Feds Spend $30,000 Researching How to Teach People How to Cook

NIH finds 'young and emerging field'

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April 4, 2018

The National Institutes of Health spent $30,000 on a conference dedicated to researching a "novel" practice: teaching people how to cook.

The government lent its support to the "inaugural 2018 Research Day on Teaching Kitchens and Related Self Care Practices" held by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health this February.

A "teaching kitchen" is essentially a home economics course, but with an added dose of mindfulness and "health coaching."

The NIH awarded $30,000 to the conference, which featured a presentation by the "Director of Food" at Google, calling the idea of learning how to cook a "young and emerging field."

"This will be the first conference co-sponsored by the CIA and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, both of which have jointly established the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative (TKC), an organization with 32 member organizations in the U.S., Italy, and Japan, each of which has developed a 'teaching kitchen' program," the federal grant states.

"This inaugural conference is motivated by the need to develop an evidence-base for the field of 'teaching kitchens'—a young and emerging field which has not yet been subjected to formal research," according to the grant.

"Teaching kitchens" are of "great interest" to the scientific community, according to the grant. The goal of the grant was to research "best practices" of teaching kitchens.

The founders of the "Teaching Kitchen Collaborative" say they want to "improve the way people eat, move, and think." David Eisenberg, an associate professor at Harvard and co-director of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, says research into teaching kitchens is "novel."

"A teaching kitchen can be described as a virtual learning laboratory for life skills," according to a toolkit written by the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative's "Best Practices Committee." "As envisioned, teaching kitchens offer education in basic cooking techniques in addition to other self-care topics like enhanced nutrition, mindfulness, physical activity, and behavioral health coaching."

"A teaching kitchen is merely a construct that can be manifested in many different ways, from complete built-in facilities to mobile cooking units to pop-up models and everything in between," according to the toolkit.

"What is the 'best' type of teaching kitchen?" asks the Best Practices Committee. "Trick question: There isn't one!"

Teaching people how to cook can be expensive, according to the toolkit, which said teaching kitchens can cost as much as $1 million.

The conference was held in the Napa Valley.

The conference agenda included presentations on the "Intersection of Food Systems and Health" and "The Food Story: An Effective Tool for Behavior Change."

Another presentation focused on the utility of the "eButton," a wearable computer that has a built-in camera and GPS tracking, the creation of which was also funded by the taxpayers. The University of Pittsburgh received $1,082,907 to create the eButton during the Obama administration.

Researchers on the taxpayer-funded project used the eButton to observe how children prepare food, according to a paper published earlier this year.

They found the most common activity for 9-year-olds after observing them was "browsing in the pantry or fridge."

"Few participants demonstrated any food preparation work beyond unwrapping of food packages and combining two or more ingredients; actual cutting or measuring of foods were rare," they said of their test subjects, who were between 9 and 13.

The conference also featured a presentation by the NIH, which hinted the agency could spend more studying how to teach people how to cook in the future.

The presentation was titled, "Possibilities for the Future of Teaching Kitchen Research."