Be a Goddamn Adult. Learn to Cook.


Years ago, I went out with this guy who only knew how to make baked chicken breasts and macaroni and cheese. He didn’t know how to do his own laundry and once offered to pay me $15 to sew a button back on his peacoat. Whenever anything broke in his apartment, he threw it away and bought a new thing. He couldn’t change his oil, or a tire, or iron his shirts. He couldn’t do much of anything without involving the service industry, and if society had ended when we were dating, he’d have been a terrible post-apocalyptic ally, among the first to be eaten by a roving tribe of early adopting cannibals. He was a kidult, a sadly typical state of prairie skill dearth currently occupied by twenty and thirtysomethings who were never taught basic Existing Self Sufficiently stuff. And it’s high time for the Age of the Kidult to end.

My former sexfriend’s state of ineptitude wasn’t entirely his fault; like a lot of people who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, he just never had the opportunity to learn basic life skills at home. His dad never taught him how to fold his own clothes. His mom never taught him how to light a stove’s pilot light. He never learned how to cook something simple and healthy for himself. Once, after making fun of him for not knowing how to thread a needle, he sighed in exasperation, “Well it’s not like there’s A CLASS YOU CAN TAKE about this stuff.”

Actually, there is. It’s called Family and Consumer Sciences (or Home Ec), and it’s high time kids started taking it again.

This week, some surprisingly progressive news outlets have come out in support of something often pegged as old-fashioned. Tom Philpott at Mother Jones (the internet’s nerdy but fun Nader-voting uncle) proclaimed yesterday that Home Economics should be mandatory, a claim echoing one made by Ruth Graham in this weekend’s Boston Globe. Graham writes, in her call to bring back Home Ec,

…to a handful of people thinking big about these problems, they evoke something different: A forward-thinking new kind of class that would give a generation of young people—not just women, but everyone—the skills to shop intelligently, cook healthily, manage money, and live well.

That sounds like a fantastic idea! Philpott agrees, writing,

…imagine a home ec that taught basic skills like how to prepare a simple pureed vegetable soup, whip up a quick, easy, and much-cheaper-than-bottled salad dressing, or stock up a pantry with inexpensive bulk staples?

With all due respect to Graham and Philpott, a curriculum for that dream class — the one that teaches personal finance, basic life skills, and self-care — already exists. It’s now called Family and Consumer Sciences Education, and it’s exactly what America’s kidults could have used, if only FCE hadn’t become unjustly painted as retro and unnecessary. Here’s how the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences explains it what should be taught in FCS classrooms:

Family and consumer sciences or FCS is the comprehensive body of skills, research, and knowledge that helps people make informed decisions about their well being, relationships, and resources to achieve optimal quality of life. The field represents many areas, including human development, personal and family finance, housing and interior design, food science, nutrition, and wellness, textiles and apparel, and consumer issues.

Philpott laments that when he was in high school, all he did in Home Ec was make cake mix from a box and flirt with his female classmates. Punch it up! he says. If that’s how Family and Consumer Sciences were taught in Tom Philpott’s high school, then it was not only wildly divergent from my experience with the subject, and divergent from the philosophy of most FCE teachers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing or working with.

My FCE teacher, Mrs. S, was one of the toughest, most badass women I’ve ever known. She pushed for the teaching of an envelope-pushing, medically accurate sex ed class (since FCS curriculum stresses an understanding of human development) to all 8th grade students in my school district in a town of 1,000 people and stood up to religious nuts who insisted that kids learning the proper term for “ovulation” was somehow bad because JESUS. She was tiny — probably 4’11” and dwarfed by most of the high schoolers she taught — but walked like she was seven feet tall with a fabulous crown of impeccable hair in an updo she had salon refreshed every week. Her acrylic nails were shiny pink talons of justice. Confident, smart, and not a person against whom you’d ever win an argument. I saw her sleeping one time. Sitting up. Perfectly straight.

And in her classes, there was no halfass cake mixing; we learned the sort of thing that has proven incredibly useful to me as a young adult — mending, how to prepare a simple meal, basic personal finance, basic garment upkeep. You know, the sort of things that every grown adult should know how to do, regardless of their marital or family status.

FCS led me to one of my most formative adolescent experiences. Here’s a fun fact about me that is kind of hilarious in retrospect: when I was in high school, I was an active member of an organization that served as the extracurricular arm of FCS. Then called the Future Homemakers of America (seriously), I did approximately zero cooking. Under Mrs. S, our fearless chapter advisor, the mostly-female members learned stuff like Parliamentary Procedure and public speaking. We organized community service projects like buying gun locks that were distributed at parent-teacher conferences one fall (the typical home where I grew up contained at least one gun, because most people hunt). My junior year, I was one of ten FHA national officers (the summer my “term” was over, the members voted to change the group’s name to Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, which is a much more accurate reflection of the group’s current family-community service focus, but I digress) and my senior year, I was the Wisconsin State President. I have so. many. pictures of me wearing the group’s trademark red blazer and ridiculous floppy 80’s woman tie. Here’s one (trigger warning: cool teen):

My school’s chapter would attend conventions with other chapters, most of which were helmed by their own version of Mrs. S, and each Mrs. S would return to her respective school and teach similar curriculum to what I learned. FCE and its related alphabet soup acrostics helped me skip past kidulthood and taught me how to be a grown up.

FCS, unfortunately, has often found itself on the chopping block by schools forced to make budget cuts. But FCS is far from unnecessary sexist wife-prepping fluff; it’s important stuff that all students will actually, you know, use in their adult lives — not as a method of taking care of your hat-wearing husband’s babies, but to take care of themselves and separating themselves from the money and resource-wasting convenience products that rely on a helpless population to survive. It feels good to take care of yourself! It feels good to save money by making your own food, taking care of your own home, understanding your own basic finances. Mandatory FCS with the sort of curriculum already being taught by dedicated teachers across the country could help alleviate the scourge of kidults currently stocking freezers full of Lean Cuisine and closets full of pants in need of hemming and checkbooks that have never been balanced.

And it will definitely prevent another generation of harried kidults from Febreezing their way through life.


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