At Made In Hackney, the UK’s only 100% plant-based eco-community kitchen, we’ve found everyone’s food revolution is different. Since opening in October 2012 we’ve worked with close to 3000 people showing them how to grow, cook and eat food that’s good for their health and that of the planet. To us this means eating a diet that’s local, organic, seasonal and plant-based. And for those wishing to step it up a notch, it’s a diet that’s also refined sugar-free, wholefoods based and contains fermented, sprouted and raw foods. Deep.
We pride our food revolution in being open and accessible to everyone – regardless of income, background and life circumstances. We’ve worked with visually impaired people, newly arrived migrants, community groups, women’s groups, youth centres, stroke survivors, mental health patients, diabetics, young carers, parents and children, retired men, ex-offenders and corporate groups. We meet people where they’re at – and adapt class recipes and make the programme bespoke to each group. Yet despite everyone being in the same class, on the same course – what they take home and the impact it has on their lives we have found, is completely different.
Take for example our six-week Cooking For Life course. Everyone who finishes the programme knows their way around a kitchen by the time they finish. They’ve been taught the fundamentals of cookery, how to read food labels, make sugar-free desserts, use herbs, spices and citrus instead of salt, replace poor quality meat with plant-based protein and the benefits of eating local organic food and where to source it affordably. We hope they’ve also had a great time, made some new friends and left feeling inspired to take these new skills into their everyday life to improve not only their health – but the health of their families too.
The above outcomes are relatively easy to track. We conduct pre and post course evaluations and phone people 3 months after completing the course to see what the long-term impact is. It’s these chats – either on the phone or at our twice-yearly face-to-face feedback sessions – where the magic really happens and everyone’s unique journey, their own personal food revolution, is revealed.
Take for instance Sunny. He said going on the course had improved his relationship with his wife as he could now share the cooking load. He also appreciated what she’d been doing for the family (e.g. cooking) for the last 10 years, had upped the family food budget to spend on better quality ingredients, and was now growing organic salad in their garden and had signed up to a local organic veg box scheme.
Then there’s Fran, who, after 5 years of caring for someone – the course was her first step towards managing her own health again – and meeting new people in a supportive setting. She repeated the recipes she learnt with us at home and felt confident to hold her first dinner party using the recipes from the classes. “Something I would never have dreamt of before attending the course,” she told us. She’s recently told us she’s gone veggie – and feels, “Loads better for it.”
Next up is David whom lost his sight 10 years ago. He stopped cooking as his vision deteriorated, instead relying on ready meals and take-aways. The course renewed his confidence to get back into the kitchen and cook meals from scratch. The improvement he’s felt since eating better food subsequently buoyed him to start taking more exercise and give up smoking in a domino effect of taking control of your health and wellbeing – starting with food.
The teens can be our trickiest customers. Peer pressure to dislike vegetables, not to try new ‘weird’ looking ingredients and fixed ideas on what is ‘nasty’ and what is ‘peng’ can produce some seemingly impenetrable barriers to eating food that’s good for people and planet. But even under these circumstances each young person has their own food revolution. We had a young person call his Mum mid-class to insist they buy a juicer. Another who was so appalled by the amount of sugar in Ribena (we got her to weigh it out) she vowed she’d never drink it again. And a teen who after making lemonade from scratch in class, was so disgusted by the amount of “nonsense” in shop bought lemonade she vowed she would write to the company and complain – a food activist in the making!
(Whilst we’re on the subject of teens it’s worth noting it doesn’t always go to plan – with some young people delighted that a McDonalds cheeseburger doesn’t go off even after 5 weeks in a cupboard and that more sugar and more salt can only be a good thing.)
Putting the cheeseburger incident aside, these are all incredible outcomes and certainly ones we didn’t anticipate when we set up the project back in October 2012. Our food revolution remains the same. But we have long accepted that the people we work with will all have their own. And viva to that!
Want to help the Made In Hackney – Local Food Kitchen to keep inspiring people to have their own food revolution? Make a donation, fundraise, volunteer or attend a class by visiting Made in Hackney.