Intergenerational cooking classes teach young people food of their heritage

Intergenerational cooking classes teach young people food of their heritage


Food is love. Food is family. Food is home.

And for BAME communities and families descended from immigrants, food can be a vital link to lost homelands and near-forgotten histories.

But, for first and second generation immigrants, that specific knowledge about food and cherished recipes isn’t always easily accessed. Either older family members have passed away, or live on the other side of the world. Or the younger generation just aren’t interested in learning.

British Punjabi Harish Malhi, knows just how important it is to keep food culture alive. So he created a food community network to connect older generations with younger ones, so they could learn and be inspired, and to help the culture of food thrive.

‘I created Diaspo to exchange authentic knowledge and skills between generations, starting with food,’ Harish tells ‘I saw first-hand how the skills and knowledge of people from my parents’ generation were being under-utilised, which was affecting their mental and physical health. 

‘On a personal level, I felt there was so much to learn from the older generation that just wasn’t being passed down.’

Harish says he became conscious that he dresses and speaks in a very British way, and didn’t have much knowledge about his Punjabi culture.

‘I couldn’t cook my dishes I’ve grown up with, couldn’t speak the language, and couldn’t explain the traditions,’ he explains.

‘All the stories, traditions and language I learnt, came from food, whether it was cooking together or eating together, with my parents and grandparents.

‘For minority cultures, food is so important because it’s their way of showing love, versus any material gift. If you’re full, then you’re happy, and you won’t ever leave someone’s house with an empty stomach.’

Harish’s cookery company is part of Zinc – a social impact venture builder with the mission to improve the quality of later life.

‘We’re starting with food, and hope to grow to incorporate other skills and knowledge, to realise our vision of connecting generations,’ he says.

Sunita, 60, is one of the regular teachers at Diaspo.

‘Even in a time like this, it’s still food that’s essential, it’s still food that brings us together,’ she explains.

Another teacher, Karim, is 63. He was born in Libya and raised in Italy.

‘It’s fantastic,’ he says. ‘I love being able to share my knowledge, helping them to learn and appreciate the history of the dish, and my background too. For me, it’s the old school meeting the new school.’

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Harish has announced that his cookery lessons will now be live for anyone to join online – and they will be completely free.

In each class, students are taught authentic recipes by home cooks who have generations of experience. Users can cook along and jump in with questions while learning the stories and secrets behind each dish, all for free. 

‘Everyone knows there’s nothing like their mum’s cooking or their grandma’s secret recipe,’ says Harish. ‘Diaspo lets everyone in on these secrets. You learn the history of the dish, the role it played in their life and the traditions behind it.

‘These are people who have grown up cooking these dishes for at least 35 years, consistently for their whole families. Karim’s special dish is Mediterrean Couscous, one he learnt as a child from his grandmother in Libya.’

Harish says that as societies becoming increasingly integrated, there’s a risk that the truly unique elements of individual heritages will be lost.

‘Traditional food is a way of preserving that culture, ensuring those authentic cultural treasures aren’t lost or forgotten,’ he tells us. ‘It proves to be a way to evoke that sense of nostalgia and ensure we don’t forget our origins. 

‘For me, I’ve grown up with Aloo Paratha every Sunday morning. It’s a tradition for me that continues to bring such positive memories of the whole family coming together and fighting over who makes the best Masala Cha (Indian tea).’

You can browse upcoming sessions from Indian, Italian and Caribbean chefs and sign-up on the website in under 30 seconds.

From there you’ll get a link to join the live session on Zoom with a list of all required ingredients and equipment.

Then at meal time, click the Zoom link, watch, cook along and enjoy.

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