Family and Consumer Sciences Focus on the Human Dimension: The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Example

By Cason, Katherine L.; Chipman, Helen et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Family and Consumer Sciences Focus on the Human Dimension: The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Example


Cason, Katherine L., Chipman, Helen, Forstadt, Leslie A., Rasco, Mattie R., Sellers, Debra M., Stephenson, Laura, York, De'Shoin A., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


The Foundation of Family and Consumer Sciences

The current family and consumer sciences (FCS) paradigm emphasizes interactions and influencers within individual, family, and community systems. A human dimension is integral to the social, physical, emotional, environmental, and economic elements of these systems. FCS professionals are unique in that they personally connect these systems through research and education, which leads to improved personal, family, and community quality of life, standards of living, and well-being (McGregor & Goldsmith, 1998; Nickols et al., 2009).

Foundational to this paradigm is the pioneering work of Emma Hart Willard (Crocco & Davis, 2002; Brown, 1985, as cited in Jerpbak, 2005), Catherine Beecher (Roberts, 2006), and Mary Hemenway (Snodgrass, 2011), who created learning opportunities for women, elevated the status of FCS, and showed that "domestic economy" skills could and should be taught. They used interdisciplinary lessons rich with illustrations, graphic organizers such as concept maps, hands-on learning, subject matter relevance, cooking demonstrations, and experimental kitchens-approaches that still apply today. Land-grant colleges and universities were established in 1862 with passage of the Morrill Act. They included domestic science as a formal course of study. These institutions reached out to their local communities through the Cooperative Extension System (a.k.a. Extension), which was established through the Smith Lever Act of 1914 (Scholl, 2013).

Whether referred to as domestic economy, domestic science, home economics, or family and consumer sciences, as it is called now, the discipline still focuses on the importance of experiential, hands-on, and practical learning provided by a relatable and familiar person. FCS professionals must be nimble and responsive to social, physical, emotional, environmental, and economic facets of people's lives, and they must educate using current and relevant content and methods. Through such actions, FCS and Extension continue to be social arbiters of equality and progressive ideals with an emphasis on the human dimension.

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program: Education Grounded in the Human Dimension

One noteworthy program within Extension is the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). EFNEP has been an integral part of the FCS Extension legacy for nearly 50 years; it remains as relevant and important today as it was in the 1960s when the program began (USDA/NIFA, 2015).

EFNEP's Beginnings

EFNEP developed from the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration's "War on Poverty," through which poverty and hunger began to receive national attention and societal concern. Existing efforts to alleviate hunger through distribution of agricultural commodities were considered insufficient. Leaders in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) viewed nutrition education as one potential solution to resolve hunger and inadequate nutrition. USDA funded Extension projects in Alabama, Massachusetts, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Texas between 1962 and 1966 to determine best practices for serving disadvantaged families more effectively. The projects focused on how to reach low-income families, who should educate, and what methodology should be implemented (Leidenfrost, 1975).

Project researchers concluded that the most effective educational programs were tailored to the needs, interests, competencies, economics, and educational levels of the families to be served. They found that indigenous paraprofessional educators (i.e., peer educators), supervised by professional home economists, had superior abilities to establish rapport and communicate with participants (Brink, 2000).

Upon completion of the USDA projects, then Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman wrote a letter to the President recommending funding authorization for a national program. He stated, "I don't know anything that could do more to reach human needs, particularly pregnant women and children, than an expanded homemaker program that would train and inspire ladies in rural communities to reach out as [paraprofessionals] giving individual attention to the millions of people in the [extreme] poor category who are literally isolated from society" (Leidenfrost, 2000). …

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