How Bags of Taste got me out of the ‘can’t cook, won’t cook’ habit


Read Esther’s story, one of our students who did one of the first Bags of Taste Mentored courses.

Sometimes the most effective solutions come in the most seemingly unlikely places. If someone had said to me that a cookery course via WhatsApp would have got me out of the “can’t cook, won’t cook” phase that I had been in for several years, (ok let’s be honest, for four years!!), I’m not sure I would have believed them. But somehow, three years later, once a regular visitor to the ready meal aisle, here I am continuing to prepare home-made food for nearly every meal… I shouldn’t really have been so surprised… my Master’s research had been on the barriers that prevent people accessing services, so I knew that the best way to reach people is to be flexible in your approach and that there is no one size fits all solution, but seeing really is believing…
I came across Bags of Taste when I attended a community event. One of the charities there told me about the mentored Whatsapp cookery course. I had just had an operation and the idea of not having to hobble back from the supermarket with the ingredients for 3 meals and having some peer support to get me cooking again sounded very appealing so I decided to give it a go.
The group was set up on WhatsApp and everyone introduced themselves and the ingredients arrived. The first recipe was the channa masala which was similar to something I had cooked before. By the time the second recipe – the pasta sauce – was due, old habits were dying hard and I needed a bit of a push to remember to cook it. I’m sure I mumbled something about not liking chopping, but the knife sharpener I got in my goody bag did make that easier.
I will never know what happened between recipes 2 and 3, it could have been because the chickpea and mushroom pilau was so delicious that it worked its magic, but somehow I had turned into someone who actually wanted to cook again. By the time I finished the course and got access to the many recipes available on graduation, I was a convert! The aubergine recipe and the pilau have become firm family favourites.
And of course instead of spending £4 on a one portion small ready meal, I was now making meals that were around £1 per portion. And because many of the meals are great for batch cooking, I learnt to make things that could just be reheated so when I’m too busy to cook, there is still an abundance of good food.
Had the course run in person, given that I had not long had surgery, it would have been difficult to find the time and energy to go along. I think that’s part of the beauty of the way Bags of Taste works. Because it is so flexible, it allows people to fit cooking three recipes into a two week period. There is peer support and encouragement in a comfortable environment and ingredients are adapted for learners with a range of dietary requirements.
Whilst there are lots of groups that provide face-to-face support, which definitely has its place, from the perspective of tackling the barriers that many people face when wanting to cook healthy, home-made, cost-effective meals, the way Bags of Taste delivers its programmes through WhatsApp is extremely effective at reaching a whole range of people who may otherwise miss out. From those who may have physical or mental health issues preventing them regularly attending a venue, to those whose with children or other caring responsibilities and, now more than ever, for those struggling with travel and childcare costs, this way of supporting people to cook really does reach the very people who otherwise would not be able to go along.
Bags of Taste courses are run by volunteer mentors, supported by a team of local co-ordinators. I am pleased to say that one of my own family members, who saw how much difference Bags of Taste made to me, is now a volunteer mentor leading their second course. The WhatsApp format means they have been able to fit in mentoring around a busy full-time job and are gaining valuable mentoring skills with Bags of Taste – a charity which really does make a sustainable difference.