I, however, am beginning to think that what we really need is a campaign to get kids into the kitchen. Tom and I laughed about this article that claims that three-quarters of children in the UK don't know how to boil an egg, since I boil eggs so rarely that when I do, I have to get out the Joy of Cooking to remind myself whether you put the eggs in the water before the water boils or after, and how long it takes to hard-boil them. But the article makes a good point: lots of kids these days grow up with no experience in the kitchen at all.
I've had firsthand experience with this truth in the last few weeks, as we've had houseguests with kids and visited relatives with kids. The friends who stayed with us have two daughters, ages three and six. We made pizza one night while they were here, and invited the six-year-old to make her own pizza. She looked a little worried until she opined that it was like making the "Lunchables" that are like little pizzas. Later, it came out that she'd never made herself a peanut-butter sandwich. A week later, this scene was repeated as we made pizza with my six-year-old nephew.
After the second experience, I asked Tom how old he was when he started cooking. He said he couldn't remember a time when he didn't help in the kitchen, and that he probably started cooking for himself as soon as he was big enough to reach the stove.
Now, his situation was a little unusual, since his mother has had rheumatoid arthritis since he and his brothers were very young, so the three of them were called upon to help out with household chores early because their mother had a lot of physical difficulty doing them.
But even though I had a very able-bodied mother, I also couldn't remember a time when I couldn't make myself a peanut-butter sandwich, and have clear memories of making simple, cooked dishes like scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs by the time I was in first or second grade.
By fourth or fifth grade, I was doing a lot of cooking and baking, as you can see from this well-worn copy of The Cookie Book, which I got through the Scholastic Book Club. (I still maintain it has the world's best peanut-butter cookie recipe, which is why I've held on to it.)
This is not to say that our parents put us in front of the stove and toddled off, cocktails in hand, to play bridge. There was definitely supervision and guidance. When I was probably four or five, I put a plastic pot from my kitchen play set on the stove and turned it on, which resulted not in the delicious dish I'd hoped for, but a stinky pile of melted goo and a stern reprimand. But that experiment was also followed up with instruction about why you have to use real pots and pans on the stove, and an explanation of how the stove worked.
My sister recalled my mother calling home when she had to work late to say "Don't cook!" I suppose Mom feared coming home to a charred shell. But my siblings could all slap something together out of the fridge if they got hungry, and when a parent was home, they could cook.
Consequently, I was a little stunned at how anxious the mere idea of putting sauce and cheese on pizza dough seemed to make these two six-year-olds. And I say this not to cast blame anywhere, but just to raise a question about the state of kids' "culinary literacy" these days. As trendy as organic food, farmers' markets, CSAs, and "slow food" generally are these days, it seems like kids are generally left out of the equation...except in terms of how adults can control their intake of junk food, and improve the quality of school lunches.
But I think the real way to make long-term change is to get kids into the kitchen, and to teach them how to cook! Talk about empowerment: kids who know how to choose ingredients, follow a recipe, and experiment in the kitchen will grow up to be adults who don't have to rely on the processed-food chain.
You say you want a revolution? It starts at the stove.
* * * * *Photo of my sister Pam at the sink of the apartment she and my brother Phillip came home to here in Morgantown, circa 1954.