$19.95 – The surprisingly low price of good advice

October 21, 2008

Despite the fact that I’m a bit of a misanthrope, my cranky disposition doesn’t prevent me from being  contacted frequently by people who want to ask me about how to get involved in the food business. Most of these people have little interest in becoming a chef or working in a restaurant and wonder how one can become a food stylist, a cookbook author or a restaurant reviewer.

My own academic advisers woefully let me down in this department. In high school when I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to go to chef school he simply told me I was too smart to go to college (in those days colleges in Ontario were geared for people who couldn’t cope in the academic stream of University). He didn’t mention that I could channel my interest in food into a career as a Home Economist or a dietitian or that there were excellent university level chef programs offered in the United States. As far as he was concerned, I just needed to change my focus to something more appropriate. So, I did.

After getting a B.A.H in English Lit, I eventually did follow my dreams and go to chef school; however, the program was so narrowly focused that I graduated not knowing what a food stylist was. Once again I’d been given only partial insight into my career options.

Needless to say, as I met people with exciting and diverse jobs in the food industry, I realized how poorly informed my advisers had been and made a vow to try to help other people make more informed career choices if I could.

After repeating my career story and the lessons it holds to many people over the last decade and a half, I was thrilled to see Irena Chalmer’s new book, Food Jobs, arrive in the post the other day. While certainly not exhaustive, this book does showcase 150 jobs that people interested in culinary arts careers can consider. Likewise, Irena does a good job of providing info for next steps so that if you find one of the jobs she describes intriguing you can learn about how to get the appropriate training.

I have a copy of Food Jobs on my desk and will recommend it to people who come to me for career advice. I considered sending a copy to my old guidance counselor but I have a feeling he’s likely (and hopefully!) retired.

Amy Snider: not your typical Becky Homecky

April 24, 2008

Amy Snider is the fresh face of fibre and one of my closest colleagues. She devotes a considerable amount of her spare time to working hard to make sure that she and other professional home economists get the respect they deserve. Today she tells us why we all need to revise our opinions about Home Ec.

DM: So, what the heck is a home economist?

AS: A Professional Home Economist has graduated from a degree program related to home economics (in my case a BSc. Human Ecology, Foods and Nutrition) and is registered with the provincial governing body of the Ontario Home Economics Association. (There are also associations in New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba).

As professionals, we can generalize or specialize in many areas such as advertising and marketing, recipe development, food styling, product research, public health, media relations, teaching and textile design.

DM: So you don’t spend all day long making ponchos and teaching kids to macramé?

AS: Very funny, Dana. As you know from hanging out with me on a daily basis, my role in the office is to oversee our recipe development practice. I am also the office authority on nutrition-related issues that come up with our clients’ recipe programs, nutrient analysis, copy writing, product development and current trends and innovations.

DM: Describe your typical workday.

AS: I don’t have a typical work day – some days I spend time at my desk researching nutrition topics, running nutrient analysis or writing and editing recipes. Other days, I’m out of the kitchen doing spokesperson work, meeting with clients, leading recipe tastings or going to trade shows to research innovations in food… There are lots of days where find myself having so much fun that I say to myself – ‘I can’t believe this is part of my work day’ – I love it!

DM: What’s the difference between a home economist and a dietitian?

AS: A dietitian often has the same undergraduate degree (BSc. in Foods and Nutrition or Applied Nutrition) but has also completed a yearlong internship (most commonly in a hospital setting) under the authority of the Dietitians of Canada. After completion they register with the Dietitians of Canada.

DM: Can you tell me three reasons why home economists shouldn’t be the punch line of my jokes?

AS: Just three?
1. We are a vibrant group of professionals who are knowledgeable in our chosen fields.
2. Look at the popularity of programming on the Life Channel, the W Network, The Food Network, TLC and HGTV as key examples of society’s interest in all things domestic. Teaching these basic life skills of nutritious food preparation, household management, budgeting, etc. are at the core of the home economics profession.
3. At the end of the day, a Professional Home Economist has the Canadian consumer at heart.