British school timetables now feature something called food technology rather than proper cookery lessons. This subject is often not even dignified by a separate subject title but is taught as part of Design and Technology. The food technology part of the curriculum is a tiny element of a subject that covers engineering, electronics, crafts and design. The cookery part of food technology is negligible and pupils seldom do any actual cooking; they learn all about the food industry and marketing but nothing about how to cook a balanced meal. A recent survey found that 75% of British children cannot boil an egg.
Cookery is, theoretically, compulsory for primary school children in Britain but the reality is that the lack of trained staff and facilities mean that most schools do very little, if any, hands-on cooking with their pupils. The British Government has recently announced that cooking lessons will be compulsory for 11-14 year-olds in 2011.
The sidelining of cookery lessons in schools began in the 1980s when educationalists and government deemed cookery less important than other subjects. In the 1980s, fast food outlets started to arrive in every town. If you walk along any parade of shops in the United Kingdom there will be at least one, and probably more than one, fast food outlet. In British towns, fast food shops abound. Ready meals, microwave meals, cake mixes, sauces in jars, and packet food that you just put together became much more readily available in British supermarkets in the 1980s. Many people just stopped cooking. The children who grew up in the eighties are now parents and grandparents themselves. Today’s children do not learn to cook at home because their parents were never taught to cook.
Levels of obesity amongst the British population began rising in the 1980s and are now at worryingly high levels. Proper cookery lessons teach practically the importance of a healthy balanced diet. The importance of nutrition and getting enough vitamins are stressed when cookery is taught properly. When children learn to cook they also learn how to shop for food. People who learn to cook properly know that home-cooked food can be on the table as quickly as fast food and that home-cooked food is cheaper and nutritionally better balanced than fast food.
Cookery is a vital life skill. It is important to learn about food production but this should not be to the detriment of learning how to cook a meal in your own home. Any cookery teacher worthy of the name will teach about food production. If you cannot cook properly it is very difficult to know how to eat properly. Cooking teaches children about healthy eating in a natural and fun way. Skills children learn whilst cooking have benefits in other subjects on the school timetable. Forward planning, organization, mathematics, thorough reading, comprehension, following instructions and chemical reactions are all things one learns through cooking. Cookery should be a discrete subject and not lumped in with engineering, electronics and design. Proper school cookery lessons are essential in preparing children for life and they should be on every British school timetable..