“I'm so proud I cooked a roast dinner” Food Food for Thought Cooking Programme YWCA West Kent Young Women’s Project, Project, Jan - Feb 2009 An overview and reflection on the research research approach and findings
Snapshot from the participatory film where the young women are discussing their experiences of the course: Q. Have you changed, are you doing anything differently at home? Like she said, cooking things from scratch…I’m actually freezing stuff… I haven’t actually taken it out the freezer yet…but it is frozen! Q. Do the kids enjoy the food? H. Angel eats all of her roast dinners now…with garlic potatoes N. He didn’t eat potatoes before or anything like that …and he’s started eating them now and he didn’t eat them before. It’s just his whole appetite is a lot better since we’ve been doing different varieties not the same food…so that’s quite good. And they try things more aswell whereas they wouldn’t, they was quite fussy about trying things and they’re not so fussy anymore. They do try things which is nice’.
Context The Social Innovation Lab for Kent (www.kent.gov.uk/silk) supports and runs projects using personcentred approaches to inform strategic policy-making in Kent County Council. SILK aims to reconnect people’s real experiences with policy-making and believes that by drawing on qualitative research as well as the traditional quantitative data, a more holistic approach to policy-making can be enabled. In 2007 SILK commissioned an ethnographic research study exploring the lives of families, ‘Just Coping’ (see http://socialinnovation.typepad.com/silk/silk-downloads-2.html). The study revealed access to healthy and affordable food was a key issue, amongst others. A research project was taken forward looking into the ‘Food for Thought’ course as part of SILK Programme Manager Emma Barrett’s MSc in Applied Social and Community Research (University of Brighton). The aim of the project was to understand more about younger families living on a low income and their attitudes towards food and cooking. Food for Thought was initially an idea that came from the young mums accessing the YWCA West Kent Young Women’s Project in Tonbridge. The Food for Thought group was backed by ITV Fixers who helped secure funding for the course (http://www.itvfixers.com/ select Meridian East and then click on Fixers Cooking up a Storm in Kent). The programme has been run for beginners in Tonbridge and Hadlow and an advanced course is now being rolled out at the request of the young women. In light of health issues linked to poor diet and a lack of awareness about how to cook, the programme was aimed at younger mums or mums-to-be living on a low income. Many aspects of food are covered in the 8 week course including practical sessions in the kitchen followed by meals shared together with the children, how to cook healthily on a budget and safety in the kitchen. Emma would like to thank the YWCA West Kent Young Women’s Project, their agency partners and the families themselves for enabling her to participate in their Food for Thought Cooking programme in February 2009. This summary report will be divided into several sections; the research approach; what we learned about attitudes to food, and opportunities emerging for the research participants following the Food for Thought course. This report is informed by data recorded during the research process, observations and reflections and should be read in conjunction with the participatory film which will be uploaded onto www.kent.gov.uk/silk .
How we approached the research… The approach Roles, relationships and recruitment of participants Emma had an existing relationship with staff at the YWCA West Kent Young Women’s project after a workshop with them involving the local Youth Offending Team a couple of years ago. The element of trust required when working with participants that may be vulnerable or living in challenging circumstances was significant. Emma chose to work with this organisation to build on an existing relationship with the staff, anticipating that they would act as the trusted intermediary and would facilitate a brokerage role between the families and herself as the researcher. The ethos The research was carried out using a participatory approach; Emma’s aim as a researcher was to be a participant in the Food for Thought course alongside the young women in order to listen and observe. Emma’s purpose was also to enable the young women to use a participatory filming approach where they deemed it appropriate. The inspiration for this research is described by Denzin: ‘participants have a co-equal say in how research should be conducted, what should be studied, which methods should be used, which findings are valid and acceptable and how the findings are to be implemented and how the consequences of such actions are to be assessed’ http://www.law.uiuc.edu/conferences/whitepaper/papers/CHPT_14-1401-CAS_1.pdf ).
