You get more than just a meal when cooking isn’t a chore explains vegan cook and author Jacques Brennan.
We were finishing dinner, the conversation was picking up again and my daughter exclaimed, “Papa, I think Thomas’ refried beans are better than yours!” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Looking at Thomas he was smiling, quietly beaming.
Earlier I had walked into the kitchen, the counter was covered in vegetables, tins of beans and tomatoes. My 20-year-old son was busy chopping a small mountain of onions, garlic and chilli. He hardly noticed me coming in. His music was playing, he was focused on his work and he was happy.
I have been cooking since I was a child and, perhaps contrary to general perception, I never consider cooking to be a chore. I enjoy the process and usually the result. Now doing the dishes is another matter.
When I observe my children cooking, I know that a lot more happens than just the making of good food. What happens to them when they cook? Because they always seem to be happier.
Analysing it, a few points come to mind; cooking, they are creative and active, often fully engaged, they are accomplishing a task and there is always a bit of interaction – all elements, as considered by The New Economics Foundation,¹ that have effects on mood and wellbeing.
Jolanta Burke, a positive psychologist from Trinity College Dublin and a researcher in the area of wellbeing, says, “I always found food a fascinating source of happiness”. She goes onto say in her article, ‘Food and Happiness’, that, “Happiness is not something that happens to us, rather something we do to ourselves.”
Creativity: Emma, from her teens on, is our resident baker. Arriving in the kitchen, she checks what’s in the cupboard and then announces, “I am making cookies”. No one argues. It may be her own recipe, her own creation. She must visualise the outcome, we do to…in anticipation.
Activity: Thomas, making his refried beans, is very active. Chopping and mincing, opening tins, stirring and tasting, and sometimes cleaning. While cooking, he is never sitting too long.
Engagement: Anne Marie, 16, also likes to bake; brownies are her specialty. The table is soon covered in flour, butter and chocolate. For those moments she is not on social media, there is no thought of school, she is focused on the task – she is in her element.
Achievement: Friday night is Pizza Night in our house. To give myself a break, I have encouraged Colm, our leaving cert son, to make the dough and the sauce. He takes it seriously. Funny how sauces can give rise to heated passions, we still argue who’s sauce is better, mine or his.
Social Interaction: When they cook, I am often around, I enjoy tasting what they doing, commenting, and sometimes adding a little more spice or oil or salt; if they find out, there is war. When in the kitchen, we interact, we talk, and we argue, all the good stuff.
Today, with prepared ready meals becoming so popular, many of us are forgetting the art of cooking. Our children are spending less and less time in the kitchen and they are losing out on the important benefits of cooking. And being able to put a meal on the table is such an important life skill.
Perhaps this Christmas, instead of one person making the entire meal, each member of the family could be responsible for one dish, less work for mom or dad and great feelings all around when you finally sit down together.
Jacques Brennan is the author of Hungry Soul, a ‘how to cook’ manual, created with young people in mind to help them cook. Available online or ask for it from your favourite bookshop, they should get it for you. Find him through www.hungrysoul.life.