I went to culinary school. Then sat through three years of a grueling masters program in nutrition education. I loved it, and felt utterly satiated but never understood why we didn’t touch food! When in medical school you visit a morgue to learn about the human body—makes perfect sense (how the heck can a doctor help someone if they don’t know the ins and outs of Jane Doe). But when studying nutrition—the science of food—you rarely visit a kitchen to fondle food. Go figure…
So, my graduate thesis was entitled Why Cooking is a Critical Component of Nutrition Education. I wanted to understand what the heck happened to the concept of teaching cooking in schools (a.k.a. home economics) so I could perhaps gain insight into why it was missing from the degree program that needed it the most. How in the world can nutrition experts talk about food if they never touch it or learn how to work with it?
Home economics was birthed from the domestic science movement, prevalent in the late 1800’s through the turn of the century. Aiming to turn seemingly mundane tasks of women such as cooking into a “science” this charged group of dames embraced food composition tables created by a chemist at Wesleyan University who analyzed American food materials and essentially “founded” the concept of the calorie; as well as carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients. To domestic scientists, food was finally calculable and no longer “messy”. And cooking shifted from the food itself to the nutrients alone. Now marry this with a nation that was fast moving towards the want for efficiency; a food industry that was prospering producing packaged goods; and progressives who believed that manufactured and pre-cooked foods were the way of the future and you have a recipe for my kind of disaster—no more cooking! So, who needed home ec?
As I reflect on my graduate school experience, this is what I learned in a nutshell—that calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat plus the letters, like vitamins A, B, C, D and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and sodium definitely came first to focusing on what foods they live in and how to give people the knowledge and skills to nourish themselves with those foods. So no wonder our nation is so darn sick—nutrition educators are rarely learning about true nourishment, rather the science of nourishment. How about this—let’s honor the science while also taking the education to the kitchen teaching folks what they need to know about food while actually touching it. It really works cause people learn best by doing!
In most nutrition schools today the utter disconnect remains. And I am still baffled by this lack of real food education. But the paradigm is starting to shift. Take Bastyr, Johnson & Wales and Tulane (all universities)—they get it! Hopefully more programs in undergraduate and graduate education will catch on. Cause in the end, this is a large part of what will save our nation from a slow preventable death—getting the nutrition educators back to the kitchen!
Given this picture, surely you can imagine that I was a little confused roughly ten plus years ago as I set out, degrees in hand, to build my practice. Was I a chef or a nutritionist? So I called my clinical nutrition colleague Mary Beth Augustine, RD, CDN and said, “I am getting business cards printed. What am I?” Her response without hesitation, “You’re a Culinary Nutritionist!” She does have a way with words. So there you have it—real nutrition in the kitchen is here to stay and I am happy to report that I’m not alone, thanks to this incredible group of food and nutrition change agents…
- Kathie Swift, MS, RD, LDN
- Mary Beth Augustine, BS, RD, CDN
- John Bagnulo, MPH, PhD
- Rebecca Katz, MS
- Julie Negrin, MS, CN
- Marti Wolfson