Health inequalities are rising.

Bags of Taste is an innovative behaviour change intervention that works with people in or at risk of food poverty to improve their diets.  Our course is transformational and impacts students’ lives in a number of ways, from diet to debt, confidence, personal agency and social isolation.

People in poverty are often eating the worst; cheap ready meals (Icelands start at 89p for a pizza) and takeaways are fuelling an obesity crisis and simple poor nutrition from chicken and chips with no vegetables causes other health related issues.

There are two common misconceptions made by people working in this area.

The first and central one is that the issue is a lack of cooking skills.  In fact, we have found this not to be the crux of the problem.  Most people can scramble an egg; yet, they are not eating scrambled egg.

This leads to the second misconception, that the solution is to teach people simple, basic, achievable recipes.

We have found neither of these to be the case.  Whilst undoubtedly some people are lacking cooking skills, we would assess this as a significant barrier in less than 1/3 of the people that we teach.  We have also found that teaching simple recipes does not lead to a change in people’s diets. People are surrounded by, indeed prefer, the exotic dishes that are so easily and cheaply available as ready meals or takeaways.

Our focus is on motivation. We have conducted extensive, proprietary research into the reasons our students are not motivated to cook, and the programme breaks this down, systematically.  From reasons to attend our course, to getting them to actually cook the dish at home, everything we do is about driving motivation.  By the very nature of our students, who find themselves in a position of not cooking, we know they are low in intrinsic (internal) motivation.  However, motivation can also be extrinsic (external) and we use a large amount of peer pressure and mentoring to develop this aspect, throughout our course.

Some of the techniques we use include:

Pride – being able to turn out restaurant quality, “iconic” dishes, such as Singapore Noodles – literally, “better than the takeaway” is a large motivating factor.  Cooking Saag Paneer to a standard that impresses Indian friends, is priceless.  And all for less than £1 a portion, making it affordable for everyone.

Pester Power – children asking to “have it again” works on parents. Children often demand takeaways and being able to cook healthier versions of the food, that kids find acceptable, is great.

Peer Pressure – Peer mentoring through volunteers enables students to imagine themselves in a different situation in the future.  Seeing classmates buying bags tends to encourage others to buy bags.

Financial pressures – many people attend our course to save money

Bag pressures – having paid for the bag, students feel obliged to cook it.  They report the “bag in the fridge was looking at them”, “forcing” them to cook it.

“Nudge” techniques from behavioural science are baked-in to the course.

Gourmandism – students love the food and they look forward to eating it.

Much of the above is also a driver for students to want to continue with the course once the 4 weeks ends.  This enables us to access a large pool of volunteers who “give back” and also continue to progress along their journey, as well as providing the high levels of support our courses require.

Whilst motivating participants to cook, we have also found numerous other positive secondary outcomes.  They include:

  • Significant financial cost savings
  • Better mental health of participants
  • Near cessation of takeaway and ready meal consumption
  • Increase in vegetable consumption
  • Lower food waste
  • Increased confidence
  • Community Cohesion
  • Reduction in social isolation

You can read more about these outcomes in our outcomes section

The intervention, in pictures:

After the lessons

We encourage students to join our community in Facebook after the lesson where they can stay connected and get support long after after the lesson. They can access our recipe database and cooking videos, read tips on healthy cooking, post questions and share their cooking journey. The community is now nearly 200 strong.