Thinking on your feet and being responsive to situations as they arise, the need to be naturally interactive, reactive and proactive but not to steer the conversation were all key elements of the researcher’s approach. Nothing could be planned but meticulous preparation was crucial. An inspiring safe space The course leader played a key role in creating the mood of the course; she was able to tell stories about growing up in a restaurant, learning from her dad who was also a chef. This inspiring role model helped to build trust during the course and her down to earth approach encouraged learning. The young women also started to talk about their own experiences of cooking: 'Mum's excellent at making drop-scones’; 'my dad used to take me fishing when I was a little girl about 6 - we used to catch quite a lot - I would eat fish then but I don’t eat it now’. Food and food activity was a subject that all the participants could relate to, in a positive or a negative way each telling their own stories: “I put porridge in the microwave without any milk”; “I don’t have breakfast”; “this course is the only time I get to eat by myself”. Food seemed to be a ‘safe’ issue which led easily onto conversations about more sensitive ‘life’ issues. Attendance at the course seemed to inspire and motivate some of the participants to try new things and pursue new activities. Most importantly the course was framed as a social event; an opportunity to spend time with other like-minded people, learning to do something useful in a fun environment. Although some of the young women were facing very challenging circumstances, this was an opportunity to learn in a positive and friendly environment. Participatory filming research approach The principle data collection method was via a participatory filming approach where research participants were enabled to have full control over planning, directing, filming and editing a film about their experiences during the course. The participatory filming approach has been used in international development scenarios where communities and individuals have not been familiar with the camera equipment (see www.insight.org). However, the initial exploration of the equipment was very different in this situation as the young women were all familiar with the camera and started using it almost immediately as it was taken out the bag. On reflection a more measured approach may have ensured that all participants had the opportunity to learn how to use the camera to the same level from the start. This was the first time that a participatory filming approach had been used by Emma in a research context – it is an approach where the researcher has no control over the data collected and as such
there were moments of doubt in the early stages that it would produce useful and interesting data. The filming turned out to be successful though, and was supported by contextual interviews which were recorded in a notebook, i.e. conversations while cooking, driving, washing up and making tea with the young women. Initially it was intended that all the young women who had been involved in the filming would also be involved in the editing process, however, as there were complications with equipment, editing took place a month after the course had finished. As the editing process was later than expected editing was carried out with just one of the young women taking part. To avoid this problem editing could have been incorporated into the weekly sessions and footage could have been edited in ‘real time’ rather than editing the whole film at the end of the filming process. As editing took place some time after the course certain aspects of the film may have also lost their relevance by this point. The resulting film shares the views of the young women and their experiences while on the Food for Thought course; the way the film has been captured and edited reflects this. There were a number of different parties who had an ‘interest’ in the film, i.e. the funders, the YWCA, and the families, so it was important to manage everyone’s expectations of the film. The camera was used to capture the cooking and eating activity but also to reflect on the process and what was learned. It was then edited in a way so that it could be used in part as an evaluation of the course, to present the women’s food stories, to show families enjoying food together and as a tool to attract future funding. The young women also wanted the film to be used to inspire others to get involved in similar food-related activities. Fiona at the YWCA said, “Just received the DVD - it's fab! I managed to watch it all the way through this time and it is good. There are some excellent bits in like the girls saying that the children's eating habits have changed”. Emma concluded that the participatory filming approach was an excellent way to enable people to capture their own experiences of something specific to their own lives which they feel comfortable with. Where people are learning something new, i.e. learning how to cook, it could be argued that introducing a new process to capture this new experience could be a distraction, so it would be recommended in future to use film only where people are experts in their subject matter. Ethical considerations When using film to capture people’s experiences, a strict ethical approach is required. A letter explaining the research project giving key contacts and information was given to and read out to the participants in a pre-course planning session. Consent forms were completed with all the participants
before the research started, although it was apparent that the formal nature of the form was not really in line with the participatory ethos and verbal consent may have been sufficient in some cases. This approach is responsive and fluid, which illustrates the need to have a flexible consent form that covers all possibilities and also to ensure that all the participants have agreed where the final film will be shown, including the internet. Practical considerations A few tips to consider from the research experience: •
If you are going to lend equipment, it is good to be clear about how it will be returned to ensure no one worries about it unnecessarily
Provide a Crèche in the same building for all ages of children
Phone / text people the day before to remind and encourage attendance
Ensure all access routes to buildings are working including transport links and lifts
Consider providing free travel passes to ensure the participants are able to get to the course
Include an element of competition in the course – everyone loved flipping the pancakes!
