The Community Cooking School 18 Reasons has been a staple of San Francisco’s foodie Mission district for over a decade. Founded by Sam Mogannam as a non-profit extension of his popular family-run grocery store Bi-Rite Market to further his interests in food and community, 18 Reasons is now part of an esteemed community of businesses that includes one of the best ice-cream shops in the city and a 3-acre Sonoma farm.
18 Reasons is no ordinary cookery school though. Even that vague bucket of a place holder doesn’t entirely encompass what this storefront is. Yes, there’s the classroom at the 18th Street space that has a family-style dinner table set-up and a fully equipped teaching kitchen. It offers hands-on lessons on everything from eating more meatless and fish butchery, to food as medicine and mini-culinary boot camps on whatever it is you long to cook. It was here that I learnt how to really wash and prep leeks as well as how to eat mindfully. Both of equal value.
If you want to go on a deeper dive into food culture you can attend their 6-month Farm School at Bi-Rite’s wine country outpost, which gets you into the nitty gritty of the food system including planting and harvesting and is taught by the company’s own buyers and farmers. For a more cerebral though equally as fun take (past programs have included the seminal question: ‘what if Wes Anderson made s’mores’), in October, there’s the Annual Food + Farm Food Fest, that has been running since 2013 and this year takes place at the Roxie Theater.
What most excites us though about 18 Reasons is how it situates food within community, at every practical level. There’s the cookbook lending library – an inspired idea as we cycle through multiple volumes each year and sheepishly hand them back splattered and floured to our local, maybe less understanding, civic library. Communal dinners are convened on the last Wednesday of every month, on open invitation to gather with friends and strangers alike over a dinner cooked by a guest chef.
The jewel of their community crown though is the Cooking Matters program, which brings issues of food equity into the purview of what we consume, how we shop, and what we get to make for ourselves and our families. It’s a six-week series made available to low-income communities across the Bay Area on how to buy, cook and eat good food. Reaching 3,500 people each year and located within school programs, community centers, clinics, shelters, housing sites, and health centers, this free course covers nutrition as well as cooking skills. Anyone can volunteer to assist with this program – you just need an interest in food to apply. So, if you are looking for more meaning in your life, this might be the way to go.
What we eat matters. Food matters. To our bodies, to our minds. To the people around us – our neighbors, our communities. To those who grow, harvest it and distribute it. To the environment with which we’re in a Faustian pact to produce it. On every level and in every way, though we often take each of these aspects for granted, food matters. 18 Reasons is the perfect corrective to our narrow way of approaching food; it tells all the stories that there are around it, many in ways that we’ve yet to hear but so badly need to.
NB: If you are not local, take a look at Feed Your People: Big-Hearted Big Batch Gatherings and the Food We Gather Around, co-authored by the people at 18 Reasons.