Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the whole Sorted Food team at their HQ in East London, the fab bunch of guys and gals who are famous for their YouTube channel which is filled with some awesome recipes and a lot of general larking about with food. We were all meeting up to discuss a big food-based issue which they’ve decided to try and tackle — the ‘cooking gap’.
Mind the Gap.
They’ve been working with the Co-op, to explore the cooking gap which has developed amongst 16–35 year olds. If you’re wondering what the cooking gap is, it’s the lack of cooking experience that has developed in a generation of the UK population. There’s an entire age group of people growing up in the UK who have little or no culinary knowledge, and worse than that, 28% of those who can’t cook don’t see the point in learning either.
The event was a chance for everyone to chat about food, learn about food, eat some food and discuss and what we think is important for people to learn, if they’re going to bridge this gap.
Looking for the Silver Bullet?
I’ve been thinking about this event ever since, because it crosses over with my study as a Food Policy student. Something I’ve learned very quickly about food related issues is that no matter how simple it appears on the surface, it’s probably very complicated. Don’t be disheartened by this, it simply means there’s rarely a simple magic answer to resolve a problem, it’s often easier to tackle one aspect of an issue, rather than taking on the whole thing in one go.
Why is There a Gap?
There might be a huge range of reasons why people can’t cook. Perhaps they weren’t exposed to home cooking when growing up, or conversely, maybe they were, but simply hated it? They might have only eaten chicken ’n’ chips for dinner so don’t know what freshly cooked food really is. What if their school didn’t have any food education or what if it did, but they decided that ready meals are much tastier, easier and cheaper than cooking for themselves. It could be that some of these people simply don’t give a damn about food, which is an even harder issue to tackle. The reality is that the reasons are probably all of the above, plus a lot more.
Solutions to these problems are’t simple either, you can’t go out make people buy fresh ingredients, or force them to invest their time into home cooking,
But… Food is so Popular?
It all seems incongruous with a time when cooking books top bestseller lists and ‘foodie’ experiences are everywhere you look. Yesterday a friend of mine took to Facebook to complain about a food event because there were simply too many people there and he couldn’t move, food is ridiculously popular currently.
Whether you believe in a ‘classless society’ or not, the fact is that the bulk of ‘foodie’ culture is aimed at those with disposable income to spend on sourdough bread and quinoa salads. It’s also a fact that on average, the less money you have, the worse your diet will also be.
Learning to Eat.
This brings me to a crossroads about this issue, because the most obvious course of action is teaching people to cook. But what about those who said they didn’t want to cook? What about those who eat chicken ’n’ chips alone, on their way home and are happy with that? Learning to cook is irrelevant to them, they simply aren’t interested. These people need to re-learn how to eat before they can learn to cook. The only way to improve their diet is to create a new social meaning around food, and when I say social, I mean in terms of society, community, friends and family.
Sex or Cake?
Food exists in a strange position in our world, it’s a bit like sex because you can use it for pleasure, but it’s also essential to the survival of the human race. It goes further than that, because food can also be a very sociable experience, like when you have tea and biscuits, there’s a good chance you’re with a group of other people having a good chat.
To complicate this, the creation of food is a skill that needs to be learned like any other, because nobody is born with an innate understanding of how to make an omelette, they have to learn it. Every single person on the planet needs food to survive beyond the next few days, they all need food in their life, so it must be each person’s perception of food which is the big cooking gap issue. People’s food related life experiences or lack of them determine if they’re in the cooking gap, or standing at the edge, looking in.
At this point I’d like to introduce a term I’m still learning about. Food Literacy. The US Food Literacy Center[sic] define food literacy as including four areas of knowledge; agriculture, nutrition, preparation and community. This makes complete sense, because to eat really well, you need to know where your food comes from, what’s in it, how to make it and how to eat it. The cooking gap generation are probably missing several, if not all of these pieces, so we need to invoke interest and create curiosity around these four areas in the cooking gap generation.
To reach them, we need to go to them, because they’re not coming to us. As people who have a love of food, we need to find a way to get into these people’s heads and trigger some enthusiasm for what goes into their cake hole each day. Once they’re genuinely interested in looking at what they eat, they might just want to learn how to cook it as well.