While healthy food can have a high financial cost, unhealthy food can cost a person’s physical wellbeing. Faced with a plethora of unhealthy food options, people on small budgets and without nutrition education can unwittingly make choices that negatively affect their health. The combination of high calories, flavors people enjoy and even crave, and low nutritional value can lead to obesity. Some people are more at risk than others, like those who live in “food deserts,” which are places with few healthy and affordable food options, and people who don’t have the knowledge to make better choices.
This is where Cooking Matters comes in. It is a six-week course that teaches nutrition and culinary skills, as well as how to shop in food deserts, to people with lower incomes and smaller food budgets.
The Cooking Matters program has been active nationwide for over 20 years. The classes began in Arkansas about five years ago through Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, a non-profit attempting to end food insecurity in the state. Rachel Townsend, the director of Cooking Matters at Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance says the program now has roughly 150 partners and estimates that there are 40-50 classes each year around the state.
According to the data, it’s working. Dr. Tracey Barnett, assistant professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) is the principal investigator analyzing Cooking Matters data. According to Barnett, while the data is not ready to be published, she can say that the participants’ knowledge, behavior and self-efficacy regarding nutrition are “ … significantly changing for the better.”