What we learned about attitudes to food … Many different themes emerged during the research; following is a comprehensive list of themes some of which may warrant further exploration in future work. What was apparent from the findings and from the film was that all participants really enjoyed the course and had a real appetite for learning new skills to take back into their homes: “I really like cooking…when are you doing another course?” There was a lack of knowledge around food health and safety and consequently a lack of confidence in knowing about food and associated risks. This was particularly significant where mums were looking after children: rather than risk children getting ill, they preferred to throw away food that was probably still safe due to confusion about sell-buy dates. All of the mums were anxious about what their children ate; in some cases they prioritised packaged ‘sterile’ food over fresh food because they did not understand when fresh food was safe including how long to keep after sell-by date or how long to store in the fridge and freezer. This could have implications on the quality and variety in the diet and freshness of the food that families are eating and also impacts on the food budget. It emerged that some of the young women had limited access to kitchens and cooking facilities during the time they spent in school. The young women were influenced by brand marketing; they received regular marketing offers through their front doors almost daily and although fully aware of possible health risks McDonalds was regularly consumed and was seen as a social space where children were welcome. Food behaviour was strongly influenced by others in the household whether that be a partner or children; the young women’s choice of food did not seem to take precedence. "It doesn’t help when partner is fussy or when he eats crap…" The participants that were mums with young children wanted to change their behaviour and learn how to cook for their children’s health and not necessarily for their own health. In one case where the children were older, the participant wanted to learn how to cook so she could go back to college for herself. Some of the children already attending school seemed to be bringing home food messages which were being fed back to the parents: "my child makes me choose the right things…". 'I want to stop buying junk and eat healthier food, 5 a day… is different for boys and girls what they eat”.
Most of the women had an awareness of what was healthy and all had watched programmes on TV about the good and bad aspects of food. Most women were very aware that fresh food was healthier but they were limited by cost and accessibility. Some also spoke about food in specific language: ‘when are strawberries in season?’ The taste test of the Irish stew out of a packet compared to the fresh had a clear winner; the packet was described as disgusting and gloopy. The young women were resourceful with the money they did have, one participant gave the example of going regularly to the same butcher to get better quality meat for a cheaper price, buying 2 for 1 in the supermarket and knowing the days that supermarket prices would be reduced to go shopping. Meat was seen to be integral for a healthy diet. None of the participants were interested in vegetarianism. Meat was seen as a part of staple diet they felt it was important to have meat as part of a meal. This can be seen by the choice in the meals they wanted to learn how to cook: 'If they don't like meat, don't come round!”. The choice of meals they wanted to cook were primarily traditional dishes although also some classic Italian and Indian: apple crumble, moussaka, chicken curry, roast chicken, shepherds pie, lasagne, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken supreme, stew or soup, liver and bacon pudding with suet. Environmental impact of food consumption was not a consideration On this initial course the young women were not really interested in environmental impact, rather the cost was the most important factor initially, but there may be scope for this discussion in the future.
What we learned about the difference the course made … Everyone attending the course enjoyed it and all participants wanted a further course. One participant said on a number of occasions: ‘this is the only time I get to eat like this’.
Testimonials: Testimonials Two of the participants were invited to share their stories about the course at the Kent-wide Fresh Ideas conference in Ashford which brought together food projects from across Kent. Here are experiences in their own words that the young women wrote to present at the conference. “Hi, I’m Hazel. I have 2 young girls. The course has been really good for me because it helps me with the timings when I cook a roast on Sunday. Before nothing would ever be ready at the right time and now I feel a lot more confident. Roast dinner is now my eldest daughter’s favourite meal. I’ve also bought a probe which I’ve used for chicken and pork. This is really useful because I know when meat is cooked. I have started using herbs and spices; my favourite is garlic and herbs on my roast potatoes. I am cooking a lot more from scratch now. I shop and cook in bulk now and freeze any extra food. This has really cut down on my food bill. We have been part of a research project on this course and I really enjoyed using the camcorder to film the sessions and record our feelings about cooking and what we are learning. I’m looking forward to being involved in editing the film.” “I am Nicky and I have 3 boys. Since I have been doing the course we have been having more variety in our meals. My middle son was not great at eating before but he now tries more foods and is eating better. This makes it much easier to cook for the family as we all eat the same now and I am not cooking separate foods for everyone. My cupboard is now full of herbs and spices which I use regularly to add flavour to the meals. I never used them before. I got my Food Hygiene level 2 certificate on the course and I have just applied for college to do catering in September. Doing the Food for Thought course has made me realise I really enjoy cooking and would like to make a career out of it.”
