Is Cooking a Special Talent?

The internet is all abuzz (and atwitter) with Miss Utah’s gaffe at the Miss USA pageant last night. But what’s buzzworthy to me is that the winner’s special talent this year is…cooking. Not an extreme sport, blindfolded ice-sculpture, or underwater basketweaving. It’s cooking.

Coincidentally, one of the bestsellers this year is Michael Pollan’s “Cooked”. The book makes a lot of points, but the big one sparking conversation and controversy is cooking being a lost art form in the American household.

It would seem the universe, or at least, America’s universe is trying to tell us something: Cooking is a special talent.

This affirms some of my worst fears. I really think America is in trouble if cooking is a special, which hints it is rare, talent.  My life’s experiences reflect the development of this troubling trend over the course of 30+ years. ‘Growing up in the 1970s-1980s, I was hard-pressed to find fellow “food-preparation aficionados” in my generation. My high school Home Economics class was a glorified study hall and a joke. [Jam and canned biscuits as coffeecake.]

Looking back, this was a major disservice to my generation. So many of my peers were at a ‘domestic skills disadvantage’ already. They were latchkey children going home to an empty single-parent house, snack foods, and a television set. Their hardworking mom (usually she had custody) didn’t cook, was too exhausted to cook, didn’t like to cook, or any and all of the above. Some I suspect had personal conflicts with cooking, or not wanting to be their WWII-generation mother. Meanwhile in the grocery aisle, corporate food giants introduced foods prepared in the microwave, boiled in a bag, or eaten straight from the package. On top of boxed cereals and just add water products that already existed.

In the ideal world, high schools should have seen this trend coming and prepared for it. They should have “stepped up their game” and enhanced home economics programs to make up for what most likely, wasn’t being taught at home. Instead, they dropped the ball–they watered their programs down, or got rid of them entirely. It’s possible that it was getting harder and harder to find knowledgeable and skilled teachers for these classes, schools started providing breakfast, and after-school programs for younger latchkey children.

My generation is in it’s 30s-50s now. I would like to think we could learn from the 1970s-1990s typical childhood experience, and provide a better alternative for today’s kids and the generations that follow so they are primed and ready for common responsibilities of adulthood.

I’d like to live in a country where cooking is regarded as a must-have, basic life skill. A life skill that is taught in a revamped home economics program. I think Cooking Light’s Hillare Dowdle would agree with me on this.

I’d like to emphasize that it would be a life skill with no gender, racial, ethnic, religious or political angles attached. It is more necessary than knowing how to drive. You have a responsibility to feed yourself even if you are responsible for no one else; if you are called upon to provide for others–family, community, etc. having that skill is one more way to be of service to other people.

Yes, some folks will really shine and have a special talent for cooking, Miss USA 2013 included. This doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t know the basics. Talents and professionals exist in banking and finance, driving, car repair, plumbing—does this let everyone else off the hook for managing our day to day lives? I think not.

‘So why is cooking any different?

Something as necessary and basic to everyone’s quality of life–food and nutrition–shouldn’t be a special talent. And it if it is becoming one, our country’s future is in serious trouble.

I think we know better, and consequently, we can do so much better.