When I first met my husband Ben, seeing his kitchen for the first time was, ahem, interesting. There was no food in his cupboards—unless you count Sriracha and Tabasco—only books (and not cookbooks). His fridge was mostly empty except for a few condiments. Fortunately, there was more food in his freezer: several boxes of Trader Joe’s chicken vindaloo frozen dinners and chicken burritos. #bachelor
Fast-forward to today, and it’s amazing what being married to a dietitian/food lover can do to a person. Ben’s famous Sunday night dinners are now a household tradition. And when we stopped by Book Larder last weekend, he was very excited to score a copy of the Plenty cookbook.
But don’t get me wrong; I’m not claiming to be Martha Stewart. I have fond college memories of serving my roommates Hamburger Helper and all-in-one salad from a bag…with pride. And I when I hosted my fellow dietetic interns for a Mexican-themed party thirteen years ago, I couldn’t figure out why my black beans were still so firm after cooking them for hours (yes, I was a nutrition major). That’s when I learned about the importance of soaking (some) beans overnight before cooking them. Oops.
It wasn’t until starting the master’s program at Bastyr University that I really started learning how to cook. (Ironically, most nutrition college programs don’t have you actually work with food unless you count a rotation working in foodservice, i.e. cafeteria.)
Of course, the learning continues. Today, I feel pretty proud when I learn a new cooking technique or recipe fit for company.
And while I think it’s absolutely possible to be healthy and not cook (my dietitian friend Lucy who lives off the PCC deli comes to mind), I think non-cooks are missing out. Here are 7 reason why:
1. Cooking is the best way to learn about food. Dietitians can tell you what key nutrients are in a food, how many calories it has and what portion would qualify as a serving. But actually knowing how to cut a fennel, make a deliciously easy homemade salad dressing, or throw together a quick tasty meal with a few pantry staples? That’s infinitely more useful knowledge.
2. Cooking connects. People have come together to gather around food for thousands of years. Ever notice how at every party, people migrate to the kitchen? I believe it’s the heart of the home.
Cooking also connects us to different cultures, including our own. Every culture has a cuisine that helps define it. And cooking helps establish your family’s micro-culture. Fond memories of certain dishes and handwritten recipes can be passed down for generations to come.
3. Cooking is an outlet for creativity. What to pair the entrée with? Which herbs and spices to use? What colors do you want in the meal? How do you want to present the meal? You’re literally creating something when you cook. And the more experience you gain in the kitchen, the more comfortable you’ll feel with improvising here and there, putting your own creative stamp on meals.
4. Cooking grounds us in the present moment. In Your True Home, Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh states, “We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege—it just depends on our way of looking. The cold water is available. The hot water is available. The soap is available. The kettle is available. The food is available. Everything is there to make our happiness a possibility.” Cooking grounds us in the present by engaging all five of our senses as we create.
Want more inspiration for developing a mindfulness practice in your kitchen? Check out my former instructor Cynthia Lair’s TEDx talk on How to Cut an Onion and stay tuned for her upcoming cookbook, The Present Moment Cookbook.
5. Cooking improves the quality of your nutrition. You’ll be hard pressed to find a jar of titanium dioxide, partially hydrogenated oil, yellow #5 or butylated hydroxyanisole in your refrigerator or pantry. When you cook, you’re more likely to use fresh real foods, which automatically increases the quality of your nutrition.
6. Cooking helps you save money. Enough said.
7. Cooking can be very satisfying and empowering. In Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, he writes, “Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: It transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers. Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that even to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions.”
I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me why you think it’s important (or not!) to cook. And if you’re a fan of cooking, what’s one tip to help others get started cooking more at home? I’ll select a few tips to share on my next blog!