Betty Crocker, obesity and education

cooking guy apron

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Julia Child




I offer this post following my nostalgia thought<> as I share some more thoughts on obesity. I did it this way because it links both the dangers of nostalgia and possible solutions <aspects of one> to the world weight issues.


Recently there was a semi-absurd, if not crazy, newspaper article written by a Home Economics teacher <maybe slightly biased I would imagine> suggesting Betty Crocker and the lack of home economics classes in schools were the reason unhealthy eating <and obesity> is plaguing today’s society.



Discussing what was so great about the past … and what is missing in today’s world … is a common discussion among old folk who yearn for the days past.


And seek solutions in the past.

And seek blame in changes from the past.


And it is nuts.

Absolutely nuts.

<ok … maybe just absurd>



It is nostalgia at its worst.




I do believe that some home skills … many of which seem to have been dismissed as fairly worthless for the past few decades … really do matter.


And I do believe that as schools began to focus more and more on ‘meeting test standards’ and ‘technical skills development’ as the path offered in secondary schools <to everyone … including those who didn’t really want to focus on a college path> we began shedding some of the, what I would call, Life living education.


Schooling and curriculum which is maybe ancillary to academics but pretty essential to living.



The young certainly need academics but they also need to know how to buy and prepare healthy food, do laundry, make a budget, balance a checkbook, change a tire, etc. … you get it … just stuff you actually have to do.


And while we so often  bitch & moan about how parents have abdicated portions of their parenting roles to schools … and keep shouting as loud as we can that parents should be teaching this practical stuff to their kids at home … I would like to remind those ‘oh so nostalgic people’ that in the good ole days … home economics and woodworking and typing were not taught in the home .. but in their schools.


cooking home economicsSo.


While I don’t blame Betty Crocker or school curriculum as a cause of obesity … maybe it is time to bring back home economic classes.


Maybe it is time to rethink the value of teaching some basic Life survival skills in schools.



I think it is funny <in a painful way> that we so often bitch about ‘teaching pragmatic skills’ in today’s schools.



What is more pragmatic that making sure you know how to cover the basics in life?


And this seems to become even more important as more and more things exist in a black box that none of us <ok … a very very small group of highly skilled people> will ever understand.


I also think that the decline in home economics curriculum since the mid-20th century has certainly contributed to producing a generation of Americans who can’t set a family budget or boil an egg.


While I may think of “home ec” <as it was called> as old school and dated … I do believe traditional home economics did help prepare students to grow into adulthood as individuals, families, workers and citizens incorporating some Life detail which helped prepare for day-to-day home, social and economic challenges.


While I don’t go as far as this guy Michael Moss … I do believe we have stepped too far away from the basics.

Michael Moss <author of “Sugar, Salt, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us”>:


“Kids in school used to be taught how to shop, how to cook from scratch, how to be in control of their diets. Doesn’t happen anymore … what did happen is we got Betty Crocker, a figment of the imagination of a marketing official at a food company.”



Tipping my hat to Betty Crocker marketing … good ole Betty C. was marketing at its best.




betty crocker cookbookGood ole Betty evokes emotions of the past when the kitchen was revered as a place for family meal development … or for the nostalgia folk … better days gone by.



And at the same time Betty was contemporary:



“… she actually began pushing processed foods, convenience foods, as an alternative to scratch cooking. She … became emblematic of the food industry’s usurpation … of the home economist.

Michael Moss



Betty marketing empowered the microwave to claim the title of kitchen cook.


Unfortunately … at the same time … we became disconnected from the realities of eating and preparing healthy foods … well … actually … healthy and unhealthy.


My point is that ingredients became conceptual intangible things rather than real tangible things.


What was worse was that the intangible life of cooking and components bleeds into our behavior:



–          We are advised to eat more fruits and vegetables, but we eat less than half the recommended amounts on average.



–          We are advised to eat less salt, sugar and fat, but we consume nearly a third of our calories from restaurants <where we eat larger portions which destroys our intentions to eat less of specific ingredients>.



And in the end … we spend less than half the time in food preparation as we did in 1965, but eat significantly more than we did in 1965.



