As you can imagine, the topic of food comes up a lot in client sessions. Over or under indulgence in food are extremes that many of us use to cope when we are stressed or unhappy. Unfortunately, over time this strategy results in health problems, sometimes life-threatening ones. Although challenging, especially in our “super-size-me culture”, it is important to find balance and peace of mind in our relationship with food.
If you were hoping to read about how to eat for optimal physical and mental health, you can check out my post The Power of the Gut-Brain Connection . There you will find plenty of ways to improve your physical and mental health through food.
Today, I want to share my thoughts about food and mood from a different perspective. It is a cold February Sunday in Connecticut, and I was inspired by the many references made to pork shoulder in an engaging and thought-provoking novel I finished recently, Kitchens of the Great Midwest (J. Ryan Stradal). I wanted to try pork shoulder because it is especially suited to how I like to cook on Winter Sundays- I get a stew or soup going by mid-day and enjoy the smell and anticipation of the meal to come.
If you are familiar with pork shoulder you know it is NOT a low-fat meat and likely has never been used in the same sentence with the word “healthy”. Cooking an indulgence like this is where “balance” comes in. Healthy eating most days and meals of the week leaves room for most us for an occasional treat.
This kind of pleasure is incredibly worthwhile on many levels. First, food fully engages our senses. Good smells, tastes, textures and new flavor combinations are fantastic for our mood and can even reduce anxiety. Food is often visually appealing, and taking in the color and shapes of a beautiful dish is wonderfully calming for our busy brains.
Cooking for ourselves and others is a healing act of self-care and love.
I can still remember the sweet smell of vanilla-laced sugar cookies baking as I worked side by side with my grandmother, who thrilled me as an eight-year-old when she gave me an apron “like hers”. I loved it even more when she had me roll out the dough or sprinkle colored sugar on the cookies. This nurturing childhood memory has become a lovely piece of my decades long narrative around family and food.
I try to continue the tradition of sharing love by enjoying conversation with family and friends by preparing and sharing a fragrant, tasty meal whenever possible. It’s a fantastic respite that slows the passage of time and restores me from the demands of busy work days.
If you don’t have good memories connecting food and love, I enthusiastically encourage you to take some baby steps towards creating some. The abundance of online recipes, complete with video demonstrations, make it easy to learn how to cook or, for accomplished cooks, to learn new skills and recipes. If you live alone or your family migrates to their own corners to eat, or eats at different times, shake things up and invite someone to join you. Try meals from different cultures and you may discover a love of a spice or an herb that is new to you and a recipe to add to your regular rotation.
Here’s to finding more satisfaction and connection through food. Now if you don’t mind, I am going to excuse myself to join my husband to break bread and try Peruvian Pork Stew with Chilies, Lime and Apples.
photo by Joanie Simon, food blogger