Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adventures in Social Entrepreneurship, week eight: wrapping up

We held the last session of our eight-week Get Cooking! series this Tuesday. Instead of the standard schedule of curriculum and cooking, we had a potluck celebration. We invited current as well as former Get Cooking! participants and everyone brought food inspired by the class. We had two beautiful fruit salads from Virginia and Millie, caramelized dates from Saqib, a turkey meatloaf and a three bean salad from Gilda, hummus and pita from Jade and Sandra, grits and greens from Christy and Brenda, and lots of other yummy treats. My experiment with vegan sugar-free baking was a success: everyone loved the peanut butter oatmeal banana cookies I brought. See the end of this post for the recipe if you’re interested.

One of the best parts of this Tuesday’s session was when everyone went around the table and shared what they’ve taken away from the Get Cooking! program. Current participants talked about accomplishing their food goals each week, and former participants told us how their lives have changed in the two months since they finished the spring Get Cooking! series. Millie shared, “I’ve been eating more fruit and vegetables, especially because of my diabetes.” Muriel told us, “I read the labels of all the food I eat. I cook with a lot of herbs and spices now. And I’m cooking mostly fresh and sometimes frozen foods, instead of canned foods.” Current participant Antoinette shared that, inspired by Christy, the self-proclaimed “Goal Goddess,” she hadn’t eaten any fried food in the past week. Beyond just food, and equipped with the support of the group, Antoinette was also able to cut her smoking down by two-thirds: a major accomplishment. The conversation was a heartwarming reminder of the impact this program has had on West Oakland community members.

(Photo: Virginia shows off her fruit salad served in a watermelon bowl)

So what did we, as an organization, learn from this eight-week series? If we go back to the launch of this second Get Cooking! pilot, our objective was to continue to prototype the Get Cooking! model. The goal of Get Cooking! is to make healthy eating simple, affordable, and fun for families living in food desert communities. And the hypothesis was that in order to make healthy eating a part of daily life we must address more than just physical access to food and find a solution that considers affordability, time constraints, food preparation knowledge, and eating habits, all while building connections among community members in a social environment.

Did this pilot accomplish our goal? Did it confirm our hypothesis?

I think for the current participants, the eight week series did make healthy eating more accessible, mostly through health and nutrition education and the demonstration of healthy recipes. And it definitely succeeded in building strong connections within the group. We created a special community that our participants looked forward to joining each week.

But our current participants didn’t face all of the barriers to healthy eating that others in the West Oakland community face, including time constraints and lack of transportation. Because our sessions were during the daytime on weekdays, most of our participants were not working or retired. Time constraints are not a big barrier for them. Also most of the current participants have cars and therefore have greater access to healthy groceries than many people in West Oakland. So if we ask ourselves, does our current model change eating behaviors of families that can’t access healthy food, due to a lack of time, money, or transportation, the answer is probably not yet, which is really great to know. In the spirit of the Stanford design school, we were quick to market and prototyped our idea before it was perfected. We learned a ton, which will allow us to keep experimenting. To reach and impact our target audience, we’ll have to tweak the time of day of our sessions, our marketing message, and our recruiting tactics. We still have more to learn and much more work to do in West Oakland and beyond, but we are excited and encouraged by the impact we have had to date and for what the future holds.

(Photo: chef Christy with Sandra, Gilda, and Shalina)

Sugar-free Banana Peanut Butter Cookies*
Servings: 15 cookies Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 25 minutes

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 ripe to very ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons soy milk
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 cups quick cooking or rolled oatmeal
  • dash cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  1. In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork until smooth. Add peanut butter, soy milk, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
  2. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet and bake 13-16 minutes at 350 degrees.
Note: This recipe is only truly sugar-free if you used unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened soy milk, so read the ingredients list and look for soy milk that says "Unsweetened" right on the label.

* Recipe from

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