By Liza Baker
According to Sophie Egan in her book Devoured, March 2015 was a watershed moment in the eating lives of Americans: for the first time since the government began tracking our spending habits around food, we spent more money on food prepared outside the home (restaurants, takeout, etc.) than on groceries that we cooked at home.
In Cooked, author/activist Michael Pollan writes that the average American spends 27 minutes making dinner, far less time than it takes to watch an episode of Iron Chef! America has become a nation of people who love to watch cooking as a spectator sport but don’t otherwise engage in it regularly.
Cooking from scratch every night of the week can seem overwhelming, even more so if you make a hot breakfast and pack a homemade lunch (or four) every day because let’s be honest, we are all living high-octane lives, especially if we are not only busy professionals ourselves but also the parents of over-scheduled kids. Add to that the ideas that each meal should look like something out of a gourmet cooking magazine and be prepared at the speed of light, and well, there’s not much incentive to even try.
But try we must if we want to make some changes to our waistlines.
Importantly, cooking from scratch on a regular basis can be what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, would call “a keystone habit”: one that unintentionally causes a cascade of positive outcomes. You may notice that once you make a habit of cooking at home using whole ingredients, your weight drops, your numbers fall in line, you spend more quality time with family at the table enjoying the food you’ve prepared, you have more energy, you work out more regularly, you sleep better, your stress level drops, and so on.
You can enter this cascade at a different point as well: you work out more regularly, you start eating better to fuel your workouts, you sleep better, your stress level drops, you lose weight, etc. Or you take up meditation, your stress level drops, you lose weight, etc. The point is, one habit fuels other ones, partly for physiological reasons and partly for psychological ones: success in one area of our lives tends to help us feel as though we can take on another problematic area.
Because of my culinary background, most clients come to me for help in reclaiming their health by reclaiming their kitchens, so I created what I call the Fl!p Your K!tchen™ system for them. The system initially involves a little planning and effort—and it can have a deep impact on what economists call the triple bottom line: improved physical health, a fainter environmental footprint, and a connection to your local food economy and your community in new and rewarding ways.
There are some “hard” skills to be acquired — namely learning to meal plan and to cook — and there’s also a “soft” skill — the mindset shift that takes place when you start to bring an intentionality to how you show up in the kitchen and at the table, how you nourish yourself and others.
You may just laugh out loud if I tell you that cooking is one of my spiritual practices, but I first came across the idea with one of my mentors, Peggy Curry of Curry Girls Kitchen, who is working on a cookbook and creates wonderful videos of healthful recipes with her daughter and business partner, Megan Curry.
From Peggy, I adopted the idea of making the kitchen a sacred space — also from her, I got the centerpiece of my “kitchen altar,” a little ceramic angel medallion that graces the handle of the cabinet directly over where I spend most of my kitchen time.
In culinary school, I learned to start each day’s cooking by taking care of my knives and setting up my station; at home, I start each meal’s prep by centering myself with a few deep breaths, a gentle touch of the angel medallion, and a listing of gratitudes: for the food I am privileged to have and the earth, air, water, sun, and pollinators, the chain of growers, pickers, packers, and transporters who have brought it to me. I set an intention to treat the food with respect for the nourishment it brings. Only then do I start to cook.
I often surprise my clients by asking, “How do you show up in the kitchen?” It’s not a trick question, and it’s one that they have rarely considered beyond a flip “As little as possible” or a shamefaced “Not often enough.”
I find that thoughtful answers to this question are most often a reflection of how we show up in our lives: those who survive on protein shake breakfasts, fast food lunches, and microwaved or takeout dinners don’t honor other aspects of their lives that need just as much nourishment—careers, relationships, physical activity, spiritual practices, sleep, etc.
Proper secondary nutrition through meals created from scratch at home using whole ingredients can raise our nutritional status and our energetic vibrations in the world, and a home cooking practice can start a chain reaction as our so-called primary foods — all the other aspects of our lives that can nourish or toxify us — also begin to help us thrive, not just survive.
Over the past few decades — or even over the past election cycle — the degradation of our health, our environment, and our sense of local community seems to be gaining momentum: we have fallen out of step with Nature (or whatever other name you prefer for a higher power).
Most of us eat (and eat well) at least three times a day. Becoming mindful of where our food comes from and how we cook it, who has this blessing and who doesn’t and why — how we come to the kitchen — is one small step toward bringing our own vibrations more in line with that of the Universe.
Integrative Nutrition® health coach, kitchen coach, sanity whisperer to working women, and COO of a family of four, Liza Baker helps people discover how best to show up their lives (and in their kitchen). She lives with her husband in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE food and social justice. Visit http://simply-healthcoaching.com for more information. Liza’s book Fl!p Your K!tchen is available at Crazy Wisdom.