cohealth tweet chat recap: what’s jamie oliver got to do with workplace wellness?

June 16, 2011

in cohealth,reviews: products, services, books

it might not have been our smartest move, having a tweet chat about food at noon ET/9 PT, but we had keen interest in the topic when we kicked off june’s #co_health chat about IDEO’s workplace food experiments, including cooking & company. our guests were aaron sklar and helena cohen, two of IDEO’s designers.

greg matthews was facilitating this chat, and he kicked off with Q1: what is cooking & company?

aaron, who represented both himself and helena online, explained that IDEO’s been working with jamie oliver to figure out how to scale the food revolution. cooking & company is one possible answer. unlike jamie oliver’s food revolution TV show, cooking & company’s going after the adult population. IDEO wants to teach them how to cook. and it wants to teach them where they spend the most time—at work.

judy jones, a member of the cohealth community, complimented the initiative and observed:

judy’s comment struck a chord with many of us. does cooking have an image problem? is it too hard, too scary? is it something we watch and not something we do? i commented that “cooking has received a dose of cool with all of the chef celebrities…but it feels ‘hard.’” elizabeth borton felt there’s an opportunity to make cooking cool “through watercooler talk, recipe sharing.” and carol harnett figured there’s a possible team element to this, where “foodies could show off some of their skills and teach at [the] same time.”

to find out, greg asked aaron and helena Q2: how does cooking & company work? and what does IDEO hope to achieve with it?

aaron explained that cooking & company has tested a take-home kit, cooking classes and spontaneous cooking events. they also offer a downloadable guide with independent cooking lessons on the IDEO website. next, aaron walked us through the take-home kit, which includes a pre-prepared meal and recipe—everything an employee needs to create a meal at home. (note: we’ll cover this in greater detail in the follow-up Q&A post, also to be posted on this blog.)

IDEO wants to get people cooking who’ve never cooked before—or who have simply not made it a priority. that’s why they want people to cook instead of watch a demo. IDEO wants to see “direct involvement,” says aaron. “cooking is not a spectator sport.”


the #co_health community was inspired by this idea of cooking at work but had some practical questions. janet mcnichol asked how much each take-home kit costs, and beth austin wondered whether questions of productivity came up from company leaders. aaron shared that buy-in to experiment with cooking is a necessary first step. as for the budgeting, it varies, with some companies funding the experiment and others asking employees to pay. either way, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. a recipe for chicken fajitas costs roughly $10 per kit and feeds two people (not bad!). “but what about outfitting a kitchen?” heather rouillard asked. “whose budget covers cooking equipment?”

many also wondered about scalability. could this effort work with 10,000 employees? 100,000? and how much support does cooking & company provide to get a company launched? as both aaron and helena commented, they’re prototyping. they don’t yet know all the answers. (note: a good reminder that you can begin without having all your ducks in a row!)

hearing about these different food experiments got the cohealth community talking about their own. judy jones shared that the cafeteria at the new york times has featured organic and local food producers. they’ve also held sushi demos. jessica meehan told us that bcbs tennessee has a wonderful nutrition center, though many employees still order the available unhealthy items. janet mcnichol has tested CSA shares and, more recently, a trip to a farmers market. others, including IDEO, have also hosted farmers markets and made CSA shares available.

the cohealth community noted how difficult it is to turn “events into habits,” as carol harnett put it. it’s one thing to make it possible for people to cook or for them to buy healthier produce; it’s another to turn that into a natural state of being. and it’s yet another step to get people excited and open to change, which jessica meehan emphasized. so, greg asked Q3: what have you learned about food/nutrition activities and education in the workplace? aaron responded with a few tips:

greg wrapped things up by asking Q4: how can cohealth and our community help support their effort? IDEO aspires to having 350,000 employees sign up for cooking & company. this could be through big and small companies. i asked helena if we could create a pilot relationship with IDEO and cooking & company. we’re going to talk about what that might look like. for now, aaron and helena asked that we:

  • download the toolkit
  • take the recipes for a spin
  • spread the word
  • join their facebook group for community leaders
  • give them feedback

we want to thank aaron sklar and helena cohen for joining us this month. we’ll post the follow-up Q&A post and information about how we can partner with IDEO and cooking & company soon. in the meantime, hold july 20 at noon ET on your calendar. that’s when we’ll discuss metlife’s 9th annual study of employee benefits trends with dr. ronald leopold, VP, U.S. business. you can find the full 2011 cohealth chat calendar, along with recaps and related resources, here.

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