John Masterson: 'Prepare the vital recipe for life - learn to cook'

Neven Maguire's Home Economics For Life

John Masterson

I was chatting to a few young people who had recently completed their Leaving Certificates. All had comprehensive plans for September. They all seemed to know where they were going. They were fairly confident of their first choices, and pretty well certain that if they did not come to pass, their second choice would. They even knew when they were going to study abroad.

They were also very clued up on the costs of third level education. Those figures involved the costs of accommodation and the rush to Galway and Dublin to secure it. Little had changed since my university days. For much of my time in Dublin, I shared a house with four friends. We rented a five-bedroomed house so we each had a room. And each of us cooked one day a week so there was always a meal on weekdays. We may not have been brilliant in the kitchen but it was always edible. we were supportive and we improved. We were also all fairly broke and could make a soya bean casserole stretch a long way. My speciality then was baking yeast bread, which is a bit ironic as I now am allergic to gluten.

I asked one young lad how he was going to cope. I thought I was dealing with a home bird who would be stocked up by parents on a Sunday night and would arrive back on Friday with the laundry. To my surprise, I learned that he and his group of male friends could all cook. They would eat in the rented house as that was what the budget would allow. I no longer felt so superior.

If you look up any list of essential life skills you will be told about communicating well, having some empathy, the ability to focus on long-term goals, being self-directed and all sort of worthy skills. Okay, these are all very valuable things for people to know how to do and I would not argue with any of them. They are the sort of skills that any half decent school or parents should be able to develop in young people. Sadly, not everyone learns these skills well enough to lead a happy and productive life. Maybe not everyone can develop high levels of social intelligence, etc but everyone can, and should, learn how to cook. On their way, they will improve every one of the skills in the usual lists.

There was a time when 'domestic science' as it was called was available only to girls. Neven Maguire famously tells the story that he was the first boy in his school to break this tradition and look how well he did. It must have taken some guts.

My about-to-go-to-college group had all learned how to cook. None of them claimed to be brilliant but they all had five of six things they could cook that anyone would be happy to eat. At this stage, they do not fully realise how important these skills will be throughout all life and how many enjoyable occasions around a dinner table with family and friends lie ahead of them. And along the way, they will learn planning, communication, focus, self control, empathy, budgeting, looking ahead and all of those other things as a sideline.

In my world, everyone should learn to cook. It is not far behind reading and writing in importance. I had a good start and kept it going in college when I did not have the money to eat out. Then I neglected it for a few decades. In recent years, I have found my way back. Many of my friends are very good in the kitchen so I preface all my invitations by pointing out that I will be serving 'sub standard' food. There was a time when you could get away with anything after a few G&Ts but these days, everyone has to drive home. So the comments are sober, thankfully helpful, and without the rigour of a restaurant review. People appreciate effort.

If you haven't already bought the text book for this degree course from the university of life, the same Neven Maguire wrote it. It is called Home Economics for Life and it does what it says on the tin. I intend to get my degree in 2020. I don't want honours. Just a pass. I have shelves packed with spices and I am learning how to cheat.