The young women were developing strategies to buy, cook and eat better.
Buying more effectively: “I got 2 meals for 8 people for £11…I'm now better at eating on a budget”. Saving food: “I am trying to freeze portions - not just polish off - I will leave in the oven ..“ Cooking to a plan: “I have a better approach to timings”; "I'm so proud I cooked a roast.”
Enjoying cooking for themselves: “I don't have the kids in the kitchen. I'd rather be out there making something rather than putting it in the oven and forgetting about it…” “I am taking an extra 20 mins…half hour to cook - this is 'my time'”.
There was a positive impact on relationships
By bringing people together to participate in an activity, the course enabled action learning and also encouraged people to develop their own personal networks, addressing for some what they said felt like a feeling of perpetual isolation, e.g. as a new mum with a partner in prison. Improved skills in the kitchen also had an impact on relationships at home between adults: “my bloke…now looks forward to my food…”; between siblings “my brothers and sisters are now eating vegetables…I can hide them in stuff..”, and between parents and children. Two participants from a previous course both observed their sons changing and copying their parents’ behaviour now they were eating regularly at a dining table. “I asked for a dining table for Christmas - my little boy now wants to sit at the table to eat everything even yoghurts and sweets whereas I want to watch a soap with my dinner…”
Inspired to do new things and change current behaviours
It seems that children may learn from parents’ behaviours as above, but it seemed they also influenced and inspired a change in parents’ behaviours: 'My little boy always ate well but now it’s making me eat well too'. The course gave the opportunity for the participants to have a discussion about cooking techniques and what worked / didn’t work e.g. one of the young women showed the others how to whisk with 2 forks back to back, and also where to get good value equipment. There was some confidence in their own cooking abilities before the course started, but afterwards it did seem to give the young women reassurance and confidence to try new things. The YWCA workers were excited and motivated because the participants were excited and motivated; this enthusiasm added to the positive learning environment. It seemed that the course provided reassurance from their peers to try new things which had the effect of build confidence and selfesteem. “I've learned that food can be interesting and not a chore.”; “I am buying a lot of things I wouldn’t usually buy…”; “It has been great, I am now applying to cooking college”; “I am more confident now…”
One of the participants from a previous course had used fresh food to help lose a stone in weight, developing a ‘sensible’ attitude to food with supplementary ‘treats’. She said: “the course made a real difference to the way he eats: he wasn’t really eating before. He now sits at the table and his bowels are better because he has medical digestion problems. Another mum said: “He's eating a variety now… a load of different things”.
Opportunities and recommendations A number of the young women from the project have already presented their experiences to a Kentwide Fresh Ideas Food Networking conference in summer 2009. A group visit was organised and a group of families spent an afternoon volunteering at the Windmill project in Margate. They learned more about a community allotment and discussed about possible opportunities for the garden at the YWCA. The film and this paper will be shared with the group of young women again to see if and how they would like to use it to share their experiences more widely with a view to taking forward another project or supporting a funding application for a similar but more advanced course. It may be possible to return to the young women one year on and see if and how the cooking skills made a difference.
The film will be shared with a number of families in Parkwood, Maidstone who are involved in a cooking course and setting up a bulk-buying social enterprise as they are planning to make a similar film. One of the participants started a catering course at college in September 2009. The YWCA found funding for the equipment needed via Student Support Services and Open Hands. There may be an opportunity to link in with the Health and Safety Executive and explore if and where safety probes could be given to young people who are learning how to cook. A focus on how to cook healthily for your children was identified as a good â€˜way inâ€™ to impact on the health of the families as a knock-on effect. This report and accompanying film will be circulated across Kent and beyond to inform the development of similar food schemes, strategic policy making and real practice when working with families on the ground. It will inform and evidence the overall SILK person-centred approach to projects and participatory techniques.
Key Contacts Fiona Palmer | Senior Project Worker West Kent Young Women's Centre YWCA England & Wales Phone: 01732 365831 Fax: 01732 773562 www.ywca.org.uk - women changing lives -
Emma Barrett | Programme Manager Social Innovation Lab for Kent Room 3.23, Sessions House County Hall, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 1XQ Mobile: 07805506606 www.kent.gov.uk/silk - starting with people -
Academic references available on request 12