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 crafts that I no longer use.
How ironic: That’s about the same number of hours a week I spend in the kitchen now.
Bourdain says “there is no reason in the world” we can’t teach all these youngsters knife basics and beef bourguignon, but I think his head must be cloudy from the drinks, jet lag and royalty checks.
But at least we know he’s cleared the gender hurdle like an all-star track athlete.