Is It Time to Revive Home Economics Classes?

February 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

In a previous post, “Two Web Sites Sharing Big, Bold, Innovative Ideas,” I discussed TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.  As I type this, the TED2010 Conference is taking place in California where it has been announced that chef Jamie Oliver is this year’s TEDPrize Winner.  As the winner, he receives $100,000 and gets to make “One Wish to Change the World,” which the TED community then works together to support and help make come true.  Jamie Oliver’s wish: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”  TED has already posted the video of Jamie Oliver’s compelling talk in which he “makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food.”  Watch it.

This is serious business.  The TEDPrize is awarded to an “exceptional individual” who stands out among hundreds of other exceptional individuals and who has a wish that’s “big enough to change the world.”  That this year’s prize has gone to an individual who is passionately fighting to bring our attention to what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our children, and who is taking concrete action to change our habits, well it says something.  It says we’ve got a problem, and if we don’t do something about it, soon, it will only get much worse.  We have an obesity rate and incidence of diabetes at historical highs, both of which have far-reaching consequences.  As Jamie Oliver explains in his TED talk: today’s children are destined to have a shorter life span than their parents; the majority of the people in this country will die of diet-related diseases; and the costs of these diseases amount to 10% of America’s annual health care bill ($150 billion), a number which is set to double in ten years.  And it’s not just America.  Jamie Oliver’s food crusade began in England and he acknowledges that many other countries are not far behind.  Cleverly, he suggests that if America takes the lead to address the problem, these other countries will follow.

Let me start by saying that I am most certainly not the world’s greatest cook.  My  brother is a better cook than me (of which I am both proud and mildly embarrassed).  I cook a few things well.  And I cook slowly, much to the chagrin of one ex-boyfriend.  But when I do cook, I enjoy it (you can’t eat out or take in every night).  I love food.  I love good food.  I’ve gotta cook.

I grew up in a house where cooking was a daily activity, with the exception of Friday, which was “pizza night,” and Monday, which was “stew night.”  I  still do not consider stew “cooking” or edible, but that’s my issue.  Sunday’s roast, however, well that was another story … I loved that.

It never dawned on me that people, a large number of people, simply do not know how to do it.  Do not know how to scramble an egg or cook some pasta and top it with some tomato sauce (even out of a jar) or broil a pork chop and steam some carrots.  This is in no way meant as a criticism.  I find it confounding because to me cooking is a basic life skill that every adult would naturally possess, like knowing how to swim.  How could you not?

And that is the question … how can one survive and not know how to cook?  Of course the answer is that it’s all too easy in a world full of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s should be the exception not the rule) and prepared food (if you don’t recognize the ingredients, as Michael Pollan says, it’s probably not food).

What I’ve not known how to cook, I know my mother does, or my friend Mary.  So I pick up the telephone in some emergency state or another (my sauce isn’t thickening or my pie crust is crumbling, what do I do?) and get an answer.  Today, the Internet is almost as good – do you know how many recipes are out there, for free?  What I find hard to grasp is not knowing to even ask the question.  For all of the information that’s available, the message doesn’t seem to have gotten through.

Almost as important as the food we eat is manner in which we eat it.  I believe something is lacking in our culture in which food has become cheap, fast, disposable.  The sensual nature of food, the rituals created around the preparation and eating of food, are disappearing.  I find that to be a sad thing.

So here’s something radical.  Maybe it’s time to bring back the old high school course, Home Economics, and not just for teenage girls … guys need to eat too.  When I attended high school, it was deemed an easy course – one to take to balance the rigors of Algebra and History – but that was because so many of us already knew how to boil and mash the potatoes, cook the broccoli, and bake chocolate chip cookies “from scratch,” not to mention sew a straight seam on a sewing machine and crochet a hat or two.  You could get through the class “with your eyes closed.”  And not only bring it back, but change the perception of it to something of real value.  Teach the basics of nutrition (the fruit and vegetable aisle is a good thing, you’ll like it) and how to read food labels (any bad stuff in the top four, put it back on the shelf).  Teach the pleasure of cooking and eating real food.  Make it mandatory.  That would do it.  It wouldn’t solve all of our problems when it comes to food and weight, but it would be a start.  As Jamie Oliver said towards the end of his talk:

Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single American child  leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives … life skills.

Eat well.

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A Sad Day is Dawning in Laredo, Texas

December 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

On January 16, 2010 the B. Dalton Bookstore in Laredo, Texas will close.  This item would not be noteworthy if it weren’t for the fact that the B. Dalton Bookstore is the only bookstore in Laredo, Texas, and the closest city with a bookstore is San Antonio which is 150 miles away.  This is a city of almost a quarter of a million people and a high rate of illiteracy.

