Day 2 of Cooking: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Isn’t Always a Bad Thing!

[Written on 9/15/13]

Last Monday Ana and Colleen came to Tabora to help us strategize and develop new ideas for the project. After our first few interactions with the group we were feeling a bit overwhelmed at how quickly we are moving and our heads were spinning with questions. Ana and Colleen patiently answered our questions and together we came up with a plan moving forward. One of the biggest challenges we are currently facing is that the women have so much knowledge and so much potential that has not been able to be used. They seem somewhat bored with cooking chips because it is so simple and doesn’t require a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We need to find ways to ensure that everyone has a job so that they feel committed to the group and so they feel like they are needed.

After talking with Ana and Colleen we decided to move forward focusing on three distinct areas of food production. First we are going to continue cooking the regular products (chips) for Tabora, Kwakiliga and Korogwe. Second, we are going to start trying new and innovative products—foods that are not common in Tanzania markets but might be appealing to consumers (such as sugar popcorn, sugar peanuts, etc). And third, we are going to start packaging nutritious foods such as dried fruits and vegetables. The main objective of our initiative is nutrition and finding ways for the women (and community members) to provide healthier food options for their children, so we want to incorporate nutrition education and awareness into the project by empowering the women to be educators and change agents.

Ana and Colleen came to our cooking session that afternoon and we were all excited to share our new ideas with the group. People slowly trickled in and not everyone showed up because of various other commitments. Although we were a little disappointed with the turn out we decided to present the news and try cooking some of the new products that day. Once we explained the three areas, the atmosphere in the kitchen changed dramatically and the women lit up with wide eyes and smiles, excited about the possibility of cooking new products and selling in markets outside of Tabora. Thankfully Eliza has experience with cooking popcorn so we got started on the spot and she led the charge, using bits of Swahili and hand gestures to walk the women through the process.

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For the first trial run we cooked the popcorn and once it was finished we dumped two handfuls of sugar into the pot; although the end product was quite tasty, that batch probably wouldn’t have sold anywhere because of the unappealing look and uneven coating of sugar. For round two we made the popcorn in one pot and after it was done we used another pot to mix butter, sugar and water making a syrupy-looking substance that we then mixed with the popcorn. This batch was delicious and everyone seemed pleased with the outcome.

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For the third trial we substituted sugar with honey to see what a healthier option might look like (we also used sunflower oil for all three types). Although the final product was tamu (delicious) we decided that the second option would be best because it was more cost effective and the popcorn was likely to stay crunchy for longer. So we packaged up the sugar popcorn into bags that were about 4.5 inches in length with the hope of selling them for 200 shillings in Tabora.

While all of this was going on, some of the group members were cooking chips simultaneously! It was great to see so much productivity during this cooking session we are hoping this continues as we try new products. We would love to get to a point where we have a job for everyone in order to increase efficiency and maximize everyone’s time (and skills)!

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After this cooking session we left feeling rejuvenated and energized about the new direction of the business. The women seemed just as excited and several enthusiastically cheered “wanawake wanaweza!” (“women can do it!”).

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