Image of the article published in the magazine The Big Issue North

We’re delighted to have our Hastings project featured in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer. Please click on the image to be taken to the article on their website.

Featured as a story in BBC News on 1st January 2018.

Free cookery classes are helping people make healthy meals for no more than £1 a portion.

Bags of Taste is teaching hundreds of people how to cook new dishes and make their money go further.

Filmed, edited and produced by Emily France; additional filming by Charlotte Pritchard.

Watch the video if you haven’t!

Cooking classes for people on low budgets, with recipes designed to cost less than £1 a head – and you can take away a £3 bag of ingredients to serve four people at home.

Read full article here.

Today’s students range from teenagers in Nike tracksuits and white sport socks to pensioners. We take our seats in front of a table set up with a small portable stove and a chopping board. A teacher wearing a red striped apron welcomes everyone and the class begins.

“Today we’ll be making chili sin carne and sticky fried rice,” she says, first showing us how to sweat chopped onions on a low heat with garlic.

The teacher is Alicia Weston, a think tank researcher who set up the Bags of Tastecookery class with funding from the West Hackney Parochial Charity. The aim is to help those living on low incomes in East London eat healthily and save money. All classes are free to attend and feature a cookery demonstration, followed by a chance for students to split into smaller groups and recreate the dish themselves. At the end of the class, everyone sits down together to enjoy what they have cooked. Students are also offered a bag containing the ingredients to make four portions of the day’s recipe at home for £3.

Eating well for a quid sounds impossible but Weston hopes to show people that through bulk buying, identifying the best supermarket offers, and swapping more expensive ingredients such as red meat for chickpeas, it is possible to reduce food costs.

“Iceland sells the cheapest chopped tomatoes,” she tells us as she empties a can into the frying onions. Later on in the class, she shows us a diagram that illustrates why it’s better to buy large bottles of soy sauce, rather than lots of small ones.

As the tomato sauce for the chili sin carne begins to reduce, Weston adds paprika and cumin. Volunteer Linda, who has been assisting in the demonstration, shares some of her own advice on preventing food waste and saving money.

“You can keep onions in the freezer,” she tells the class. “I chop whole bags of them, my husband comes downstairs and I’m crying my eyes out holding a knife—he gets quite worried.”

After the demonstration, the students break into groups to try the recipe themselves. I watch volunteer Yvonne’s group make a start on the chili, with some of the teenagers fighting over who gets to slice the garlic. One student accidentally drops a plastic sandwich bag of sweet corn into the pot and watches transfixed as it sinks to the bottom. No one seems to mind.

I ask a student named Ali how he found out about Bags of Taste.

“Alicia told me about it at the Jobcentre,” he explains. “I thought, ‘Yeah I’d like to know how to cook.’ Normally I just eat plain chicken breasts with rice, it’d be nice to make proper stuff for my mum.”

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Food poverty is a growing concern in the UK and lots of communities are setting up innovative projects to get people cooking and to bring neighbours together.

Financial inclusion officer, Susan Janes, went along to the Bags of Taste Cooking Project in Hackney after hearing about it on Facebook.

I went with one of my Hackney residents – she is struggling with her finances and also finds it hard to leave her house due to depression. I thought a cookery class was the perfect opportunity to build her confidence and help her save money on food.

The set-up was great; the free class was held in a local church hall where the friendly team dressed in stripy aprons had set up induction hobs and other cooking facilities. All of the ingredients were provided and the team made sure that any food intolerances and preferences were considered.

The group was mixed, with people of all ages watching as Alicia – the teacher – showed us how to cook the dishes. She gave us tips on the best places to buy meat and produce locally and how to cut vegetables so that nothing is wasted. She taught us how much flavour spices could add to a dish, how to store them properly and use them in everything from salads to drinks.


Then it was our turn as we recreated the dishes under the watchful eye of her volunteers. Any nerves were soon removed by the friendly atmosphere and enthusiasm of the other classmates. And all of the dishes were delicious!

One of the best bits about the project is that Alicia sells bags with the ingredients for the recipes measured out for just 75p each. This means attendees can build on their skills at home – our resident cooked a chickpea curry and rice later and was so proud she sent me a picture of her tasty dish! She’s attended further lessons and is making lots more food and friends in the process.

The Bags of Taste team also source basic cooking utensils and sell them on at a very reasonable price. Attendees are encouraged to volunteer at future workshops, giving them some work experience and helping them to build connections in their community.

Do you know of any great initiatives in your local community like Bags of Taste? Leave a comment below to share them.

Find out more about our Food Sense campaign and food poverty.


Published on Guiness Trust magazine on November 2015.

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