Tuesday June 21, 2016

The science of everyday life: inside Alberta's ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen

The original ATCO home service department was established in 1930 to help homemakers get the best results when using the "exciting new cooking fuel, natural gas."

The original ATCO home service department was established in 1930 to help homemakers get the best results when using the "exciting new cooking fuel, natural gas." (ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen)

Listen to Full Episode 27:29

Home economics class can conjure images of burnt banana bread and experimental casseroles — a joy that some students today don't get. Many public schools have done away with "home ec" classes, but the idea of maintaining home and kitchen is alive and well in Alberta.

Since 1930, gas and energy company ATCO has run the Blue Flame Kitchen. It's a public resource and hotline where Albertans can reach living, breathing home economists for expert advice on everyday household questions. It's a service beloved by many who have bought cookbooks, watched demonstrations or called in for advice over the past 85 years.

Services like this run by utility companies and electrical manufacturers — like General Electric and Westinghouse — used to be commonplace, but now ATCO is the only one left in North America. But in a world of pre-packaged food, cooking apps and Google, how is ATCO's Blue Flame Kitchen still around? And who is using it? Meg Wilcox headed out to their Edmonton headquarters to find out.

Family studies class at Northern Secondary in Toronto

Family Studies Collage

Over the past decade, home economics classes are being replaced by computer labs ... and the effects are starting to play out. Northern Secondary in Toronto is one of the few schools in the city where family studies, with a big emphasis on cooking, is still offered.

Home ec classes exist in about half the high schools in Toronto, and the class is now an elective, not mandatory like in previous years. Doc Project associate producer Julia Pagel went on a field trip to visit a thriving family studies class, and found Ms. Jen Marr at Northern Secondary School in Toronto. 

Photo, clockwise from bottom right: family studies teacher, Ms. Marr; the meal that the teams prepared for their "Top Chef"-style assessment; students, Sarah Schacht and Paul Persic.

 

About the producer

Meg Wilcox

Meg Wilcox

Name a job or a station at CBC and Meg Wilcox has probably been there and tried that. Since her time in the Ottawa and Toronto national newsrooms as a Joan Donaldson scholar in 2010, Meg has worked across the country in news, current affairs, and arts & music for radio, TV and online. Currently, she divides her time as a host, reporter, and news reader at CBC Calgary and as a journalism instructor at Mount Royal University. You can also hear Meg on the CKUA Radio Network every week as she hosts The Label, a series that tells the backstory and shares the back catalogue of major imprints.