Fifty Minute Classroom

Jul 11, 2020, 10:23
Changing Culinary Curriculum One Class at a Time

Changing Culinary Curriculum One Class at a Time

05 December 2019

A case study on change: Vegetarianism from Ben Franklin to the Whooper. Change is afoot – part two.

By Chef Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

In August wrote an article, How to Modernize Your Curriculum. I talked about the need to look at your curriculum and make minor (or perhaps major) changes so that your curriculum—or at least your lesson plans—reflects what your students need to learn for the modern world regardless of whether they are going to be professional cooks or cooking for themselves and their families. This article will more heavily focus on the importance of changing what and how you teach in your culinary classroom.

There is a quote from the “The Lion King” that really sums it up, "Change isn’t easy at times, but it is always necessary." The problem for many culinary instructors, and many non-culinary instructors for that matter, is they are against change and progress because it takes them out of their comfort zone.

My wife and I are addicted to “The Big Bang Theory.” In an episode Leonard wants to get a dining table instead of everyone having meals at the coffee table, sitting around the couch and on the floor. Sheldon objects saying there is no need for change and that change makes him uncomfortable. Leonard responds that the apartment got the way it is by change. He points out that Sheldon’s beloved couch, with his favorite spot where no one else can sit, wasn’t originally in the apartment. The point is that even if change takes us out of our comfort zone, we must remember we got into that particular comfort zone through change.

Don’t believe me? Think that a culinary classroom doesn’t have to change? Well, the microwave was invented in the mid-1940’s (still very recent in culinary history) but did not become popular until the late 70’s when affordable models were introduced. The electric table mixer is about 100 years old. Its original cost in modern dollars would be nearly $3,000! The electric handheld mixer, which now is a fixture in almost all American home kitchens, was not invented until 1964! People had to learn how to change by giving up their hand-powered hand mixer for the newfangled electric one.

Here’s an example that affects your teaching today: plant-based cuisine. When your grandparents were growing up they were told to eat their vegetables because it was good for them, but they almost assuredly weren’t vegetarians. Now a small but significant portion of the United States population goes vegetarian at least several days per week. Millions are vegetarians or vegans all the time. The most recent impartial serious poll I found on the issue was the Harris Poll of nearly five years ago. According to Wikipedia: “In 2015, a Harris Poll National Survey of 2,017 adults aged 18 and over found that eight million Americans, or 3.4 percent ate a solely vegetarian diet. . ..”

In today’s world, 3.4 percent vegetarian must be considerably understated because of the rapid social acceptance of vegetarianism in the last five years. More importantly for your teaching, the movement is rapidly growing. Furthermore, the survey involved only people over 18, and we know from working with high school students that more of them than the general population are vegetarian.

Did you know Benjamin Franklin wrote books about being a vegetarian? Being a vegetarian in the United States hit mainstream about five years ago, but the movement became a rolling stone gathering moss (pardon the vegetarian pun) in the 60’s and 70’s as part of the anti-war, Flower Power, Summer of Love movements.

At that time the primary espoused purpose of being a vegetarian was for better health with the side benefit that it was counterculture. Some of us are old enough to remember people like Euell Gibbons. There was even a comedy parody song called Junk Food Junkie where the singer holds out to the world that he is a health food guru but at night digs into his locked chest of junk food.

Sometime later, the vegetarian movement became based on the idea that it was animal cruelty to raise them to be killed for the purpose of humans eating them. Now, the espoused purpose of being a vegetarian is that it is more environmentally friendly.

In past, the vegetarian movement often revolved around foods with minimal processing or ingredients. The closer to nature the better. With the environmental movement now gaining hold, people want vegetarian food but more and more they want it looking and tasting like animal products. For those of us old enough to remember the days when you were a vegetarian because it was healthier, we are aghast at the ingredients, sodium, calories, percentage of fat, etc. of some of the non-animal foods. But, this is just another example of change.

In fact, in the posture of change, the phraseology is changing. Vegetarian foods and diets are now frequently referred to as “plant-based.” If your grandparents were told to eat plant-based your grandfather would have said, “I am not eating your grandmother’s azaleas.”

(Author’s note: When organic foods started surfacing in main-stream stores there was a strong debate about whether it was a fad or going to stay for the long term and grow in importance. We all knew the answer when the big food producers entered the organic market. Whatever your opinion is on the plant-based food movement, it seems certain that the movement is here to stay. It is not a fad. If Burger King can have a plant-based Whopper, I think it is safe to say that the plant-based movement has entered the mainstream of American society.)

The bottom line is that you must look, on a continual basis, to make sure what you are teaching—and how you are teaching it—is up to date. You cannot just give lip service to this. The change in what you teach and how you teach it must be real.

I suggest that you try a few different ways to embrace change in your classroom:

  • Review How to Modernize Your Curriculum and look for ways to change and update your lesson plans in the short run, and think about updating your curriculum in the long run.
  • Take a look at the Index of my first 100 articles. Find an article or articles that can guide you in teaching something new and different.
  • Go to a CAFÉ conference or event, such as the Leadership Conference, and learn what the trends are and how to teach them.
  • Ask people in your local chefs’ associations what they think are the new items and skills your students will learn. (They will almost assuredly start out by saying “knife skills” since chefs always start out with that when asked what people should be taught. After they say this ask them directly what new and modern in-demand foods should students be practicing cutting and cooking.)
  • Look at a local coffee house, restaurants, hotel dining areas, hospitals, etc. and see what they are serving on their menus. Pay close attention to how you can incorporate some new ideas into your lesson plans. (For example, teaching sautéed Brussel sprouts instead of mushrooms, or using quinoa instead of rice.)

Next month will be the last of the three parts of change, which will feature Paul Revere and Uber! (Hint: That is not the name of a rock band duo.)

Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.