By Liza Baker
Many authors have written on the subject of what our relationships with food reveal about our relationships with others: Do we diet compulsively because food is the one small part of our lives over which we can exert total control when everything else seems to be spinning out of control? Do we binge on forbidden foods because we are playing out a desire to “be bad” when we spend our lives being responsible? Etc.
Even when our relationship with food is not troubled, when we fall in the range of what is considered “normal” eating behavior, how we come to the table often says a lot about how we show up in our daily lives – more about that on my blog in “How do you come to the table?”
These concepts may not be intuitive, but when we hear them, they do seem to make sense.
But when I ask the question, “How do you show up in the kitchen?” in my coaching sessions and cooking classes, it generally draws blank stares or mutters of “as little as possible, too often, too hurriedly, like I don’t have the time, like I don’t want to be there….”
There are so many convenient and inexpensive options for prepared foods, we are awfully overscheduled, and many of us grew up without learning how to cook even the most basic of dishes. Add to that the vision of complicated, over-the-top cooking that arises from the food shows we follow obsessively, and “I just can’t” becomes our knee-jerk response to “Why not cook and eat at home more often?”
A 2013 study by USDA indicates that:
- Food prepared away from home accounts for 32% of Americans’ caloric intake and 41% of what we spend on food.
- Americans increased their away-from-home share of calories from 18% to 32% in the last three decades.
- Calorie intake rose over the last three decades from 1,875 calories per person per day to 2,002 calories per day.
- Food prepared away from home is higher in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and lower in dietary fiber than food prepared at home.
These statistics lurk behind the obesity crisis plaguing our country, but besides health, there are less obvious but equally important advantages to gathering around the kitchen table. Dr. Mark Hyman, writing for The Huffington Post in 2011, says:
- Children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way, from better grades, to healthier relationships, to staying out of trouble.
- They are 42% less likely to drink, 50% less likely to smoke, and 66% less like to smoke marijuana.
- Regular family dinners protect girls from bulimia, anorexia, and diet pills.
- Family dinners also reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.
It seems like a no-brainer that regularly cooking and eating at home should be our goal, but how do we move past viewing cooking as an onerous chore to be grudgingly done three times a day?
What if we were to start thinking about cooking as a spiritual practice – going deep inside ourselves to connect to reconnect with the Universe at large?
Mindful cooking can begin with as simple a ritual as hand-washing or taking a few deep breaths, then moving on to sharpening a knife, setting out the ingredients and equipment you need, washing produce – all the while appreciating the look, smell, and feel of the ingredients and giving gratitude to those who grew, harvested, packed, shipped, and sold them for your use.
As you prepare the food, focus on the sounds and smells it makes, and when you finally serve it, eat just as mindfully, taking time to use all your senses.
What happens as you practice mindful cooking and eating? You may find that you begin to tune in to the different vibrations of foods – the energy a food contains and transmits to you.
The field of food energetics claims that every food has heating or cooling, drying or moistening, expanding or contracting properties according to traditional Chinese medicine.
There is also a theory that a food’s appearance gives clues as to what organs or bodily functions it supports: walnut halves look like a brain and contain high levels of the beneficial omega 3 fats that organ requires; examined closely, dark green leafy vegetables appear to have a network of veins on them and indeed are considered to support the circulatory system; kidney beans…. You get the idea.
Taking it a step further, cooking methods are said to affect a food’s energy: steaming imparts a lightness and buoyancy, while roasting creates a contracting, concentrating energy.
And what about the energy imparted to food by those who touch it along the entire food chain? We often rail against external forces that affect the quality and health of our food: conventional (i.e., non-organic) methods of crop production, excessive use of fossil fuel in racking up food miles, social injustices that affect pickers, processors, and transporters, the evils of big ag and big food.
In this new year, I invite you to look inside yourself – how do you show up in the kitchen, and how does that affect the energy of the food you prepare and serve to family and friends?
Certified integrative nutrition health coach, kitchen coach, and COO of a family of four: Liza brings her passion, knowledge, and experience to the table to help clients reach their goals and achieve optimal health. As part of her health coaching program, clients can learn how to cook 21 healthful meals a week from scratch using whole, close-to-the-source ingredients. Her first cookbook, Fl!p Your K!tchen, will be published in Fall 2016. She lives with her husband and two children in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE food and social justice. For a taste of her work, visit http://simply-healthcoaching.com<http://simply-healthcoaching.com> and be sure to check out the Events page<http://simply-healthcoaching.com/events/> for upcoming workshops, retreats, and cooking classes.