Nonprofit Community Cooking School 18 Reasons Celebrates 15 Years In The San Francisco Bay Area

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18 Reasons is a nonprofit community cooking school in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District whose goals include helping people learn how to buy, cook and eat quality food, as well as helping low-income families by addressing food inequity in the Bay Area and through educational programming.

“Our mission is to inspire our community with the confidence and creativity to buy, cook, and eat good food every day,” explains Sarah Nelson, Executive Director at 18 Reasons. “This mission drives our work at 18th Street Kitchen and our Free Community Programming.”

“We live in a food environment where buying, cooking and eating good food isn’t easy. Individuals and families must navigate deceptive marketing, confusing nutrition advice, and heavily processed products when deciding what to eat.”

This impactful organization works with chefs from around the world and hosts hands-on cooking classes, cheesemaking and fermentation workshops, dinners with farmers and brewers, wine seminars, and more, with most classes booking up completely. These hands-on cooking classes change daily.

“We attract students interested in learning fundamentals, world cuisines, and advanced techniques through a home cooking lens, and gear classes to meet these needs,” says Nelson.

Some example classes include Japanese Baking and Sweets; Comforting Curries; Croissants, Danishes and Kouign Amann, a special two-day workshop; and recurring favorites like Malaysian Chili Crab; Sweet and Savory Galettes; Scandinavian Baking; Flavors of Bordeaux; and Pasta Primers. Other popular classes include Basic Knife Skills and Culinary Boot Camp. Each class features a menu to be cooked or baked, with a new teaching chef guiding the class.

For Valentine’s Day, 18 Reasons is offering two themed classes: Chocolate, which involves learning how to bake a Flourless Chocolate-Almond Cake with Marbled Chocolate Glaze, Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies with Flaked Sea Salt and more, and Valentine’s Day Feast, which includes learning how to cook a Cherry and Herb Stuffed Quail, Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes and more.

18 reasons offers classes themed around other holidays as well, including Chinese New Year in Malaysia; Short and Sweet: Mardi Gras Party; Mid Autumn Festival Mooncakes; Umbrian Easter Feast; and Purim Baking.

“18 Reasons believes in the transformative and healing power of home cooking,” explains Nelson. “We choose to work with chefs who teach from a perspective and appreciation for home cooking as opposed to techniques and/or equipment typical for a commercial kitchen or restaurant.”

“Guests keep coming back, and we see a trend of multiple class takers,” she continues. “Some people enjoy trying new classes, while others gravitate towards a certain instructor or cuisine.”

Supported by these paid classes hosted through its 18th Street Kitchen cookery school, 18 Reasons offers free, hands-on cooking classes and grocery donations to low-income adults, families and kids, and Black and Latinx pregnant women, through its Cooking Matters and Nourishing Pregnancy programs.

18 Reasons is celebrating its 15th year this year, and they’ve evolved and expanded in many ways that include offering Cooking Matters classes in three counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco, and creating three new programs: Planned & Prepped, Food As Medicine (FAM), and Nourishing Pregnancy.

We chatted with Sarah Nelson, Executive Director at 18 Reasons on how 18 Reasons got started, its educational programs, the range of cooking classes they offer and more. Here’s what she had to say.

How did 18 Reasons start?

The Bi-Rite Family of Businesses created a space in 2008 for community dinners and tastings, meant to connect farmers with the community members buying their products. Executive Director Sarah Nelson started a nonprofit, Three Squares, in 2011 to address food insecurity and the need for many in disinvested neighborhoods to increase nutrition and, ultimately, better health.

18 Reasons was born as a merger between the two — creating a non-profit community cooking school with cooking classes at our Mission location, as well as free programming at sites within the community.

Talk about the range of paid cooking classes you offer. What can guests expect during these classes?

Our classes are unique because they’re in part powered by volunteers, which creates a greater feeling of community in classes. Our volunteers usually come from people who have taken our classes and want to get more involved in the organization.

We offer classes at a variety of price points, with our most popular Basic Knife Skills class being just $75. It’s important for us to offer classes that match a variety of student interests and budgets. The cooking classes are very communal, often asking people to work in small groups. It’s a fun opportunity to get to know classmates, and to initiate conversations that continue with wine and dinner at the end of classes.

We offer cooking classes that allow students to hone a variety of skills — from fundamentals like sautéing and egg basics, to deep dives into regional recipes and skills like Handmade Noodles of Penang. World cuisine classes are a way for members of a diaspora to connect to their culture through food, and for guests to learn more about regional culinary traditions.

Talk about the three food education programs you offer — in what ways have you seen these make an impact on the community?

Cooking Matters

Cooking Matters is a 6-week series of classes that pairs hands-on cooking practices with culturally appropriate nutrition discussions and healthy grocery donations.

We offer series for kids, teens, adults, and families in both English and Spanish. Topics covered include knife skills, learning about nutrition labels, food groups, and balanced eating, and how to use and choose vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.

84% of participants increased healthy food preparation, and 82% increased how often they eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or low-fat dairy.

Planned & Prepped

Planned & Prepped is a series for adult graduates of a Cooking Matters series that focuses on meal planning, preparation, and storage on a budget.

This program was created in response to a question from Cooking Matters participants, “I’ve built a solid foundation of skills and want to keep learning more – what comes next?”

Food As Medicine (FAM)

FAM is a long-term, specialized Cooking Matters series tailored for participants with poorly controlled diabetes. FAM helps participants manage their diabetes using nutritious food, cooking skills, and nutrition education.

It is funded by CalAIM and in partnership with Contra Costa Health Services doctors, who support by recruiting participants and providing medical supervision and nutrition expertise during classes.

87% of participants report improvement in their blood sugar and 33% of participants report improvement to their A1C.

Nourishing Pregnancy

Nourishing Pregnancy is an innovative cooking and health program serving Black and Latinx birthing parents in the last month of pregnancy and first months postpartum. Over 16 weeks, participants take prenatal cooking and nutrition education classes and postpartum support classes.

Black and Latinx birthers typically receive medical care in white-dominated settings. All facilitators in Nourishing Pregnancy identify as Black or Latinx, and create a sacred space of social support and belonging.

Nourishing Pregnancy has dropped low birth weights of babies born during the program to zero!

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