Not surprisingly, the residents of Laredo are upset.  An outing to the bookstore is entertainment, it’s an event, especially for kids.  According to the Associated Press article, “Schoolchildren even wrote letters to the parent company, Barnes & Noble, begging for the store to stay open.”

What’s incredibly frustrating is that it’s not an issue of money – the B. Dalton location is turning a profit – but simply a planned closure of one of 50 remaining B. Dalton stores owned by B&N.  The company has plans to open a new large-format Barnes & Noble location, but that is at least 18 months away, making January 17 one sad day in Laredo.

I can’t imagine life without a bookstore … can you?

Where is the Respect?

October 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

I was giving in to one of my guilty pleasures: reading the headlines and my horoscope, and then checking out the celebrity photos on the New York Post. I do it almost daily.  Intellectual stimulation?  No.  But loads of fun…

Until today.  Which is why this is a “Rant” and not a “Guilty Pleasure.”  I write this rant with mixed emotions.  Part of me wants to call out the New York Post for publishing a reprehensible photo spread  and part of me is loathe to draw attention to it.  The former has won out.

I came across the group of Featured Photos titled,  “Ladies who don’t measure up to their leading men.”  The caption read: “We have to hand it to these sizzling silver-screen studs. A minority in Hollywood, these leading men opted for inner-beauty when choosing their life partners.”   Nine actors are pictured with their wives/partners.  (I’ve not linked to it here.)

Wow … my initial reaction was where is the spread, “Men who don’t measure up to their leading women?”  Then, common sense got the better of me.  Have we not moved beyond this conversation?  And who do the editors at the Post think they are to say who’s beautiful and who’s not?  Really.  Do these women, and their partners, not deserve more respect?  I think so.

Pull it.

End of rant.

Afghanistan’s New Menace & It Comes from Inside

October 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

This will be a short rant.  I will let the article that is the cause speak for itself.

I read it today on The Daily Beast.  The article, titled “Thugs Plague Women Entrepreneurs” was written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a journalist and researcher who has been reporting on the social and economic impact of women entrepreneurs starting businesses in post-conflict countries like Afghanistan.

It seems that Afghan women, after surviving the war and often the loss of their spouse and other male family members, in trying to provide for their families by starting small businesses, and becoming successful doing so, have subsequently become targets for kidnapping and extortion:

“Targeted by criminal gangs seeking to profit from their success—sometimes with the help of jealous neighbors—these entrepreneurs now find their safety at increasing risk in a poor and battered country. Afghanistan’s growth depends on the economic contributions of business owners like themselves.”

Disbelief, anger, and sadness.   These are the words I came up with.

Then the question, how on earth do you go about changing it?

End of rant.

When Did Free Become the New Black?

October 1, 2009 § 1 Comment

So this is my first “Rant” (well, not technically my first rant, but my first online rant) .  It has been on my mind for quite some time, roaming around in my head, coming out in an impassioned conversation every now and then (like two nights ago with some friends), and then yesterday – with the discovery of a video clip posted on The Daily Beast, in which Katie Couric asks Barry Diller and Tina Brown about the likelihood of consumers paying for online content (in this case news)  and I knew it’s time had come.

When did we come to believe that we are entitled to things for free?  By “things” I mean: online music, news, and books.  Creative content available on the Internet.  It started with music.  Then moved to news.  And is trying to take over books.

To set the record straight – I pay for songs, read The New York Times and several other online papers for free, and I buy my  books (and no, I am not an “early adopter”, so my books are in print … I am sure whenever I do buy my  first Kindle or Sony Reader, I’ll wonder why I didn’t do it years earlier).

To also make things clear, I love a sale, will save a buck when I can, and prefer not to pay list price if I can help it.  But I pay.  And when I do get that Kindle, I will purchase the books to download, and when The New York Times online begins to charge a monthly subscription fee, I’ll pay that as well.

Why?  Because people need to be paid  for the work they do.  Someone needs to fund the guy or gal brave enough to sneak in Darfur to get the real story or crazy enough to be stationed with troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I love music and am in awe of talented musicians and singers.  They deserve to make a living.  And I want to continue to listen to new artists who come on the scene.  If it was me, I’d want to get paid for my songs.  And writers, well that one hits a bit close to home.  I have a novel in progress and I really hope to sell it one day and,yes, make some money.  But even if I didn’t “put the pen to the page” (or fingers to my keyboard), I am a voracious reader and a sucker for a well-written story.  Writers, too, deserve to make a living.  The same reasoning applies to movie studios that go biserk over pirated DVDs in China.  They need to make money in order to make movies.

If, as a society, we want to have an appreciation for the arts and to continue to encourage artists of all sorts to hone their craft and provide us with entertainment, or in the case of online newspapers, in-depth, informative reporting, we have to be willing to pay something.

I fear what  it says about us if we don’t.

End of rant.

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