What if food prep becomes the top tech skill we can’t live without? Sound crazy? Bear with me…

By Laura Bergells on
food prep is STEM education

What if we started learning food prep and cooking in elementary school? And I’m not thinking about food prep as an elective course or two. No, my vision is much bolder:

Learning to cook needs to be mandatory. Food prep needs to be integrated into every class you take in school. You must demonstrate ongoing cooking competence to pass classes and graduate.

Think about it. What might change if food preparation was used as the foundation for every STEM course you take in school? How might it change society and the economy?

For example, imagine if the only STEM education we received in school was food preparation. As you learn to cook, you more deeply learn every STEM subject.

Science. Nutrition, health, chemistry, experimental design, and anatomy. 

Technology. Knives, ovens, stoves, sous vide machines, freezers, and refrigerators. 

Engineering. Spacial relations, temperature, land use, processing, and packaging. 

Math. Calculating and charting: temperature and time and portions and servings. 

Gee whiz. A student can learn almost every topic by learning through food and cooking. It’s a solid STEM education, and then some.

Food is social and cultural. It’s finance and budgeting. It’s art and history and drama and presentation and…

…well, food is actually integrated into everything. It is literally fundamental for human survival. It’s the basis for a wide range of metaphors.

So why isn’t cooking used as a foundation for teaching every STEM subject we learn in school? How is it that you can graduate high school without demonstrating you know how to prepare, serve, and fund a month’s worth of nutritional, well-balanced meals? 

Honestly? I suspect one reason food prep isn’t considered worthy for a complete STEM curriculum is because cooking is traditionally viewed as “women’s work” and thus “not science-y or math-y or tech-y or manly enough”.

Maybe someone is thinking, “No, wait, how dare you? I need my STEM to be wrapped up in more important concepts than lowly food prep. My boy has an interest in computers and wants to work in the auto industry, so STEM means computer labs and an auto shop. He can pick up nutritional knowledge in the streets or at home.”

But why can’t a boy take what he learned about food prep and apply it to whatever field he wishes to pursue? Isn’t taking knowledge from one field and applying it to another a key creative and critical thinking skill?

Critical thinking. Creative thinking. You need both of these skills to write decent code.

And before you code one single line? You need to learn to think. And you need to eat. 

Computer programmer, car mechanic, art historian, athlete, teacher, writer — whatever. Every field involves food and nutrition. Because everybody’s gotta eat. It’s timeless.

While students pursue their career fields, they need the wherewithal to keep themselves healthy and financially solvent. Instead of touching a computer screen all day, they can learn to navigate the real world with the tactile sensation of handling food. 

Fingers sliding over glass is not the interface of the future. You need to know how objects interact with each other in a physical world. (That way, you’ll also know to look up from your phone so you don’t get hit by a car. And feel less lonely.)

“But…but…technology. It means computers…coding…”

What if we kill that concept? What if the tech skills you learn in school today aren’t the tech skills you need in the future? (Hint: they won’t be.)

We’ve been picking up our nutrition in the streets. It hasn’t been working out so well. So let’s flip it around.

Learn to cook in school.

Learn to code in the streets.

Teach people to cook, and you’re teaching them to think. You’re giving them a useful skill and a shared language. You’re giving them metaphors along with nutrition. You’re also exposing students to a broad range of educational and cultural topics.

Who’s with me? Let’s all get fired up about learning to cook!

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Laura Bergells writes, coaches, and teaches. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.  You can also find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

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