Thursday, June 06, 2013

the wholefood kitchen : the emotional cook

photo by: luisa brimble / a sidewalk garden under a kitchen window in surry hills

"Something strange was going on. Tita remembered that Nacha had always said that when people argue while preparing tamales, the tamales won’t get cooked. They can be heated day after day and still stay raw, because the tamales are angry. In a case like that, you have to sing to them, which makes them happy, then they’ll cook."
- Like Water For Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

It's so easy to bring motherguilt into the kitchen; to make a meal and think about how much better or healthier it could be. The meal is placed in front of the family and then, perhaps, there is complaints and sour faces, and the ritual of eating becomes a chore.

When I'm sad I stir sorrow into soup; it tastes bland and bitter and I wonder why I bothered at all. But then a joyous roast or happy batch of muffins balances the kitchen mood. I recognise that cooking is an emotional practice, that food is the magnet that brings us together to celebrate, divulge, reminisce and console. 

I've been savouring An Everlasting Meal, reading it ever so slowly and making notes between paragraphs. Tamara Adler says: "I only mean to show you what cooking is: an act of gathering in and meeting out, a coherent story that starts with the lighting of a burner, the filling of a pot, and keeps going as long as we like." Adler starts her story with the simple act of boiling water; in her eloquent prose she shares a little piece of kitchen wisdom, so apt for mothers to hear: "There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn't true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire. This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know." It doesn't take a long list of ingredients, fancy technique or significant time to cook good food - a mother's kitchen mantra if ever I heard one.

There is so much emotion wrapped up in cooking for a family, especially if we're aiming to improve meals, vary recipes or adhere to the numerous tastes and needs of our children. In my past posts on wholefood, guilt has been a common theme in the comments section. Mothers are, primally, the nurturers and nourishers, feeding our family is intuitive, but I don't think guilt belongs in my kitchen or yours.

Cooking a meal with doubt or guilt, stirring half-heartedly and then eating it with shame, is, quite simply, not worth it. Cooking with love is an esoteric thought but, perhaps, the most important lesson we can take with us into the kitchen. Regardless of whether you're cooking wholefood or real food or quick-and-easy food, a casserole or a stock or eggs with soldiers, consider bringing it to the table with gratitude and thanks. The opportunity to gather, share and eat together is a beautiful one (even if the littles aren't pleased...if they are hungry, they will eat).


20 COMMENTS

  1. I adore Like Water for Chocolate.
    It is one of those books that I come back to again and again, and find myself thinking about when I am in the kitchen.

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  2. My two favorite books about food. I am re-reading Adler's work of art and have recommended it to everyone. It is challenging but necessary for us to have a whole foods kitchen as well but Tamar reminds me that cooking is such a beautiful artform. Thanks for this series and I hope we can share recipes and inspiration as well. My favorite quote was left in my favorite cookbook (moosewood daily special) by my mother years ago..."there is no better way to honor those you love than with a fine meal." Bon Apetite!

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  3. what a lovely thought...it hadn't entered my mind how integral emotion is to preparing food. I have noticed that, when I cook with respect and gratitude for the ingredients, the meal always tastes better! My four year old raced to pat and hug our chickens the morning after we ate a delicious quiche, courtesy of their efforts. An emotional connection to food is a good thing, I think. No. It is an inevitable thing, and a positive emotional connection is getting more and more difficult as we scour the supermarket for 'products' rather than produce. Thank goodness there is a shift back. Thanks for making me think today, lovely lady! I will be cooking with love tonight. :)sarah

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  4. this is lovely and so true!
    I was watching "hell's kitchen" the other day and i wondered if the food really tasted good when it was prepared in such stressful environment! everyone yelling and swearing...I think the food gets the vibe...am I crazy?

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  5. I never really thought of it quite like this, but how true.

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  6. whilst my whole philosophy is about eating REAL food, there is one most single important thing about the dinner table that I beleive and that is - it is NOT the food at all but what is shared at the table that counts.
    you may be interested Jodi in this old post of mine, it is one of my most popular and is still shared regularly by my readers to others with young children. ~ http://gourmetgirl-friend.blogspot.com.au/2010/09/fussy-eaters.html

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  7. Thank you. I'm having one of these guilty mother moments about food currently. Two very fussy kids who I am constantly attempting to try new foods, nothing fancy or crazy, but I find it soul destroying. It's a good time to reflect on how they're interpreting my feelings with their meals! Back to the basics.

