Cookery teacher and project coordinator of the Streets to Kitchen project, Caroline Parsons, writes in our latest blog post about life-changing cookery classes delivered in collaboration with Square Food Foundation, St Mungo’s and Better Food.
When you think of ‘cooking from scratch’, what does it mean to you? For many lucky people, it conjures up images of bountiful fresh ingredients; wide choices of recipes and delicious dishes to pick from; and happy times in the kitchen with friends and family.
It’s realistic to say, however, that for many reasons, these positive associations around producing good food don’t exist for everyone – and this may mean that the physical and mental health benefits of cooking and eating wholesome unprocessed food aren’t available either.
At Square Food Foundation, our passion is for teaching people from all walks of life to cook from scratch, and we’ve been really fortunate to pair with Better Food to set up weekly cookery sessions in the kitchen at St Mungo’s hub for homeless people – or those at risk of homelessness – in Bristol’s centre.
Accessing good quality food may be difficult for St Mungo’s service users. They may be in situations without cooking facilities, or finances may make buying fresh ingredients unattainable. Storage can be a problem, and another real issue is that many people have simply not had cooking in their lives in a way which has given them the skills they need to approach it confidently or see it as a meaningful, beneficial way of spending time and funds.
Going for Gold spotlights Food Equality as a priority for developing sustainable food systems locally, and finding ways to enable everyone to cook and eat good food is the main aim behind our work with St Mungo’s. We’ve been lucky enough to gain support from various food partners who donate surplus stock, meaning that tasty fresh ingredients are finding their way across the city to where they are most needed and appreciated. Recently, everyone loved their sticky chicken drumsticks with roasted Mediterranean vegetables as a result of this great initiative.
As tutor, I’ve been really keen to ensure that time spent in the kitchen is fun and supportive for everyone. After all, participating in a group and feeling valued by everybody is a great way to build those positive associations around food and cooking. The twin aim alongside this is for everyone to cook a couple of nutritious, tasty dishes which are comparatively cheap and use practical, realistic techniques and equipment. We usually do a savoury dish and a sweet one, which keeps everyone happy! People very often eat some of what they have made right then, and have enough to take away too. Popular dishes recently have included pasta carbonara, lentil soup and pineapple upside-down cake – and we all often end up chatting with other service users, staff and volunteers who are drawn to the kitchen by the delicious cooking smells!
I’d encourage anyone working with groups who might benefit to set up some simple cooking sessions, even if you’re not expert yourself. The possibilities are endless even if you start very small and all learn together.
Streets to Kitchen is becoming really popular as part of St Mungo’s Recovery College and I get some genuinely heartfelt comments about ‘being part of something’, ‘making friends’ and creating dishes that people never thought they would be able to achieve. In common with everyone at Square Food Foundation, I firmly believe that food can be used as a way to improve people’s lives through nutrition and cooking skills, but also through self-confidence and belonging. Working with the service users at St Mungo’s has been a real way of showing this in action. The project has also demonstrated that bringing together a variety of different partners across the city can work very effectively to bring about genuine change in food systems, while at the same time starting to enable vulnerable individuals to make some wonderful warm, positive connections with cooking, eating and good food.
If you’d like to donate to the new Streets to Kitchen fundraiser and help ensure the course can continue into 2020, please donate to our FundSurfer.
Caroline Parsons is a cookery teacher and project coordinator at Square Food Foundation.