Food is such a sensitive topic nowadays. When I think of food, more often than not I see food as a connection to body image; how much food I ate that day, how many carbohydrates I took in in comparison to fat and protein (and then scolding myself for taking in too much of one). I then look in the mirror and visually measure myself. I turn to the side and look at my stomach and waistline, tracking my gaze as it travels up and down my body.
When I was younger, food wasn’t something I saw as fuel, or even something that I considered ever playing a part in my mental or physical health. I came from a family that had both parents working, and our water source came from a well. Not only were my parents busy, but the water didn’t prove to be delicious to my sugar-coated palate; opting juice instead of water because of the taste. Growing up, I remember eating decent food, but the 90’s and early 2000’s didn’t have the health resources we do today especially with fast-food being the easiest and most pleasing for parents with picky children at the time. Needless to say, I’m surprised any of my family members don’t have any health problems because of these things. Growing up on the bigger side due to these habits laid out many obstacles before me throughout my teenage and early university years.
Looking back, it wasn’t until my second year of university that I was able to have control of what I ate. Some habits came with me from my parents but it didn’t last long. A lot of things I would eat because my parents bought it – sugary cereal, juice, cookies, ice cream etc. But at that time, I found myself not even wanting it because I had to buy it myself. The lack of access to these foods slowly had me losing weight, and the pursue of foods that I liked and had to freedom to create started to blossom. I started cooking more, and gained more control of what was put into my food. Over the years, the risks of high sugar intake reached the surface of the news and I realized something, I started to feel good. Since I wasn’t eating so much junk, I didn’t crave it anymore, and the thought of eating too much made me worried. One summer after my second year, I started walking to campus, drinking more water and geez, I felt on top of my game.
At this time, not only was I thinking about the sugar I was taking in, I was also thinking about where my food came from – especially meat. I was entering my third year and decided to try out vegetarianism. I don’t really know what my reasoning behind it was, but at the time vegetarianism for me was the health boost I needed to kick start something good in me and to be healthier. I started eating more veggies, and continued to walk to campus, all in the while of trying new foods I’ve never tasted before and getting inspired by the health nuts on the internet. I felt really good.
While there were so many positives to a diet change, there were some negatives, of course. Throughout this journey I also felt afraid of some foods, especially added sugar, and other junk food. I had almost eliminated them from my diet and started feeling so good that whenever I splurged I felt so guilty. I felt ashamed of the food that I ate. Even a piece of birthday cake at a good friend’s party made me feel sad, when I should have been a having a good time.
I think this is when I really started getting into cooking, especially vegetarianism cooking. This was a way I could control what was in my food, ensuring I knew exactly how it was made and where it sort of came from. Pat and I experimented a lot in the kitchen, with many fails and many successes. I met more and more people who were vegetarian/vegan, and started to collect more recipes. I loved vegetarian cooking. The thought of getting most of my daily nutrients from a homemade crock pot dish made me happy and healthy. Over the next few years, the idea of scratch cooking, and saving money really grew on me. While I was a part-time TA, I had the time to do a lot of “make-it-yourself” things. I always felt proud whenever I made something from scratch and it actually tasted good! I felt I was winning as an adult where in turn I was failing in my other parts of my relationship to food.
When I began teaching my Syrian students, I was really put to the test of accepting food, and how food is intertwined with culture. I had this respect and curiosity of other cultures that whenever they offered me food outside my diet, I accepted it. At first I felt rude just accepting it, but over time, accepting it also gave me a lens into their lives and where they came from. A lot of popular Syrian dishes have meat in them, and they are also famous for their sweets! It all tasted so good. For so long I fought the feeling of shame whenever I accepting something I didn’t usually eat. But at the same time, the amount of effort and care they had put into the food just for me slowly started to evolve inside me. Every so often, we have potluck parties, and everyone enjoys each other’s food and company. Syrian and other Arabic cultures are very social with food, and the dishes they make speak love more than flavour I think!
As I was growing up, and this idea began to grow inside me, I began to cook for other people. 2 years ago I started baking cookies as gifts for the holidays. The smiles on everyone’s face when they received them really made me feel good. Pat has a grandmother here in Ottawa, and one winter she was sick. I felt an urge to nurture and do something nice, as we have grown to be very good friends since Pat and I have been together. I made her some homemade soup, and she loved it so much, I’m pretty sure she stared feeling better after she had some! I began to love cooking for Pat, shooing him out of the kitchen and after enjoying a fresh meal together. Whenever I went home, I cooked for my family, in hopes to help them try new dishes too.
It wasn’t until the Mindfulness in Nature retreat that the participants were asked how they felt about food. My answer wasn’t too far off from this post. But, I didn’t REALLY think about it until after. I had such a complicated relationship with food throughout my years that it was hard to determine a final answer. I started asking myself in the present moment, why do I love researching recipes? Why do I love cooking for people? Why do I love being in the kitchen? Why am I so afraid of sugar?
Honestly, I didn’t have any answers. I still don’t have much of a response. But there was one thing (or person) that really got me going on the right path and intention with my cooking. A Youtuber by the name of Mike G from Pro-Home Cooks really shed some light on the intentions of cooking. He says cooking is a practice – it’s a way to show up not only for yourself, but for your loved ones. Just like having a seated meditation practice, exercise routine, or hobby, it’s a way to be there for you and make yourself a healthy and happy person, and others will feel that too. Plus you get to create something! And that’s magical. After he put cooking in this light I really resonated with that, I understood why I love being in the kitchen so much.
This journey in the kitchen I believe will be ongoing, and also some of you may be aware of Pat’s conditions – so this has given me a challenge to help us continue feeling good in our bodies! So far I have become much more accepting of food, allowing the nature and culture of food surpass my shame. After reflecting on this topic through this post, I really encourage the readers to also reflect on your relationship to food. Do you love cooking? What food do you love the most and why? Who do you love sharing a meal with? Don’t be afraid to reach out and share! Pce n love