Anthony Bourdain, the feminist: Require everyone to take home ec

Anthony Bourdain would have made a great home economics teacher.

Sure, he’s foul-mouthed and probably not a big fan of kids in that awkward middle school stage, but Bourdain makes a passionate case in his new book, “Medium Raw,” which comes out next month, that both men and women should be required to learn how to cook

Bourdain isn’t the spitting image of a feminist — the crusty, salt-and-pepper haired TV star often makes politically incorrect comments and sex/food innuendos both before and after having too many drinks on camera at whatever exotic locale he’s exploring in his show, “No Reservations” — but the former chef-turned-author argues in his new book that women in the 1960s had every right to resist the shackles of domestic obligation, which was often introduced to them in home ec:

Back in the dark ages, young women and girls were automatically segregated off to home-economics classes, where they were indoctrinated with the belief that cooking was one of the essential skill sets for responsible citizenry — or, more to the point, useful housewifery. When they began asking the obvious question — “Why me and not him?” — it signaled the beginning of the end of any institutionalized teaching of cooking skills. Women rejected the idea that they should be designated simply by virtue of their gender, to perform what would be called, in a professional situation, service jobs, and rightly refused to submit.

“Home ec” became the most glaring illustration of everything wrong with the gender politics of the time. Quickly identified as an instrument of subjugation, it became an instant anachronism. Knowing how to cook, or visibly enjoying it, became an embarrassment for an enlightened young woman, a reminder of prior servitude.

Males were hardly leaping to pick up the slack, as cooking had been so wrong-headedly portrayed as “for girls” — or, equally as bad, “for queers.”

Bourdain says it was at this time that we missed a golden opportunity to, instead of just removing home economics classes all together, that we should have forced everyone learn to cook.

Now that cooking is cool, a revolutionary change that he knows he and his Food Network and rockstar-chef brethren played a part in creating, we should spin it so that not knowing how to cook becomes universally uncool. “Maybe it’s the kid in the future who can’t roast a chicken who should be considered the ‘spaz’,” he writes.

I grew up in rural Missouri, where despite the fact that gender equality is just about the last issue on anybody’s mind, students in my middle school who wanted to take shop or home economics were required to take both. I really wanted to play with saws and wood, so I signed up for shop and, out of obligation, took the home ec component. So, just few months after mastering drafting and jig saws, my classmates and I (about half girls and half boys) baked snickerdoodles and sewed aprons.

Home economics and shop were electives, and we certainly didn’t learn to roast chickens, but it’s pretty cool that you couldn’t take one without the other.

However, I suspect that with budget cuts, the school, like most across the country, has eliminated one or both of the classes entirely by now.

Few people reading this blog would disagree with Tony’s pitch that young people of both genders should learn cooking basics, but the bigger, more complex question is who should teach them? Are cooking and nutrition something schools should be required to teach? If we’re going to say that cooking is essential to being a well-rounded adult, aren’t car maintenance, personal finance and fitness also good things to know? Schools can’t even afford to keep band programs going, much less required lifestyle classes, but the athletic programs always seem to be the last ones to feel the pinch.

As a high school athlete during the volleyball and softball seasons, I spent no fewer than 15 hours a week practicing skills that I no longer use.

How ironic: 15 hours is about the same number of hours a week I spend in the kitchen now.


5 responses to “Anthony Bourdain, the feminist: Require everyone to take home ec

  1. I always figured that “shop” was where the boys learned about things like proper procedures for tipping and hailing cabs and stuff that girls just (theoretically) didn’t “need to know”. ;-) Since my niece has taken shop I know better, but I still wonder…

    I never did master “the A-line skirt” in home ec. I stitched that damn zipper in and ripped it out until there was nothing left to attach it to! The baking, however went well. I’m pretty sure I knew as much as the teacher did about making chocolate chip cookies. Mmmm… haven’t thought about that in a while! :-)

  2. Pingback: Anthony Bourdain thinks we are required to take Home EC. -·

  3. Totally agree that everyone should take home ec.! And it should include gardening and lawn/gardening safety (especially involving children- they get mowed over and such) as well.

    Men AND women both! Home education should teach that when and if they have a child, They both should be responsible of the child’s well being – food, shelter, etc. Teach them safety and childrearing (and NOT to shake a baby!)

    men should not be laying on the couch when dishes are dirty because it is a woman’s job. And turn it around saying “she is a bad mom” when he is a bad dad too for not doing anything about it for the child’s sake. It’s just like saying “hey woman, your child outside, get him, I’m too busy watching football” nope, if someone is not doing the job, you got to do it yourself…

    hopefully home education will prepare both men and women to be responsible for themselves and those who are dependent on them.

  4. Pingback: Who Killed Home Ec? Here’s The Real Story Behind Its Demise | Home Learning Tips·

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