Don't be surprised one day to see a photograph of a college graduation ceremony with young people wearing white aprons and chef's toques scattered among those traditional black caps and gowns.
The faculty of Antioch College has given its blessing to an attempt to establish a bachelor of fine arts program in culinary arts on the campus at Yellow Springs. Ohio. This would lead to the nation's first college level academic degree in what has traditionally been regarded as a trade or craft.
Several universities offer degrees in hotel management, which includes some kitchen training, and there are a number of two-year colleges across the country that train cooks. The latter are considered vocational programs, however, and aim to place graduates as cooks or managers in the food service industry.
Antioch's program would require five years of study and supplement hands-on kitchen training with study abroad and courses in a foreign language, nutrition, food economics, philosophy and sensory appreciation of wine as well as food. "The major goal," according to the proposal presented to the faculty, "will be to develop solid creative skills with the highest 'aesthetic standards and critical insights'. . ."
Obviously, this isn't the path for potential burger kings to follow. "Our kids aren't passive or vocationally oriented," and John Ronsheim, an Antioch music professor with a passionate attachment to food and wine. "They want to do something they can shape with their own hands." It might also, he acknowledged, give young people who have no goal in life a diversion to sustain them through their college careers.
Ronsheim devised the concept and argues that whether or not the students go on to become practicing cooks is no more important than if music majors become concert musicians. In his view they will have knowledge of an "art form" and be better prepared to appreciate it and live a "rich life."
Since gaining faculty support, Ronsheim has been contacting food authorities in this country and in France, seeking advice, contacts and money. Author Peg Bracken, an alumna, has promsied to help and Ronsheim has appointments with two others who are powers in the food industry. The immediate goal is $70,000. If the faculty approves a proposed curriculum this fall, a director will be hired and begin working toward inaugurating the full program in fall of 1980.
Antioch, which was founded by Horace Mann before the Civil War, developed a reputation for encouraging individualism and experimenting with new ideas. In recent years, however, the college has been troubled by student unrest and financial difficulties. Ronsheim's blueprint for the culinary arts program takes this into account. He thinks the campus food program will:
Make use of products from the college's farm, thus "completing the cycle" and justifying expansion of that facility.
Offer better food to those who eat on campus, thereby making students happier.
Provide the staff and food at a showcase restaurant that would bring visitors and additional revenue to the college.
Inspire non-degree courses, food and wine-related literature and summer seminars that also would be moneymakers.
At its grandest, Ronsheim's vision has Yellow Springs completely self-sufficient in its production and utilization of food and Antioch as the academic center of culinary America. Intense and enthusiastic to the point of exuberance, he cites a passage from Mrs. Horace Mann's 1861 work, "Christianity in the Kitchen": "There is no more prolific cause of bad morals than abuses of diet."
"Not only will our graduates find excellent paying jobs, and influence our poor food habits," he wrote in a draft proposal, "but perhaps some day form community farm restaurants throughout America, places where all the food to be eaten can come from the land surrounding that place of consuming . . . What could be more idealistically symbolic than that?"