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Bringing Plant Based Eating to UCLA

June 2, 2022

The "Cook this Kit" project, launched by a UCLA student, provides plant-based meals with farm-fresh ingredients.

The “farm to table” trend has taken over the Los Angeles food scene from five-star restaurants to niche book cafés, broadcasting its health-conscious and sustainable message for consumers to feel more connected to their dining experience. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student Laila Adarkar is bridging the gap from farm-to-table to impossibly-small college-student-kitchens with her small business Cook This Kit. The philosophy behind Cook this Kit is simple: giving UCLA students a guided introduction to cooking fundamentals.

Once every other week, Adarkar prepares a kit containing a simple plant-based recipe, seasonal fresh ingredients, and a small placard describing the farms where each of the products was sourced. The kits are available for pick up on campus at the UCLA Farmer’s Market. Eventually, Adarkar hopes that students will feel confident enough to seek out farm-grown produce and begin their own recipe experimentation. Her favorite feedback is from students who experimented with her kits, each adding their flair to the recipe as they grow more comfortable in the kitchen.  

Adarkar officially launched Cook this Kit at the beginning of the 2022 Spring Quarter. Unofficially, the story of Cook This Kit began years earlier, when she first fell in love with cooking. Adarkar credits her Bay Area roots, where she grew up surrounded by a food culture that embraced farmer’s market sourced, balanced meals. She began by documenting her love for recipe experimentation in 2016 with her popular Instagram page, bitesbythebay. As compliments and questions flowed in, Adarkar began to realize how intimidating cooking could be to beginners overwhelmed by farmer’s market stalls and on a tight budget. Slowly, the idea behind Cook This Kit began to blossom.  

Over the next year, her vision turned into reality. Originally, Cook This Kit was funded by a grant from UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative. The goal was to promote food literacy and document the skills students learned from each kit. Needless to say, Cook This Kit was a huge success. Since then, Cook This Kit has grown into a small business that sells two-serving kits for under $10. Adarkar has also received immense support from her collaborations with the UCLA Farmer’s Market and the Westwood Food Co-Op.   

As soon as I heard about Cook This Kit, I knew I had to write about it. As a student advocate for Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC), I was immediately excited about the kind of hands-on change initiatives like Cook This Kit can create—a shift toward plant-based meals with sustainably sourced produce. As a college student surviving off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cooking has always been a challenge. I can attest to how easy Cook This Kit is; each of the ingredients was clearly labeled in small mason jars and packaged into a small box. The recipe was easy to follow and simple. Adarkar even posted video tutorials on her Instagram, showing how each step should be executed. 

For me, the videos are often lifesavers, and I have learned so much about fresh produce preparation from them. Even better, Cook This Kit has allowed me to cook with my friends. I love the way that Cook This Kit is the perfect conversation opener; my friends and I  talk about the importance of understanding where our food comes from, share recipes, and plan trips to the next farmer’s market. My favorite recipe so far has been homemade kale pesto, cherry tomatoes, whole wheat fusilli, and walnuts with nutritional yeast sprinkled on top!   FFAC’s mission is to educate people about and encourage communities to support sustainable food systems; Laila Adarkar’s Cook This Kit embraces this mission, helping to transform the eating habits of the UCLA community.

Sara Aoki is a college intern with FFAC studying Human Biology and Society and Geography/Environmental Studies at the University of Los Angeles.