It is easy to see why university administrators would shrug at the idea of investing precious and scarce resources in a fully equipped kitchen on campus. Despite recent shifts in how we consider cooking, or the star status of chefs, and the craze about food entertainment and cooking as sport, the notion that cooking is a lowly task, effectuated by subaltern employees, lingers on. A kitchen is still perceived as a place where the body is sustained, not where the brain is nourished. And the nice new kitchen spaces that grace remodeled houses in the architectural design utopias of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with their expansive countertop and glistening appliances, feed the myth of Magical cooking: Eating without sweat, without work, without thought.
During my Ignatius Seminar, “Food for thought,” students and I cooked two meals from scratch in a dorm kitchen in Village C. It was a rewarding experience, and students were grateful for the taste of homemade food on campus. But it was also impractical. I had to bring in two suitcases full of utensils from home, on top of the grocery bags. Though it was no easy task, it was one worth repeating.
So what could a teaching kitchen be, and what kind of learning can be done in such a space? Here are a few suggestions for why cooking, and a kitchen, should be part of a well-rounded education: the education of the whole person, brain and stomach, mind and body included.
Cooking is a skill that is learned. It has to be nurtured. Just as one’s palate is educated, learning how to purchase, prepare, combine, and taste ingredients is a life-long apprenticeship. Even more so nowadays when, in the absence of traditions that are practiced, repeated and passed on, we are always reinventing our cooking.
Cooking is a cognitive activity that allows one to embrace his or her place in the world; in kitchens, the outside world is domesticated, transformed, and ingested to create selves, family and community ties, privacy, and memories.
Cooking is also political. When we learn and practice cooking, we reclaim control over the transformations that govern our time, our diet, our health, our environment, our family and social lives.
Learning how to cook should be part of the education of future citizens of the world, not an activity they are spared. But practically, which outcomes can we hope to achieve if we are to invest into a fully equipped kitchen, and which skills will be taught or reinforced?
- A teaching kitchen could be used for language classes. It is well known that when a group migrates, language, followed by cuisine, are the last things to be forgotten or adapted in the crucible of assimilation. In a teaching kitchen, linguistic skills can be practiced, and improved, while students are introduced to international cuisines.
- A teaching kitchen would be the perfect place to explore issues of cultural and ethnic difference, and their link with culinary identity, in any courses where culture is a focus.
- In a kitchen, students could also learn about a specific ingredient, or they could travel not only in space, but in time, by trying recipes of the past.
- A teaching kitchen could also be a place where students could investigate principles in physics and chemistry through the lens of everyday culinary alchemy.
- In a teaching kitchen, students, faculty and staff could develop hands-on strategies to implement these basic principles: take care of oneself, respect one’s body, stay healthy and enjoy tasty food.
- A teaching kitchen could be the place where students investigate the links between our most mundane, repetitious activities, and the impact they have on our environment in regard to the management and use of resources: citizenship of the world begins at home, and in the kitchen.
- Last but not least, based on my experience with the Ignatius Seminar, a teaching kitchen would be a draw for prospective students to Georgetown. They appreciate the opportunity to connect with teachers outside of the classroom setting to pursue activities that apply, expand or go beyond class related materials.
A teaching kitchen is a hefty investment, to be sure, but it is mostly an investment in our community, in ourselves and in our future, for in that place our students can learn the complex links between the personal and the collective, the well being of their bodies, their mind, and the world they inhabit.