Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Therapeutic Culinarian

It’s interesting to me how things can connect together. I’ve been seeing it a lot with the classes I’m taking as an Applied Food Studies major. Recently, I was able to breathe in a perspective that I realized I had lost sight of. This being the perspective of viewing cooking as a therapeutic experience.

I was reading a writing piece for my Ecology of Food class the other day by Warren Belasco: “Food and Counterculture: A Story of Bread and Politics.” Just to give you a quick heads up, Belasco talks about 1960s food culture—meaning the connections of Wonder Bread and the Free Speech Movement, anti-class and anti-war protests, and how ultimately, many people rebelled against conforming with the country’s version of emergency thinking: mass-produced foods of “plastic” foods. Some believed these mass-produced foods shouldn’t be forced upon them because:
1.     The chemicals used to preserve the bread weren’t good for our consumption.
2.     This style of creating food wasn’t helping the environment at all (regarding packaging, transportation, etc.).
3.     It eliminated the therapeutic concept of cooking your own food, focusing on craftsmanship and taking your time.
These rebellious figures went on to create separate communities that would grow and cook their own foods, sharing them amongst one another.

Meanwhile, in my Applied Food Studies class, we were discussing Zen Buddhism. We began class by painting Zen ink circles on paper and discussing the meaning behind it. After successfully making exactly zero of my circles identical and converting them into various peace signs (not necessarily what you’re traditionally supposed to do), we watched a video about a Zen Buddhist cooking retreat that held classes to re-instill the idea of being fully present when you’re creating food. Each participant of the class assisted in taking the time to be aware of each of the steps in bread making. They were careful to get the temperature of the water right for the yeast, letting it activate. They kneaded patiently, using the palms of their hands to carefully push into the dough, and let it mellow out afterwards before shaping. They learned new dough braiding techniques, brushed it and baked it. The endless and diverse types of breads, golden and steaming, were tasted by all of the participants as they enjoyed one’s company and the comfort of the food that was created by their own hands in good time.

When we come to one of the top culinary schools in the country (arguably world), we are taught how to work under pressure to better prepare us for the competition that will meet us in the food industry. But many of us forget how to take food and use it as a therapeutic art. Sometimes, under pressure or not, we forget to be fully there, taking our time to mellow out with food, for the food. We forget about eliminating some of those knots that heave steeped into our backs with some music, the colors, sounds, smells as we take some things and make them into something else. We forget how to be present in cooking, and pay attention to the little things, even if they take more time.

Maybe that’s a good thing that they do. Maybe it’s a good thing that we let them bring us into the domain where cooking can take time, with some steps that we’ve learned and some that we make up in the moment. Maybes it’s good to lay some colors on our canvas, even after we think it’s done. It might not necessarily be realistic for each of us to grow all of our own produce. However, we should at least be able to view cooking as an atmosphere where we can also grasp some peace of mind, a learning space for us that doesn’t need to be stressful. And at the end of the day, we can sit down, share and appreciate what we’ve created. We can grow and inspire.

Read more from CIA Student Katie at here blog:

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