Canadians are no longer cooking. According to Statistics Canada, 54% of them eat out once a week or more, and 40% of people say they eat out because it is more convenient, they don't have time to cook, or they don't like or know how to cook.(1) In fact, Canadians spend more time watching cooking shows than actually cooking, and they spend less time eating than almost anyone else in the world.(2)
Some initiatives, such as collective kitchens, have been launched here and abroad to meet the nutritional, economic and social needs of people in the community. Although these collective kitchens can take various forms, they generally allow groups to prepare meals in large quantities. They will have the opportunity to enjoy their meals together, but also to bring them home. Educational activities can also be planned on topics of interest (for example, Canada's Food Guide, the use of certain equipment in the kitchen, or food safety).
These collective kitchens can promote food security for participants, by increasing physical and economic access to adequate amounts of healthy and nutritious food. Such initiatives also aim to help participants prepare meals on a limited budget, develop their food knowledge and cooking skills, but also create social ties around the stoves. These initiatives are often funded or managed by local organizations or charities, although some receive additional funding or resources from the private sector.(3; 4) But what can we learn from research evidence on such initiatives?
What research tells us
A systematic review reviewed 13 studies that evaluated courses as part of collective kitchens in the United Kingdom to determine their effectiveness and relevance.(5) The 13 studies were aimed at teaching cooking skills to low-income groups, to certain ethnocultural groups, as well as groups of elderly people or people living with specific health conditions. All the courses were offered in disadvantaged areas, generally in community centres. Some courses were aimed at existing community groups, rather than individuals.
The most common approach was to use tutors who were likely to know the local community: they could be trained volunteers or professionals. The tutor’s role was to communicate health messages in an accessible way and to help people develop practical skills for shopping, preparing meals, and food safety so that they could eat healthier on a low budget.
The studies examined in this review have not demonstrated that these courses had positive health effects, due to the small number of studies and certain methodological biases. However, data from a study of peer-run cooking clubs (called "Food Clubs") offered to people aged 65 and over in socially disadvantaged areas could have beneficial effects.
These Food Clubs aimed to improve the participants' knowledge, attitudes and eating practices. Participants aged 60 and over, without professional health training, were recruited to manage the clubs. The courses, which included training in practical skills, food safety and healthy eating, lasted two hours per week for 20 weeks. Food Clubs were formed from focus groups and interviews with older adults, health workers, community dieticians and community nutrition assistants. Educational materials and recipes were then developed in collaboration with a specialist in consumer economics and a dietician.
Although there is no evidence that the participants' overall diet improved significantly, participants nevertheless greatly appreciated these Food Clubs mainly for social reasons, but also because they liked to learn from people their age.
At your stove!
Coming together to learn new things, to cook for fun or to network is in itself a great success, as it allows older adults to break social isolation and maintain an active lifestyle.
If you want to join a collective kitchen, contact your municipality to learn about active collective kitchens in your area.(4)
However, there may not be an active collective kitchen near you. So why not start your own collective kitchen with members of your community! Some guides cover everything you need to know to start and manage a collective kitchen.(3)