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.

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May I Have Your Attention Please? The Importance of Magnesium

So I was reading an article the other day about a new supplement coming out. Aimed at ages 5-14, it is designed to address magnesium deficiency in young people. According to a study in Europe, children with ADHD are likely to have a magnesium deficiency.

This is a great idea for a supplement. And there’s definitely a need; I can’t tell you how often adults complain or make jokes about “having ADD”, and being unable to focus or concentrate like they used to. This is not meant to make light of the disorder, or the stress, grief and challenges it presents in one’s life as a result. It’s just to say that, if you have ADD, you’re definitely not alone. It seems to be a universal affliction these days, whether an individual is formally diagnosed or not.

Beneficial and well-designed as this supplement is, though, nature beat us to it. Nature’s magnesium supplements include many nuts (Brazil, almonds, cashews), cooked dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard, collards), and beans.

If you have a nut allergy, greens and beans have offer lots of options. If cooked greens taste bitter to you, adding a little lemon or lime juice and some sea salt can help.

If you feel like you have trouble concentrating, it’s worth incorporating more magnesium in your diet and seeing if it makes a difference.

NOTE: As a followup to the above post, there was a book published recently about the importance of magnesium. It is available here.

Food for Thought: Have You Ever Seen Agriculture Television Ads? Do You Remember Them?

There’s this cute meme online that says:

“The key to eating healthy?”

(photo of fresh produce)

“Avoid any food that has a television commercial”. 

I “liked” it because I understood where it was going and it’s a positive message. But I and at least one other person noted that this meme’s claim isn’t totally true.

The other commenter mentioned Dole and BirdsEye, which are major canned and frozen food brands that do advertise and sponsor televised events. You could add Picsweet and Del Monte to that list as well.*

I mentioned state and national agriculture boards also run television ads and have for many years. I know I’ve seen avocado, potato and egg ads before, sponsored by their respective agriculture boards.

The original poster responded that they’d never seen an ad for eggs, avocados or potatoes but they didn’t have cable. Semi-full disclosure–the original poster is part of print media in a Western state that’s very much identified with vegetable and starch produce.

In light of that, this really blew my mind. ‘Not the cable part, I don’t have it either. It’s the not recalling agriculture tv ads from a national or state agriculture group. That would be like me, a native South Carolinian, saying I have never seen peach ads or other marketing for that industry. [We grow more peaches than Georgia, by the way.]  This isn’t just a public health concern, what about the state’s economy?

This whole situation really made me wonder about the effectiveness of agriculture advertising.

I am curious—do any of the following American TV ad references jog your memory? Or any agricultural ads? 

  • Have you heard of the incredible, edible egg? Do you “love eggs from your head down to your legs?
  • Fast forward to today: are potatoes goodness unearthed? And do you prefer Idaho potatoes?
  • How about What goes with the potatoes?What goes with the potatoes?  I can’t find it on the Web, maybe it was intentionally not uploaded by its creators, but I digress. Sometime between 1999-2005, a TV ad featured two young 20somethings, traveling cross country in a minivan, and invading random families’ houses at dinnertime. These energetic, perky young adults were there to show families potatoes are healthy, great for dinner, they’re easy to cook, and here’s what to serve with them.
  • How about those mini-ads at the beginning of PBS cooking shows? Do you watch Latin-themed cooking shows on your PBS affiliate station, sponsored by California Avocados or California Almonds? Or another state’s produce pride and joy?

Feel free to share in the comments any US or state agriculture TV ads you’ve seen, and what year or decade it was.

*=I really didn’t want to start a ‘nerdfight’ in the comments, but canned fruit is often sweetened with sugar or high fructose syrup, and high in preservatives. Canned vegetables are frequently ‘salted’ to death and a soggy mess when you open them up. Then there’s that possible BPA can lining issue. Similarly, frozen foods often have a mystery sauce on them that is full of preservatives as well. Major brands looking out for their profit margin above all else are tempted to use GMO produce and not tell you about it. We live in an age where we all have to read those labels and know where our food comes from, and know our farmers.