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  8. "if they are hungry, they will eat." my mantra for miss 2 who doesn't eat dinner. Unless it's sausages or chicken nuggets.

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  9. "If they are hungry they will eat" - I wish that were true. When you have a child with ASD and related sensory issues that is just not the case

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  10. I should say though that yes I wholeheartedly agree that setting the mood/tone for dinner most certainly helps. Moods can be so contagious. I find it really hard to keep a neutral to positive mood about mealtimes especially when tired at the end of the day and all the effort going into thinking about, shopping for and preparing dinner and thinking about everyones needs (have a child with coeliac as well) and then the food is not eaten or met with negative comments/reactions/refusals etc and its 3 meals a day and 2 snacks 365 days a year oh my but the mood/mindset of cooking it with love and gratitude certainly helps us all.

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  11. Can I recommend the SOS feeding program to anyone who has a child who is above and beyond the 'usual' fussy childhood eater that really struggles with food/eating/swallowing etc with food refusal/food jags/gagging etc that may have a diagnosis of ASD or sensory issues or some other special needs or who has had a poor feeding/complicated feeding history perhaps naso-gastric intervention, severe reflux etc. Some info here including some "red flags" http://www.thetherapyplace.net/feeding/

    SOS stands for Sequential Oral Sensory approach to eating. Taking a whole of child approach to eating and using a graded exposure/oral motor approach to eating.

    More on it here http://www.sosapproach-conferences.com/about-us/sos-approach-to-feeding

    Speak to an Occupational Therapist and or a Speech Therapist about enrolling your child in this program. If they dont know of the program suggest they look into the evidence base and the upcoming training for it. Info on 2013 training here http://www.feedingworkshops.com/

    It is wonderful. Has parent and child components and is incredibly detailed and has worked to get many kids eating better who were in the "too hard basket" and just do NOT "eat when they are hungry"

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  12. So true! I'm putting that book on my to-read list.

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  13. I feel very blessed to have a husband who shares a passion & love for cooking, therefore we share the responsibilty of nourishing ourselves & child (soon to be children). Cooking together, side by side, dancing around each other in the kitchen, has always worked so well and creates peace in our home and a shared sense of accomplishment when we sit down to eat a meal together. Although it may not always be easy to have two of us in the kitchen working harmoniously when there is a two year old to see too... we often just naturally include her in the process. For her, vegies to peel & wash is as fun as watching peppa pig! For us putting together scrambled eggs on toast for dinner, to cooking a three course meal the next night, is just about being together, sharing the days happenings, singing, and just being, well together :) thanks for shraing your thoughts, always inspiring x

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  14. The mood with which the food is created, often influences the mood in which it is consumed.
    (in my observation :))

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  15. Jodi I think you have liberated mothers everywhere from the shackles of kitchen guilt with this post. Thank you for shining a light on it in your eloquent way. Even though I write a blog called The Wholefood Mama there are tired days, can't be bothered days in my kitchen too and cries of "I don't like vegetables!" at my table too. And then we are given a blessed new day to start all over again. Be kind to yourselves mamas you are doing a great job! xxx

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  16. I've had very similar thoughts over the past few weeks and aim to make eating and meals a joy, not a chore. xx

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  17. because I don't (yet) have a family or people who rely on me to cook, I find that what I cook is a reflection on my emotions - when I'm feeling relaxed and happy I cook soups, or other wholesome dishes, things that take time.. when I'm busy or stressed, meals are whatever is quickest: muesli and yoghurt or boiled eggs and kasundi on toast. In many ways I'm lucky that I am currently so independent, so I don't often feel guilt about what I'm feeding others - but I do feel guilty when I make choices that are convenient over ethical, wasteful and not organic.. It's been interesting to think about exactly how much emotion is wrapped up in what and how we cook and eat.. I loved this post. x

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  18. jodi your writing is like poetry! i hate cooking but recently have begun to try to get the slow cooker on every other day, to think about food for my kids....it's still hard, tilly with her sensory issues often melts down at the table, it still feels like the battleground but there is a small chink...a shadow, a glimmer of what you talk about here coming! xxx

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    http://mevamarie.blogspot.com/

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