I imagine I am suggesting there is a correlation between an increased reliance on convenience foods instead of home-cooked meals <or a lost understanding of cooking> and an unintended consequence of unhealthier eating.



Is it because of the loss of home economics?

Surely not.

But it is certainly a component in the overall issue.





Our schools have a responsibility to teach kids the essential life skills they need to succeed and survive in a world filled with unhealthy food environments and persuasive food marketing and even adults who suck at making food & eating choices <remember: we want our kids to be better than us>.



I, personally, believe we should not focus solely on reading, writing and math in silos disregarding the overlap with life outside of the school building.


It is not a huge leap to understand that recipes can be used to teach math, food chemical reactions can help students investigate science, and social studies can be an exploration of food cultures from across the world.

Used properly this type of curriculum can prepare kids to function effectively in the world by teaching higher-order skills like critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication <as well as unhealthy versus healthy eating skills>.


And I do agree in order to help us all deal with the obesity issue long term we have to give young people the knowledge and skills they need to live a healthier life.


But, no, it wasn’t Betty Crocker.

Betty wasn’t one of the women took off their aprons and donned business suits over the past quick meals


Two earner households were able to afford bigger houses, more cars, more ‘convenience gadgets’ and all the other things that are associated with ‘success’ <and invariably get intertwined in people’s heads as ‘enablers to success’ because they free up time>.



At the same time more kids were coming home and heading off to fast food <or anything faster than a sit down meal development> for dinner … because parents were just too damn tired from working all day to actually cook.


To be clear.

I have nothing against Betty Crocker … or Aunt Jemima … or Uncle Ben … or even the Quaker Oats quaker.


Safe, shelf stable foods permit rational preplanning of meals and budgets.


And each product you buy in the store has not absolved themselves from cooking responsibility … because anybody that can halfway follow directions can make a palatable meal with the help of the instructions that are always found in the packaging <albeit they really do it to sell more product and ancillary profitable products>.


cook can i

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” Laurie Colwin




As for ‘those evil marketers trying to persuade me to eat bad shit’ or what we may call ‘rampant consumerism’ and what some people complain as ‘insufficiently regulated products’ … well … all those are just crazy.


Ingredients must be disclosed by law on the label.

Calories and vitamin/nutrient information follow a consistent easily understood format right next to the ingredients.

A ‘best by’ date is not legally required yet appears on just about every package of food sold these days. And any health claims <diagnose, treat or cure any disease> are strictly forbidden.




And quantity?



No government regulation or packaging guideline can make you put down the Ritz crackers or Chips-Ahoy and go outside and exercise.


And while we Americans <and many European countries> bitch about ‘packaging dishonesty’ or confusion … if you have ever traveled to some of the poorer parts of the world you truly appreciate the value of knowing what is in whatever it is you are trying to decide to consume rather than guessing and hoping.


I say all that because this suggests the tools to build a healthy eating structure exist … but that maybe we just do not know how to use the tools properly.


We are healthy enlightened but cooking poor.




On the healthy enlightened thing  … oddly … the most misleading labeling and believe yours theirs truthpackaging of foods is found on ‘organic.’


Somehow they have got us to believe that ‘organic’ foods are always somehow better <which they are most typically not> and convince you to actually pay more for them.

<but that is a rant for another day>



In the end.


I imagine all I am thinking and suggesting is ‘well rounded’ or ‘balanced’ <and obesity is not Betty Crocker’s fault>.


Schools build citizens … not test scores.

School builds thoughtfulness not intelligence.


And while it may seem wacky to those who simply want their kids to be Rhodes scholars … life skills curriculum develops perspective.


There will always be some kids who will sit back and say ‘WTF … I will never have to do this.

There will always be some <many> kids for which it will become basic survival skills.



But <and here is the bigger thought about home economics and classes like this>.



In that moment.

In those moments.


A tenuous link between those who ‘will not do’ and those who ‘will have to do’ is created.

If but for a moment they have seen the other side.


Does that create empathy in later life?


I will not go that far.



But it certainly provides perspective.

It provides a platform for some understanding and some hope for a societal compass.empty shoes



And maybe that is why something like home economics is important. The journey and not the result. For if we all walk in the same shoes if even for a little while you appreciate the shoes you wear later in Life.

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Written by Bruce