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Engaged cooking: What nourishes you? What do you nourish?

Engaged cooks prepare food with the wish for happiness, health, and safety for themselves and all beings. We want to help ourselves and others be peaceful and at ease. We may start with a very personal focus--just ourselves and loved ones--but then spread our good wishes out to acquaintances and strangers. A way to explore how food connects you is to ask yourself these questions:

  • What nourishes me?
  • What do I nourish?

Ask yourself each question five or ten times, until it's hard to come up with more responses. Consider writing down your answers to use for inspiration later. Or do this with a friend, with each of you taking a few minutes to speak. You might want to pause to explore your own answers before reading mine below.

What nourishes you? What do you nourish? Food, girl with butterfly face paint,friends at potluck, Monarch butterfly, Earth from space

Please know that my answers reflect a week of thinking about these questions during this particular time in my life. Although I try to make nourishing actions a priority, I buy more bakery-made chocolate chip cookies than I should and otherwise have room to learn and to improve. Becoming an engaged cook is a process of discovery and change, with the full force of the consumerism against it.

What nourishes me?

I am nourished by:

  • Eating food I cook from vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and spices
  • Sharing meals with my Taster and our family and friends, at our place or theirs
  • Feeling appreciation for the food I make (or at least the work that went into it!)
  • Eating and cooking mindfully, usually when alone but sometimes for moments with others
  • Receiving food made for me by friends and family, in support or celebration
  • Enjoying potlucks, food-truck rodeos, restaurant meals, and feasts with local groups
  • Belonging to my local-foods community, including seeing friends and favorite farmers at farmers' markets and local restaurants
  • Experiencing the bounty of options at farmers markets, grocery stores, and online
  • Using family recipes, those passed on from friends, and honed by billions of cooks back to the Stone Age
  • Marveling at how my food and I grow in a web of life, including seeds, soil, water, sunlight, wind, pollinators, and microbes

What do I nourish?

  • Myself
  • My Taster
  • My friends and family when I cook for them
  • Members of groups, when I bring food to share
  • People who may be inspired or motivated when they see someone choosing healthy, delicious food
  • Farmers, farmers' markets, food makers, grocery stores, and restaurants when I buy their food
  • The practices used to grow and make the food I buy (organic, fair-trade)
  • People who also want to the types of food I buy because I help create a demand for it
  • My community when I pay taxes and support local businesses
  • My suppliers' communities
  • Food culture as I modify, create, and share recipes and techniques
  • Biodiversity when I buy "unusual" vegetables, fruit, or grains (pretty much anything that is not corn, soy, or french fries)

Cook to Connect

My inspiration for these questions came from Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. Great title, isn't it? They encourage readers to see how many answers they have to two questions: Who am I? and What happens through me? As we answer these questions, we see ourselves as part of our families or groups, communities, human societies, and the web of life. (The authors don't mention the Big Bang, but I'd add that level of integration too. We are stardust.) Macy writes:

The distinction made between selfishness and altruism is therefore misleading. It is based on a split between the self and other, presenting a choice of helping ourselves (selfishness) and helping others (altruism). When we consider the connected self, we recognize this choice as nonsense. It is from our connected selves that much of what people most value in life emerges, including love, friendship, loyalty, trust, relationship, belonging, purpose, gratitude, spirituality, mutual aid, and meaning.

Understanding this, we see that cooking is an opportunity to nourish and be nourished by our connected selves. Wonderfully, personally actions naturally spread good intentions into the wider world. You may serve your growing child organic greens to build strong bones and protect their eyes and brains. By choosing organic food, you've also helped protect Monarch butterflies and the farmers who grow your food. If you bought local greens, you've strengthened your local foodshed and kept money in your community, which will help support schools and libraries for your child.

The next time you shop or cook, ask yourself again: What nourishes me? What do I nourish? Let a sense of connection energize you. Your actions make a difference, for better or worse. Engaged cooking helps bring the difference you make in line with your goals.

What answers do you have to these questions? Did anything surprise you? Have you ever thought of cooking in this way before? Please share in the comments below.

Additional photo credits: Monarch butterfly by Richiebits. Face Painting at South Estes Farmers' Market in Chapel Hill, NC by FarmersofOrange. Earth from space by the U.S. government (crew of Apollo 8, probably Bill Anders. All public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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