My partner Deb and I are grandparents. Grandson Austin is now 4 months old, the cutest baby ever, and we are embarked on his part-time care and feeding.

One of the ways I am helping involves cooking some staple foods like soup and dinner for his parents. Recently they asked if I could make them sushi. I told them making sushi is like importing a whole new culture into your kitchen, from the kind of rice used, to the equipment, to the ingredients for the wraps. It would be a worthy investment of time and dollars, if one had an unlimited supply of one or both, not to mention space to store all the new stuff. Right now it is a lot easier for me and a lot better quality for them just to go to the local supermarket and buy sushi pre-made by excellent chefs.

Being able to buy sushi locally is already a tremendous change in culinary expectations. Twenty years ago, unless you lived in Boulder, Co., or San Francisco or New York, you would not have known what that stuff was. And now your local supermarket has a sushi chef on staff and stocks sticky rice, seaweed wraps and all the other material. Makeover lessons for “The Worst Cooks in America” involve sushi. (I saw this on the Food Network.) We are witnessing another pervasive culinary transformation, just like the introduction of pizza or croissants.

Do you member when both of those were novelties? I do. In the 1950s you had to drive all the way from Swampscott, Mass., to the Leaning Tower of Pizza in Saugus for pepperoni pizza. It was our teen-age destination of choice. And in the ’60s, Autre Chose in Cambridge had the ultimate in croissants, plain, almond and chocolate. We got up early and stood in line for an hour on the weekend to get some. And today, we find pizza and croissants in our local supermarket’s freezer section.

It’s relatively easy to see and describe changes in cooking fashions and the spread of culinary techniques. But it’s not just about the food. The way our society is today, sushi and pizza and other fast and convenience foods are an easy, relatively inexpensive way to get a whole meal with limited time and effort, with good flavors and often good nutrition. People will pay for this, and society has organized to accommodate the demand. There are networks to supply ingredients like cheese, dough, and tomatoes, or fish, vegetables and seaweed. There are home freezers. New and updated food delivery systems include supermarkets (with sushi chefs) and fast-food franchises, both of which will bring your food to your home with a simple phone call, email, or text message.

If we catalogued all the things that have had to change in the last few decades to accommodate our new food expectations, we would quickly find that the changes pervade society. We still have to eat, but we’re motivated to ask new questions. Is our food system doing the best it can for us? Is it supporting our health, our economy, our landscapes? Lots of people think it can be improved, and many of them are right here in Maine. Organic, slow, local and on it goes. These are good discussions to have.

And now, we transition from sushi to education. Why is it that we expect our schools to be organized and perform in the same familiar ways when the rest of our society has changed so much? We can have pizza and croissants and sushi today, we can buy it frozen or cooked at the food store, make it from scratch or have it delivered, so why not have new expectations for education? Just like we still have to eat, we have to take care of the kids. But is our traditional idea of school still the best one?

A lot of school reform talk presupposes that it is. Teacher qualifications, class size, school day length, test scores — if we just fixed this part, the whole would be fine. I don’t think so.

I think that we need another model, being invented now. Change will involve partnerships between schools and businesses, arts organizations, governments and social services. There’ll be local experiments, like Project Login, Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, and the Partnership for Civic Advancement at UMF. They will lead to pervasive systemic change. Eventually, we’ll have new expectations and different questions about educational effectiveness.

More about this later, but right now, let’s have lunch. Sushi, anyone?

Theodora J. Kalikow is interim vice chancellor and president emerita of the University of Maine System. She can be reached at [email protected]

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