By Notable Contributor, Chris Locke
Food at its basic level is energy for living organisms. But food to humans has become so much more. We use it as a cultural vessel and to tell stories. We have created sciences around the subject and even recognize it as an art form. Now in recent years, it is becoming referenced as therapeutic.
Making food, to any extent, involves all the senses: touch, taste, sight, hear and smell. With every step of preparation, these senses are working in symphony, guiding the process.
Like many tasks we undertake on a daily basis, we have the opportunity to practice mindfulness, to take gratitude for each individual aspect and treat it as a meditative procedure. According to Headspace, mindfulness in any task is proven to increase happiness and improve focus and satisfaction with life while reducing stress and irritability. The focusing of attention on tasks that have a defined number of steps, clear completion and require muscle activity can help to steer the mind away from negative thought processes and channel thinking into productivity.
An article from the WSJ (2014) explains how cooking can be therapeutic but also teaches people how to cook for themselves, in turn, improving their diet and physical health. Being unable to cook for oneself often means reliance on takeout food which, while tasty, is commonly reliant on refined fats and salt to satiate appetite. The vast majority of people do not own a deep fryer and having a base knowledge of cooking from raw ingredients would naturally reduce intake of processed foods. So without too much effort in trying to cook ‘healthily’, the caloric and nutritional value of meals can improve.
IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY MEAL
As a further step in the therapeutic values around food, we can look at sharing a meal. Whether between friends, coworkers, family or new acquaintances, there is an intrinsic benefit that reaches beyond nutrition.
Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals, writes “[S]haring in meal preparation, and eating together are very basic human experiences. They allow us to spend time together in ways that can be relaxing and fulfilling”. We evidence of this in restaurants. Although there is likely no data on this, I would say that restaurants that provide a staff meal that can be eaten with others generally improves the morale and wellbeing of the team and environment. Especially those that cook wholesome food and take into account dietary restrictions and allergies.
SOLDIERS OF CREATION
Soldiers of Creation, an organization set up to support survivors of sexual assault, view healing practices as a broad spectrum of activities that can be an integral part of regaining confidence, overcoming anxiety and healing from trauma. Through their fundraiser this October aptly named Healing Through The Senses, they are offering workshops in everything from horticulture to boxing with the mission of allowing attendees to learn new healing practices.
Amy Finkelstein, Soldiers of Creation CEO, describes the fundraiser as a “tasting menu” of alternative therapies, letting participants dip their toes in to see what resonates with them, and having the option to pursue them. “Culinary at a professional level has gained a notoriety for being an aggressive bro culture. In offering cooking as a means of healing, we are helping change that narrative”.
Amy goes on to say, “there are so many learning and sharing opportunities with food: cultural, spiritual, social and skill-based.” Each of the workshops in the program are rooted in the practice of mindfulness. Being aware and focused on what you are experiencing is a therapeutic practice that draws focus and the notion of being present.
Don’t think you have time to practice self-care? Next time you start making your dinner, lose yourself in the sound of slicing an onion, the slow simmer of a sauce or the aroma of toasted spices. The journey is as important as the destination.
*The fundraiser begins on August 31st with the first culinary workshop on September 27th with Matt Ravenscroft. To purchase tickets, visit soldiersofcreation.ca.