Arming children with basic cooking skills is "one of our greatest weapons" to combat obesity, says the Let's Move! Executive Director...
Washington, DC - First Lady Michelle Obama's three-plus-year push to make fruits and vegetables more affordable and more accessible is all well and good, but it becomes meaningless if people aren't actually eating these. Thus the Let's Move! campaign will be renewing its focus on getting Americans--especially kids--to cook, said Executive Director Sam Kass on Wednesday as he spoke at the Washington Ideas Forum (above).
"Cooking is one of our greatest weapons" to combat obesity, Kass told the crowd gathered at the Newseum.
"Particularly for families
of lesser means trying to put healthy food on the table."
Many Americans lack the most basic cooking skills, Kass said, and thus creating a school-based cooking curriculum is necessary.
"We are really starting to look into what does Home Ec of the future look like," Kass said.
"What are the key things you can teach people, what are the tools and
skills you can give young people."
He noted that cooking food at home is far cheaper than eating in restaurants.
All children should be taught "simple, basic skills that can be translated into any culture, any style," Kass said.
Kass, who still cooks evening meals for the First Family, said he himself relies on standard culinary moves that he's perfected--grilling, sauteeing, broiling.
While Home Ec classes once upon a time were offered to female high school students while male students took shop class, Kass said there should now be no gender discrimination: All children should learn to cook.
"I don't think Home Ec will ever exist like it used to," Kass said.
Corby Kummer, Senior Editor of The Atlantic, who interviewed Kass, said it might help get boys interested in cooking to have a "a high-profile bachelor who is now engaged saying ‘I cook.'"
Kass, who recently became engaged to MSNBC host Alex Wagner, laughed, and pretended to not know what Kummer was talking about.
It will be interesting to see what Kass develops in terms of a cooking curriculum: Since Mrs. Obama launched Let's Move! in February of 2010, the campaign has devoted time to cooking--but not as much time as it has devoted to, say, promoting healthy eating and exercise.
In 2010, Let's Move! announced the Let's Cook video series, where celeb chefs would join Kass and the other White House chefs to offer onscreen cooking lessons, which would each include affordable recipes for a week of meals. The project was dropped after just two videos were produced, including one with DC's most famous chef, José Andrés.
But in the interim Kass and the other White House chefs have conducted plenty of cooking demos--including on national TV, with Kass, Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses appearing on the talk show circuit, on morning news shows, and on competition reality shows, including Top Chef, Chopped, and The Biggest Loser. Mrs. Obama has even joined Rachael Ray to cook onscreen.
Many of the First Lady's events in her Kitchen Garden have included culinary elements, too, with garden-side cooking classes for visiting students, as was the case for this year's Fall harvest.
Kass and the White House chefs have also shared dozens of their recipes with America--including in Mrs. Obama's 2012 book American Grown: The Story of The White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. Check the site sidebar for all the recipes.
Let's Move! also launched Chefs Move to Schools in 2010, which partners professional chefs with public schools to teach cooking and gardening, and to help staff make school lunch menus healthier. The project has been handed off to the School Nutrition Association and other partners.
What might Home Ec of the future look like? Kass during his interview praised the Cooking Matters program, sponsored by anti-hunger group
Share Our Strength, a partner with the Let's Move! campaign.
low-income people--including children--both how to cook and how to shop on a Food Stamps
budget, using the internet as well as "live" classes.
Child graduates from the program joined Kass last summer to
judge the winning recipes offered by junior chefs for Mrs. Obama's second annual "Healthy Lunchtime Challenge." That recipe contest is one more way the First Lady has tried to inspire younger Americans to get into the kitchen: The 54 child winners, ages 8-12, were treated to the Kids' State Dinner luncheon at the White House.
It was the second time Mrs. Obama promoted the contest, sponsored by Epicurious.com, and it will be an annual tradition, she said.
During his interview Kass
also said he was encouraged by recent reports that fruit and vegetable
consumption went up 6% last year, and noted that there is now a "systematic decline"
in obesity in the US, rather than just isolated success stories.
Let's Move! campaign has claimed credit for a slight drop in obesity
rates among low-income pre-schoolers in 19 states that took place between 2008 and 2011.
Kass during his remarks also gave a long, impassioned defense of the Food Stamps program, declaring the efforts by lawmakers to slash billions in funding from the federal nutrition safety net as "unpatriotic" and "unconscionable."
The Forum was co-sponsored by The Atlantic, The Newseum, and The Aspen Institute.
*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama