as the World Google Expert on a neighborhood I actually live in. Can you at least give me credit for that much?

    This is turning into some kind of argument that shouldn't even be happening. My original point was.

    1. Poor people (especially poor black people, who historically ave created culinary marvels with stuff white people regarded as garbage) tend to cook at home, because it's cheaper).

    2. Not everybody has the money to patronize food trucks (or restaurants, or college cafeterias), particularly the people I live around, many of whom work two or even three minimum wage jobs, and have neither the time nor the money to buy farm sourced, gluten free foods.

    I don't see that as anymore trollish or provocative than pointing out that the Lower 9th ward does not have a supermarket. I'm pretty sure if it did, I'd have found it by now.

    "who has to walk 20 miles uphill both ways in a blizzard just to get food.""

    New Orleans has neither hills, nor snow. As Eric Garner used to say, "Google that shit." :)

  • "It seems uncontroversial enough, but I'm sure there's something I'm missing that would turn this into a pitched battle in the culture wars."

    I think, Ed, that you may have opened a second front, here, all unintentional, like.

  • At this year's Moscow International Film Festival, Wolf Totem, a ChinaFrance coproduction, will be the opening film."We've come to Parliament to demand that it stops until there is acceptable legislation in place to make sure that people and their environment are protected over private profiteering," she said.To make Chinese films more competitive, Zinyakova suggests Chinese producers do more promotion in the Russian market, like inviting stars to meet w

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