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5/31/13

Making STEM education tasty

STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is being promoted as the cure for what ails American education and economic growth.  A parallel trend sweeping across our counties and cities is a push toward wellness and health activation, especially around movement and diet for overweight and obese children as young as preschool.

While these two distinct health programming trends are positive, I'd like to see the two campaigns commit to working together in service to the nation's children.  What power is there in science, technology, engineering and math alone? Without a healthy food system and ample consumer savvy for kids to steward their bodies and minds appropriately, we cannot advance the health, wealth and consciousness of our nation.  We will continue to invent outside of authentic social contexts, short-cutting some of the more challenging structural problems families face when trying to eat healthy while putting more pressure on children to do so on their own (while advancing their tech degrees).

How to adjust the current imbalance and inject the food context into the campaign to promote STEM education? I am not sure, but one super simple idea that keeps hitting me over the head is this: what if we consider adding the letter E for "Eating" to the STEM acronym? Could such a simple addition add STEEM to the health of our future world leaders? 

Sounds silly? Could be. But the idea that food and eating are captured in the existing STEM movement is misguided. Just Google the term STEM and check out the images that come up.  Or, have a conversation with a middle school-age girl and she and her peers might admit that it is much, much easier to excel in Math class than in self-care and nutrition, especially when much of a day is spent sitting and both parents work full time.

When we unite hard and soft science in a national promotion of science, technology, engineering, EATING and math, we re-frame the essential benefit of STEM disciplines. We give the conversation context and ... flavor.  The results could even be delicious. Here's why:

Envisioning the future requires a somewhat clear out-picturing of a social idea. The existing STEM narrative is missing a key social idea: food and table culture. My opinion as a mother and as a cook is that kids need more time at the table united by good food and restorative social connections.  They need their minds and their bellies fed with a better story than just Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. They need a North Star that tells the American Tale in a fresh new way. That excites them, that entices them to carry forth, to invent, and to honor the earth and themselves as living things in the process. Eating should be an explicit part of the new American narrative ...

So, if STEEM isn't the right acronym, pick another one -- or another way to emphasize what we're losing when we don't actively promote eating healthy to our children in the race to advance the sciences.

In other words, if a five-letter acronym feels exponentially more unwieldy than a four-letter acronym, remember that the Pentagon's strength comes from five modalities.  Whatever we call it, let's put eating into the strategy so that we may remove it from crisis-management mode. Because we won't win the "war on obesity" ...  but we can teach healthy eating that is pleasurable while leading the next generation into a more equitable nutritional landscape.  Kids can and do learn to respect their bodies and minds when we teach them how.

Ultimately, one of the top goals of STEM will be to dismantle -- not reinforce -- the current disconnect between the chem lab and the kitchen.  With eating integrated into the STEM framework, my hope is that resulting solutions will have much greater appeal.


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