Written by Chris Mantle, Senior Food and Health Development Officer with Edinburgh Community Food.
Men, I think it’s fair to say, have a certain reputation when it comes to engaging with third sector services (amongst other things) i.e. they’re just not very good at it or not very interested. ‘That’s no for me’ or ‘Och Jim, he just wants to sit and watch telly’.
There are other male stereotypes too, beyond not being good at engaging: being very fussy, avoiding the ‘less fun bits’ (washing up anyone?), along with being taciturn and not really making an effort to get to know the others. But is this true and if so how can we address it?
Speaking anecdotally, I’ve noticed over the years of advertising and running cooking courses in the community that if we advertise simply for a ‘cooking group’ we get few, if any, men coming along. And if, on the first sessions, one or two brave souls show up and find a group made up largely of women they’re unlikely to come back. (I’ve always found this mildly surprising but perhaps this says more about me than them! Anyway…) While this reticence stands true for all age groups it has perhaps been more noticeable for older and elderly groups, where we’re more likely to come across, shall we say, old-fashioned notions of gender.
My simple and expedient tactic is to, wait for it, advertise groups as solely for men. Bet you never thought of that? Silliness aside, once it’s advertised as M.E.N. O.N.L.Y. I find recruitment, uptake, and engagement excellent. And by excellent I better than for most other demographics, with near 100% attendance across the sessions, great participation in health promotion activities, always keen to muck in and help out with all aspects, plenty of blether and folk getting to know each other and, importantly, a willingness to try pretty much any food. Rarely do I hear the ‘Ah dinnae eat veg’ line that’s quite common elsewhere. More like, ‘Ah’ve nivir had that before but let’s gie it a go!’. And older men can be the best of the bunch. There’s a behaviour change model called ‘self-efficacy’ which is basically about how doing something like cooking, creating a dish oneself, promotes a sense of pride which in turn engenders motivation to do more. I distinctly remember one older gentleman who, having never cooked in his life (‘Ma wife does aw that stuff’), was clearly over the moon at the simple (and tasty, naturally) curry he’d just made. He was tucking into it with relish and obvious delight, claiming, ‘I just cannae believe ah made this! Wait until ah tell Mary!’ Needless to say he was back each week, in part, I suspect, so he could show off to his wife! ‘The kitchen was her space but now it’s mine’s, she’s no allowed in.’
And as for the blether… yes, I find that men’s groups take a few sessions for everyone to ‘warm up’ to each other but by the final week the groups thrive and friendships outside the group are formed. Once men can get over the hurdle of coming to that first session, and once they see what it’s all about, that’s them for the duration.
Chris Mantle is the Senior Food and Health Development Officer with Edinburgh Community Food. Chris has been working with them for over ten years now, running training courses, health promotion sessions and cooking groups. He still can’t make a proper lasagne.