Chapter 3: Literacies across the disciplines

3.2.2 Culinary literacy and its impact on society (synthesis essay)

Anonymous English 102 Writer

October 2020

In my last essay, I explained how important culinary literacy was to me and my family, but it is so much more important than being an interesting hobby or an impressive skill you can show off to your friends. Culinary literacy can open many more doors to the world. It can lead to understanding of health and nutrition, help you peer into the traditions of a different culture, feed the hungry, or even to lead you into other literacies. It’s all these benefits of learning culinary skills and spreading that knowledge that can leave such a lasting impression on society. The articles that I share in this essay will show just how large that impact is.

In “Food for Thought,” written by Kelley R Taylor, she explains how crucial culinary literacy is in not only teaching people how to cook tasty, healthy meals, but to help bring together communities to grow and learn together about nutrition and help those that don’t necessarily have many options for good food make the right choices in what they consume. Taylor states that food is the greatest common factor in most of the problems having to do with the wellness of the public. She mentions one of the many “food deserts” that exists within the United States, in Camden, New Jersey. The population is about 77,000 residents with only one feasible store for obtaining any source of “regular” groceries (Taylor 25). If it wasn’t already obvious by the name, a food desert is an area that lacks proper grocery stores, markets, or health food stores, with people relying heavily on processed foods from unconventional sources such as corner stores and gas stations, greatly affecting the health of people in these communities. To help combat this problem, Camden County Library created a program that teaches culinary literacy to people willing to learn, called “Books and Cooks.” The program brings a mobile kitchen to willing participants, using the latest technology to help bring knowledge and supplies to these communities in trouble. This has started to become a trend in locations like this across the country as well, with organizations such as the Charlie Cart Project, which also follows the mobile kitchen design but also integrates teaching math, English, language arts, science, and social studies (Taylor 26). According to Taylor, the Vetri Community Partnership in Philadelphia does something similar, combining the classroom with culinary, nutrition, the scientific importance of foods and the body, and marketing.

In a study on a program introducing culinary and nutritional literacy courses, “Youth Chef Academy: Pilot Results From a Plant‐Based Culinary and Nutrition Literacy Program for Sixth and Seventh Graders,” written by Amy Harley et. al., sixth and seventh graders were taught the importance of whole grains and fruits and veggies and taught culinary tips to help increase their nutritional knowledge. The study created 8 control groups of schools selected for their similarities in free/reduced price lunch, race/ethnicity, and student mobility rate (893). Much like Taylor’s article, it mentions a decline in health due to poor nutrition within communities in America. However, Harley et. al. focuses more on common eating trends and the 40% decline of food literacy classes over the years, such Home Economics, being taught in classrooms (894). Harley et. al. say, “Given the importance of diet to health and the stagnant trends in plant food consumption among youth, innovative and effective strategies addressing healthy eating are critically needed” (894). This program was not a mobile one, such as some of the programs mentioned in Taylor’s article, but follows the same idea of promoting culinary literacy and nutritional knowledge through technology, teaching basics, food trends, and history of some food choices as well. Harley et. al. found major improvements in nutritional knowledge in the intervention group, and with nutritional knowledge previously shown to heavily influence dietary intake, the findings suggest that the intervention route might be solid way to change the poor diet choices of the younger generations (899).

In a study similar to Harley et. al.’s article, in “FSU Cooks: Culinary Nutrition Workshops Help Participants Learn About Food, Cook, and Eat!” written by Catherine Wickham et. al., the Department of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University taught groups of students about food and nutrition, taught them to cook several meals, and to allowed them to taste each other’s unique creations. The program’s goal was to see if the course was practical enough to offer to members of the community to promote the growth of culinary literacy. The researchers wanted to test the theory that hands-on experiences in the culinary world could help to extend people’s palates and confidence in making healthy meals that could help sustain themselves or their family (S63). Another interesting point this Wickham et. al. brought up from past studies is that self-sufficiency in the culinary sense of the parents directly affects a child’s diet quality and the willingness of the child to learn or try new or healthy foods. Wickham et. al.’s article was a much shorter article than the first two but still tied into the idea of spreading culinary literacy to the community, both by teaching our youth so that they can pass it on to future generations and incorporating culinary literacy within parts of society that don’t have the knowledge to stay healthy or informed.

In “What is Literacy?” James Gee introduces the idea of a primary discourse, and then other discourses relating to or stemming from that discourse, called “secondary discourses,” developing after the primary discourse (Gee 22). I believe that this goes well with the matter of culinary literacy as a secondary discourse in relation to these articles I have discussed. In the Taylor article, teaching communities with little knowledge about food and nutrition and health all stems from basic culinary literacy. In the Harley et. al. and Wickham et. al. articles, the importance of teaching the youth about nutrition through basic culinary skills was more of the theme. By learning those basics, it not only opened the subject’s minds to new ways of looking at food, cooking, and eating foods, but to being opened to trying out new experiences in the future as well. It also allowed the possibilities for offering these opportunities to the rest of the public in the future if the studies went well.

The articles stressed the importance of having that root culinary literacy as a starting point to much broader horizons. It helps to enlighten communities on what they can do to be self-sufficient in “food desert” situations, to help the youth of the country grow to learn about nutrition so that things like this won’t happen in the future, and even opens people’s minds to the other aspects of the broad spectrum of culinary, through many other subjects like science and math. As more of these stories and studies spell out the success of teaching this extremely important subject, the more I feel like it will become the norm. Culinary is a gateway into a brighter, healthier future, and hopefully will continue to shape communities to make changes to the flawed nutritional systems that are in place in this country today.


Works Cited

Harley, Amy, et al. “Youth Chef Academy: Pilot Results From a Plant‐Based Culinary and Nutrition Literacy Program for Sixth and Seventh Graders.” Journal of School Health 88.12 (2018): 893-902.

Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning  across languages and cultures (1998): 51-59.

Taylor, Kelley R. “Food for Thought: Inspiring Food Literacy Programs Teach More than Cooking and

Nutrition.” School Library Journal, 64.10, (2018): 24.

Wickham, Catherine, Jerusha Nelson-Peterman, and Ann Johnson. “P68 FSU Cooks: Culinary Nutrition

Workshops Help Participants Learn About Food, Cook, and Eat!.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 51.7 (2019): S63.


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Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Anonymous English 102 Writer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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