By Rachel Karasik

Sometimes, a cooking class is about far more than just learning to follow a recipe. Bags of Taste is helping people learn how to cook healthy, affordable and delicious meals while also tackling the complex challenges faced by those dealing with food poverty every day. Focusing on long-term behavioural change over quick fixes, their courses are designed to build confidence in the kitchen and teach participants how to navigate their own
local food shops to find healthy ingredients regardless of budget.

Bags of Taste meals made by a former student
CREDIT: Callum Dales

The pandemic forced Bags of Taste to pivot from in-person classes to a new programme that can be completed entirely at home with the support of volunteer mentors through text, Whatsapp, phone calls or online. Participants on the Mentored Home Cooking course receive a bag full of everything they need to cook three delicious and nutritious meals – Chana masala, Italian pasta sauce and Middle Eastern pilaf. 

The dishes are all vegan (although mentors are able to explain how to incorporate meat into the recipes) and can be cooked anytime over a two-week period. Mentors are there to talk through recipes and answer questions, sending over useful tips and video links showing kitchen skills
like how to chop an onion. Once the course is completed, participants are given nine more follow-on recipes and invited to a long-term Facebook group where a community of former participants share questions, recipes, support and advice. 

While the loss of in-person classes has been a challenge, the new at home course has actually expanded the diversity of people able or interested in participating, particularly those with social anxiety or limited mobility. Co-ordinator, Jo Durkin, notes that their most recent course was made up of 50% men, a far larger percentage than their in-person classes. 

During their most recent feedback survey with past participants, 65% said they were still cooking from scratch at home six months after they completed the course; 64% said they were spending less money on takeaways and ready meals. Participants talked about becoming more adventurous in the kitchen by using more herbs and spices in their cooking and seeking out new recipes to try on their own. 

How to get involved 

While some of Bags of Taste’s participants come through referrals, anyone on a low budget who is interested in learning to cook affordable, healthy food at home can get in touch to find out more at bagsoftaste.org/courses/#hastings

Bags of Taste are also looking for volunteers to help support their courses.
To find out more, get in touch with Jo Durkin at [email protected]


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