I have thought hard about how I can best spend my time in quarantine, and one of the no-brainers to me has been cooking. Cooking is one of the most useful skills I can think of, and it's a skill that I don't think we emphasize as much as we ought to in childhood education. Perhaps this is more of a result of my pampered upper-middle-class upbringing, but I was never required to cook. I either heated up pre-made frozen food or my mom would cook.
I regret the fact that I wasn't taught to cook in the house, and I know that many (perhaps most) people learned some degree of cooking in the household as a child. I want to make an argument for required cooking classes in public education because I think that the skill is so incredibly useful, and has benefits one might not realize at first.
A viral meme I recall says that food can be only two of the following: affordable, tasty, or healthy. I used to tacitly accept this as true, and I made essentially no effort to eat well. I played sports and my metabolism was such that my poor diet didn't noticeably affect me. It was only over the past couple of years, as I've begun to teach myself how to cook, that I have realized that the adage I referred to is untrue.
It's only right in a superficial sense: the principle seems to be true with respect to eating out or buying pre-packaged meals. The principle is false with respect to cooking, though. With relatively no cooking experience, it's still easy to make a meal that satisfies all three aforementioned criteria for far less than even fast food prices.
This is a lesson I didn't learn until I was 18. Let me rephrase that. This is a lesson I didn't learn until long after I wrote an essay with the title "Examining and Applying the Theory of Recollection", which was about Plato's dialogue entitled "Meno" and a philosophical theory of knowledge acquisition. What did I just say? Even I barely know. All I know is that I should have learned some fundamentals of cooking before I delved into Platonic philosophical theory.
Cooking makes it much easier to eat healthier without feeling like you're depriving yourself. It also serves as a great social skill. Friends love you if you can cook something nice for them. Good cooking is also something a date will appreciate. Cooking is a nice departure from whatever else is bothering you. There's hardly anything more satisfying than putting lots of effort into cooking something and then tasting the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor.
I think that high school would be a good time for students to learn to cook because they are old enough to be marginally more responsible around hot equipment. This would also be invaluable preparation for students preparing for college, where they will likely otherwise only eat microwaved pizza and other such garbage. I actually think that students would rather enjoy taking some time out of a school day to do some hands-on work, especially if they can eat it.
I have no illusions. This idea presents challenges, including whatever level of absurd legal liability schools would have if students injured themselves cooking. Schools in poor inner cities would struggle to find local grocery marts with decent ingredients. Many students would be irresponsible and/or disrespectful, as they invariably are in other classes.
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives to me. Earlier today, I cooked pizzas with hummus and vegetables for myself and my mother. It went incredibly well and when discussing cooking after, I told my mom that cooking is more useful than virtually anything I learned in my years of schooling. This was obviously somewhat facetious, but I do think that it is sufficiently useful a skill that it should be part of our public education system. It would open new doors for children, encourage healthier, better eating habits, and give them a fun way to be both more self-reliant and more social.