Here’s How to Make Dinner for £1
The teacher is Alicia Weston, a think tank researcher who set up the Bags of Taste cookery 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.
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.”
Weston explains that some of the recipes she demonstrates in Bags of Taste classes are healthy takes on popular takeaway dishes, such as chicken tacos and lamb kofta.
Healthy eating can difficult if you lack the knowledge and the financial resources. A deep pan pepperoni pizza is £1 at Iceland, which costs less than a packet of green beans. Equally, eating healthily doesn’t have to be the preserve of those who can afford organic flaxseeds. According to Weston, evaluations have shown that students who follow Bags of Taste recipes and grocery shopping advice can save 25 percent on their food bills (around £1,400 a year), as well as seeing improvements in their health.
Weston tells me that the classes often produce strong social bonds between students and volunteers.
After the class disperses, full and happy, and Doreen finishes showing me old polaroids of her with two pink-washed poodles, I help Weston load the equipment and leftover ingredients into a cab.
“I remember hearing this guy from Glasgow,” she recalls, before we say our goodbyes. “He said, ‘I don’t eat all that salad shit’ and I thought, ‘That’s exactly it.’ People who live in Glasgow who eat fish and chips do not eat all that salad shit, and if you try to get them to eat the salad shit, nothing will change.”
Legendary Hackney chef, Parkholme Supper Club’s, Alicia Weston has been hosting a series of four Food Skills lessons, in partnership with LCRN, for people on benefits and for those who need coaching on how to produce tasty, home-cooked food without breaking the bank.
Many of those present were nominated by The Shoreditch Trust, a regeneration charity, and homeless charity St Mungos so they can gain skills to help them with life skills.
Alicia begins each session with a cookery demonstration. The audience forms into groups and follows her lead.
For instance, in one session she made salmon fishcakes and coleslaw first (quick and easy) and then started a chickpea curry.
The curry she made was enough for four people but Alicia said it freezes well so it could be divided into two and half of the meal frozen for consumption on another day. She explained people should not just use the nearest supermarket but shop around.
For this session, she bought tinned salmon at Poundland that morning for £1. And pink or red salmon works equally well. She bought other ingredients in the local market which was, again, usually cheaper than a supermarket.
And if they cooked too many potatoes?
Again, the portions could be divided and the second portion could be stored in the fridge and used a couple of days later in, for instance, a cottage pie, again with leftovers of meat.
While the curry was cooking she visited each group giving advice and helping where it was needed.
“We had to work with each other and this was a new and interesting experience for some of us,” said one attendee. She reported one or two of the people in her group gained confidence visibly as the session progressed.
Alicia also gave preparation tips on, for instance: how to peel ginger with a spoon or how to chop an onion leaving the root to last.
And she even made the coleslaw, again showing the audience it was cheaper and tastier to make the dish rather than buy a ready-made tub from the supermarket.
She also explained to the audience about how to buy food, what is healthy and what isn’t.
At the end of the session each person could, for £3, buy a goodie bag containing the ingredients for the meals she had cooked during the session, along with the recipes.
The basic premise was that those who attended this session went away with: new skills; new ideas on eating better; saving money; wasting less food; a full stomach; and a feeling of good will.
Alicia said two thirds of participants took the goodie bags. This pilot was, all agreed, worthwhile and, hopefully, will be back soon.
Feedback on the courses has been phenomenal. She added that at least two of the people on the course reckoned that it would change their lives.
Others said they intended to pass on what they had learned to friends and children.
She would hope to continue the courses in a different format in the future but this relies on funding.
She is testing her new format soon on a small group of people where she can receive detailed feedback.
Eventually she hopes to be able to move the concept out of its Hackney base into other parts of London and even further afield but, because of transport restraints, these courses will probably be online or with the help of videos.
In the meantime, we can all enjoy Alicia’s cooking at the Parkholme Supper Club, a pop up restaurant where she cooks international food, drawn from the backgrounds of its international base of volunteers. The recipes come from countries such as Georgia, Syria, Tajikistan, Mexico, Malaysia, Italy, China, Morocco and Korea.
All the profits from the Parkholme Supper Club go to Medecins Sans Frontieres and, Alicia says, the club has raised more than £50,000 for the charity.
Source: London Community Resource Network. http://lcrn.org.uk/food-skills-can-change-lives/