Teaching culinary topics across core subjects and using students’ interests as lesson plan inspiration.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
My daughter teaches sixth grade science. She called me awhile back and said she was having trouble getting her students motivated to learn about climate change. It was pushing the end of the school year, and if you pardon the pun, her students were a little burned out.
I asked her what interested the kids. She thought for a while and chuckled, “Street tacos and soccer.” It was my turn to take a moment to think. I then said, “Well, teach climate change using street tacos as the base.” She told me she was intrigued and after thinking for a few more moments she caught on.
She started saying things like, “Well, there is a lot of discussion on both sides of the table about the environmental effects vs. economic issues of mega crops and limiting large areas to producing one crop only. Corn is a lead in that controversy. Corn is the basis for corn tortillas for the street tacos. There is also a lot of discussion in climate change about the effect of cows. Finally, there is much written on both sides of the subject on the effect of overbuilding, and street tacos mean there must be streets.” She hung up with, “Thanks Dad.”
I spoke with my daughter a few days ago, and she was explaining how her classes were being taught remotely. She said it was easy for her so far to keep the kids’ interest. She mentioned that she was going to collaborate with the sixth grade Social Science teacher who was having a mental block on creative ways to teach social studies. I suggested using soccer. My daughter laughed and said, “Here we go again.”
After a few minutes she said, “Ok, so you have the kids look at teams from the World Cup. They can research the geography of the team’s area, talk about the history of that country or area of the country, write about the food or current political or socio-economic issues, etc. They then give a virtual presentation wearing the team’s colors.” [For the record, my daughter got her brains from her mom.]
My daughter went on to tell me that with the push to do classes virtually, either live or another format, there was also a recognition of the problems related to time constraints, kids’ bandwidth and attention spans, and home computer availability which has led to a need to combine classes.
If you have similar issues, let me make a few suggestions on how you can combine your class with other classes, so your lessons can be used to teach two or three or four subjects at once. Please note, these are suggestions to get you thinking and talking with your fellow teachers. Combine your classes in a way that works best for you, your co-teachers, your school, and most of all, your students.
I am also aware many culinary instructors are hesitant to combine their classes with other teachers or subjects. This is a bit short-sighted. With limited resources, schools are more likely to drop classes with lower attendance or those that don’t tie in with state mandates. The more you combine your class with other key subjects, the more likely your course will survive. With that in mind, consider combining your curriculum with:
Where did certain foods come from? Why are they important there? What part do they play in the local economy?
Fractions, ratios, percentages, scaling recipes, time calculations, cost per plate, operating fixed costs, determining usable yield (e.g., if you buy a whole watermelon or crab, how much is useable and how much did that useable portion cost?) If you ever watch, “Restaurant Impossible” you know how many restaurants fail because the owners don’t know how to do these things. Note, even for home cooks most of these skills are still critical.
- Physical education
Calculate calories (which overlaps with math) from the lunch you had the students make in your class. Then, they calculate (more math) what exercises will burn off the calories they just consumed. And, finally, you guessed it, they do the home exercises to burn the calories.
- Foreign languages
What are the words for common foods in other languages such as noodles, hamburgers, French fries, salad, rice? How would you order these dishes in a foreign country? Research foods from foreign countries. Pot stickers are from China, but what are they called in China? [Answer: Guotie, using English characters.]
How and why did the Irish Potato Famine result in a mass exodus to the United States? Speaking of potatoes, why did many European countries ban potatoes when they were first introduced? Why is Portuguese food a strong component of Hawaiian food? What was the part of women and food in the French Revolution? What and where do you eat to celebrate Bastille Day? Food played a major role in Hitler’s failed attempt trying to capture Russia. What was it? Which of our country’s founding fathers was very portly yet started writing about being a vegetarian at age 16?
Food and literature is certainly a bountiful subject. Look at how much and how often food is talked about in “Harry Potter.” In “Lord of the Rings,” there are discussions on the names of multiple morning meals. Writing recipes is certainly writing non-fiction. Writing restaurant reviews is also non-fiction, but today’s shelter at home you could have the students write fictional restaurant reviews based on places they would like to be served.
Baking is chemistry plain and simple and we know that. But there is a lot of chemistry in cooking too. What effect does heat have on water? Why do ice cubes float and steam rise? Why do certain things not mix like oil and water? Yet, why can we create an emulsion? (Note, be extremely careful to emphasize NEVER to use science equipment for cooking/baking and vice versa. My father was a chemical engineer. I came home from high school chemistry one day and said the teacher had us make candy apples in the lab’s beakers. My dad was in front of the school board the next evening and the teacher never cooked food in that school again--if you catch my drift.)
What do things we cook with and eat like carbs, proteins, fats, etc. do for our bodies both positively and negatively. What nutrients do our bodies need and how much? What foods and how much of them deliver those nutrients?
- Economics and personal finance
How to budget food costs, eating out costs, etc. How much money will someone make in the food service industry and how much will be withdrawn from their paychecks for deductions?
Emotional issues and food are heavily tied together. Explore areas such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, obesity and eating to self-medicate or deal with stress, etc.
Again, the above ideas are only suggestions. Please consider concurrent teaching in any format that works for you, your fellow instructors, your class, and most importantly your students.
Next month: An introduction to seasonings, spices and herbs.
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.