Food, Kids, Nutrition and Culture- The Accidental Science

Most people know me because of my interest in science, math , technology and engineering. But lots of people love me for my cooking.  My mother was a great cook. SHe said if you can read you can cook. But she was from the country and cooked things in season and in a particular routine. She was excellent. She cooked in the fashion of Edna Lewis. I was confused until I understood that there are regional ways of cooking that lots of people enjoy. I had a great experience cooking and teaching at the Smithsonian in a “Seeds of Change” garden project. That got me to the skills that I needed for the classroom. The parents and students and I wrote a lot of grants to get started. Every  classroom is a food network. The various diversity of ways to cook are apparent if you have a pot luck dinner.

Historically, the potato, corn, tomato , horse and disease were a part of what happened with the Columbian exchange when two old worlds came together and the cultures mixed. (I think we are not supposed to talk about tobacco.

We had the Monticello Gardens as a resource for plants, and you can explore that here.

I liked a wider range of foods and was always experimenting with food at home. Once in the classroom a teacher came from the Smithsonian. She was Japanese, cute, and was teaching and cooking all at the same time. I was jealous. She had everyone’s rapt attention and kids who were finicky about foods lined up to eat. That taught me a lesson. Hmn, the intersection of food, culture and hands on science. Great idea. I had to write grants to get the hot plates, utensils, pantry and money for spices and seeds. There are grants available from many places and I wrote to most of them.

4H , Parents and Principal.. There was help!!

My first help with cooking in the classroom was the 4 H. They had some kind of recipes that were very good and inexpensive.  My second help, was having a garden in the school that I taught in, which at the time was Long Branch Elementary. I think I said to a parent , I would like to have a garden. i was thinking about flowers , but there were strawberries growing in the back of the school near the park. So , all of a sudden parents and I were planning an early spring garden. Who knew it would be such fun? I don’t remember al of the parents, but Mr. Haithcock turned over the soil for us, and Nathan Lyon’s family helped me choose plants and one mother came in to teach me to harden plants before we set them out.

Nathan Lyon was just on the Today show. He is a chef. I don’t claim his skills, I think his grandmother influenced us all.

Cooking is an accidental science.

Did I mention Kolrabi…. I had no idea what it was. We had the soil tested by the 4H and we had written a grant so we had tools, gloves, shovels, sticks, seeds, and lots of garden resources. I think the hardest thing was to get the kids and the tools down to the field without injury. I was always worrying about some one getting hit with a shovel, but it never happened. We had buckets too. The hose only reached so far.You know what, we had fun!

Our school was on the edge of  a lovely park and there was room for a garden. My principal at the time loved the idea.and we explored gardens mostly colonial gardens, as that was the first level of instruction.


  • A photograph of a child eating dim sum.

    Food plays an important role in our culture and relationships. (Photo courtesy of John Catnach on Flickr.)

    We did this before MIT, but this is a great online course to think about the accidental science of cooking.

    The Exploratorium link is here. The food groups and tasks for kids and families are here to explore.

    This is a three part blog. I start with the spices and the herbs and you can do this here.

    Discover how a pinch of curiosity can improve your cooking! Explore recipes, activities, and Webcasts that will enhance your understanding of the science behind food and cooking.
    Food and Culture
    As taught in: Spring 2011
    A photograph of a child eating dim sum. plays an important role in our culture and relationships.
    Instructors:Prof. Heather Paxson
    MIT Course Number:21A.265
    Course Features Assignments (no solutions)
    Course Description
    Explores connections between what we eat and who we are through cross-cultural study of how personal identities and social groups are formed via food production, preparation, and consumption. Organized around critical discussion of what makes “good” food good (healthy, authentic, ethical, etc.). Uses anthropological and literary classics as well as recent writing and films on the politics of food and agriculture.
    Mothers and fathers love a class cookbook or potluck dinner ..  starting with the ideas in the room, you can start interesting science development that is fun.

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