How Cooking Becomes My Therapy, Opening Me Up For Powerful Change

When the simmering tea kettle begins to whistle and shake in a movie, it’s a signal that tensions are rising in the scene. The metaphorical boiling point is reached between the characters and we’re taught that steam is just anger released. The association of emotions and food has always interested me. 

What motivates us to cook and what do we find while doing it? At the most basic level, cooking is a survival skill. When we go beyond this we find that food can be a language of socialization, or it’s a pathway to discovering more about ourselves and our identities. To some, cooking is an avenue to express creativity, which comes in handy particularly as we continue experiencing a year that has kept most of us indoors and lacking creative outlets.

To me, it is all of the above, and it is therapy. Cooking helps me find peace.

With two working parents, there weren’t a lot of home-cooked meals in my house growing up, except for a few occasions. I think of family BBQs, when my mom wanted to make csirke paprikas (chicken and paprika stew) – a Hungarian dish from her childhood that lasts days, or the weekends when my dad didn’t have to work and would wake us up to the smell of onion fried potatoes, fried chicken with gravy and scrambled eggs. Those two dishes continue to wrap me in warmth when I think of them, especially since my dad is no longer with us.

I was 15 when he had his first stroke. My mom lost her job soon after, leaving her with the stress of a mortgage alone and me with the responsibility of giving care. Cooking started out as my survival tactic. Cook so mom wouldn’t have to worry about it, so dad would have nourishment, and so I could stop being hangry, but it quickly became so much more.

When I cook, I forget about my circumstances. It’s just me, the stove, and the ingredients. It’s a moment of stasis- all is right in my world because the focus is singular: create something.

The more I create the more I relax and explore my creativity. Making a dish teaches me patience, it allows me to move through a cycle of completion (which fares well for my anxiety), and it allows me to make something different each time. Whether it’s a recipe I’ve tried before or not, the dish is never the same. There’s always something a little different and that makes it exciting.

What a lesson to receive, that everything – including myself – is continually changing. Change is powerful. Audre Lorde wrote, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

I call cooking my therapy because, like therapy, it reminds me of my strength. It allows me to hold space for fear while also reminding me that fear is unimportant when I recognize my strength. Change is strength, and I receive it with every meal I make. I receive clarity for my feelings, resolve for my anxiety, and excitement for who I’m becoming. As we take a pause to savor the feast we’ve made, may we also savor the nourishment we’ve provided ourselves upon making this meal.

We’ve therapized a part of ourselves with this meal. May we continue to be just as delicious and wholesome as what we make.

About the Author: Jordan Daniels is a photographer, writer, speaker and Queer Afro-Jew focused on fashion, queerness, liberation, and radical expression.

Visit OneTable’s food resources to learn more about how to have conversations about foodways and the importance of nourishment in our stories.

OneTable empowers people who don’t yet have a consistent Shabbat dinner practice to build one that feels authentic, sustainable, and valuable. The OneTable community is funded to support people (21-39ish), not in undergraduate studies, and without an existing weekly Shabbat practice, looking to find and share this powerful experience.

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