Home economics, which was a fixture in secondary schools throughout the 1950s and 1960s, has all but vanished today, but there is a steady rallying cry from pediatricians, nutrition educators, and food justice activists to bring it back. Helen Zoe Veit, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State, recently wrote an impassioned Op-Ed in the New York Times in which she championed home ec and asked, “What if the government put the tools of obesity prevention in the hands of children themselves, by teaching them how to cook?” In a May 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Alice Lichtenstein, DSc and David S. Ludwig, MD argued that any long-term solution to the pediatric obesity epidemic will need to include a re-introduction of home economics in public high schools—"a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st century."
A new class called FoodFight, which I wrote about in the New York Times yesterday, aims to be just that. Founded by two former public school teachers, FoodFight has a lofty goal: to change the way teenagers think about food. The class, which is currently being taught at 15 public high schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, combines media literacy, food politics, nutrition education, and cooking.
Students taking a FoodFight class learn how to deconstruct advertisements, critically inspect food labels, and shop for and prepare nutritious meals like vegetable stir-fry with brown rice. But that’s not all: they read about the political and economic forces that have shaped the food system, making fast food artificially cheap. They enact a mock senate hearing about the soda tax, watch documentaries like Food, Inc., and Super Size Me, and some even get to go on field trips to urban farms, food co-ops, and a 400-acre farm upstate. The students in Ms. Sarah Katz's class at the Essex Academy have started tending a rooftop vegetable garden.