Written by Briana Kane
This January I started volunteering virtually with a Bags of Taste, an organisation that strives to help people in poverty to cook budget-friendly, home-made meals. In pre-covid times, they ran face-to-face cooking classes as well as a virtual course. However, due to the pandemic, all courses are now run virtually, with mentors tutoring their students via WhatsApp. Suitable volunteering opportunities are hard to come by in this socially distanced, locked-down world we find ourselves in, so this innovative nutrition intervention is ideal for nutrition students and graduates at the moment!
How does Bags of Taste work?
Bags of Taste tackle three key factors that influence dietary choice- affordability, availability and knowledge & skills (1). Students are sent a bag (free of charge) that contains a knife sharpener and ingredients for three recipes- Channa Masala, Pasta Sauce and Pilaf. Mentors are responsible for guiding 3-4 students through the course in a WhatsApp group. This involves sending through tutorial videos and some pre-written content about the recipes. More importantly, it involves building relationships with your students, keeping it fun and interesting, encouraging them to get cooking, and praising them when they send you videos of them cooking and pictures of their plates of food. The course lasts two weeks, and when students have cooked all three recipes, they receive a certificate, they can join a Facebook support group and they get sent more recipes- all costing less than or equal to £1 per portion!
The intervention achieves extraordinary results both in the short and long term. Immediately after the intervention most participants report that their diet and health are improved, they are consuming less takeaways and ready meals, they feel more confident in the kitchen, they are saving money on food, they know how to shop for cheap ingredients, and they feel less socially isolated (2). Most importantly, the intervention has lasting effects. One year on, 95% of participants report eating less takeaways and ready meals, 83% are cooking more, 78% report improved health, and 98% report saving money on food (2).
Why does Bags of Taste work?
As a public health nutrition enthusiast, I thought I’d briefly explain why Bags of Taste is such a successful intervention, using Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). SCT postulates that behaviour is influenced by a three way interaction between personal, environmental and behavioural factors (see graphic) (3). Providing people with a bag of ingredients and recipes directly influences the environmental factors (food availability) and personal factors (affordability). This in turn influences their behaviour- they’re more likely to cook, thereby saving money. When they cook, it influences their expectations and beliefs about their ability to cook using cheap ingredients (personal factors), which makes them more likely to cook and buy ingredients again. In addition to this, Bags of Taste uses various other components of SCT including goal setting, increasing self-efficacy, social learning and incentive motivation (4). This all results in a highly successful nutrition intervention, which leaves a lasting impact on participants’ lives.
My Experience with Bags of Taste
I decided to volunteer with Bags of Taste as I am interested in behaviour change and nutrition interventions. This was my first time being involved in a nutrition intervention so it was really interesting to get some first-hand experience, and put some theory into practice. I am also passionate about the need to reduce health inequalities so this organisation really resonated with me. It was so enriching to see my students, who all had their own personal challenges, grow more and more confident with cooking as they completed each recipe. I feel that taking part in Bags of Taste strengthened my communication and leadership skills and deepened my empathy, compassion and understanding for people facing food poverty.
I would highly recommend nutrition students and graduates to reach out to Bags of Taste and volunteer. It’s a really worthwhile experience with a fabulous organisation, it’s easy to fit it in around your studies/work and makes a great addition to your CV!
Check out more information and register to volunteer here: https://www.bagsoftaste.org/volunteer/virtual-course/
1. Bag of Taste (2021), Poor diet and food insecurity in the UK. Available: https://www.bagsoftaste.org/our-work/#the-problem-poor-diets (accessed 12/02/21).
2. Bag of Taste (2021), Outcomes. Available: https://www.bagsoftaste.org/funders/outcomes/ (accessed 12/02/21).
3. Bandura, A. (1989) Social Foundations of thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Prentice Hall, Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ.
4. McAllister, A., Perry, C and Parcel, G. (2008) How individuals, environments and health behaviours interact: social cognitive theory. In K Glanz, B.K. Rimer, and K. Viswanath (eds), Health Behaviour and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4th edn. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA; pp169-188.