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By: Liz Williams, Southern Food and Beverage Museum Date: 2/6/12

Note: This blog is part of our new series called "From the Pantry" which will take a historical look at the food we eat and the culture around food.

I think that one of the most important things that happens in the kitchen is the transfer of the wisdom of civilization.  It happens naturally and without effort.  It happens when generations cook together.  And one of the terrible consequences of not cooking is the loss of the opportunity to pass down that wisdom. 

When we cook with our children – whether they are our actual children, younger cousins, nieces and nephews, or even the children of friends – we teach them valuable lessons.  Obviously the most direct lesson is how to cook.  That is an important life skill.  I have never understood how someone could be proud of not being able to boil water.  In hard economic times it can save money.  In more flush economic circumstances it can allow for experimentation and pleasure. 

But we not only pass on a skill, when we teach someone to cook.  We also pass on the care and love that goes into cooking, the creativity, the frugality and the successful multi-tasking.  During the mundane tasks, like washing the lettuce or chopping the onions, we also manage to teach about family history, tell stories about values and become close simply by doing things together.  Imagine how sad it would be if an entire generation of people were to miss out on this closeness.  It would change our society. 

Not many of us are going to create water from scratch or decorate hand ground marzipan with gold leaf.  Those are truly the stuff of spoof (the water) or of great chefs (the marzipan).  But that does not mean that we cannot make a salad together – albeit from lettuce in a bag – to go with a store bought rotisserie chicken and with pasta we have tossed with olive oil and grated cheese.  Perhaps dinner made more completely once a week works better given our schedules.  But it is something we should enjoy and pass on to our children.   

The IFIC Foundation has lots of kid-tested recipes that you may want to try out.  You can find the list at:

http://www.foodinsight.org/For-Consumers/Healthy-Kids-and-Families/Recipes/tabid/1323/Default.aspx.

When my children were little they each had a black tee shirt screen-printed to look like a tuxedo jacket.  When we had friends over for dinner they would become little waiters with a towel over one arm.  They would ask our guests if they wanted a drink.  They would pass a first course that they had helped to make.  They were proud to explain the course to our friends.  Besides the fact that they were undeniably cute, it allowed them to be a part of entertaining, to want to share with their friends and feel that we had included them with ours.  And it was fun for everyone. 

It is the fun part of this that is most important in the moment.  We may not have time to sit and shell peas together as was once done.  That is the stuff for grandparents.  But taking the time to do the simple things in the kitchen with a child makes for life long memories and makes the tasks fun.  The secondary benefits – passing on the civilization is important.  But it is the cumulative consequence of the daily time spent together.  Try it.  It is even more fun than Wii.

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