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How the kitchen fosters resilience

Updated on: 16 February,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

We tend to forget how crucial cooking can be towards nursing our sense of agency and looking after our bodies, which are worthy of care and attunement. Even washing up afterwards can spark joy

How the kitchen fosters resilience

I wonder how many of us have truly wrestled with the question of why we cook the way we do. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D’MelloAfter a month of being continually on the verge of sickness, my body finally succumbed. It’s part of the territory, when you are a toddler parent with a child who either goes to day care or a play group. Immunity, you realise, is not something inherent. It is built and rebuilt through exposure to forms of virality. Thankfully, by now, I have gotten so good at taking care of myself when I am sick, I often forget it is a skill that must be learned and that only comes with practice. Living independently for almost a decade contributed significantly. I learned to exercise a simple rule of thumb when my body is most fragile. I mother myself. I have so internalised my mother’s behaviour towards me when I am sick that I simply reenact it. Even if I am low on energy, I stand by the stove and make myself an adrak chai. It is part of the healing process. As I write, I am making chicken soup, my go-to remedy for such a nasty cold.

I was recently listening to an episode of a podcast called The Shift, hosted by Sam Baker. It is specially targeted towards a 40+ female audience. I’m not there yet, but I’m close enough to the cusp to be able to relate to its messaging. The episode in question had a food writer and home chef named Bee Wilson talk about how cooking helped her heal after divorce. I was swabbing the floors as I took in whatever she learned from her experience of having her life fall apart when her husband, with whom she had been since she was 19, suddenly left her. She reminisced about her own mother, who had had a great repertoire as a home cook. Yet, after her father left, the daily menu changed significantly. It came as a surprise to her that so much of what her mother cooked was conditioned by her father’s tastes and preferences. I have noticed this time and again. I have observed how married people cook very differently for themselves as against for the family. They often employ a ‘making do’ approach when alone, because they are so dependent on cooking for someone or a family as the default mode.

I wonder how many of us have truly wrestled with the question of why we cook the way we do. How our style of caring for our appetites and our bodily needs have been shaped by the environments in which we have been raised or by our exposure to cooking as children? Many of my friends in Delhi who lived alone almost always hired cooks. I’ve written before about this, how such a service feels more like an essential, rather than a luxury, given how pressed we all are for time. Never being financially stable enough to afford such a service meant I was always solely responsible for taking care of myself. I had to nurture my relationships with my vegetable and fruit vendors, the butcher, the fish sellers. Maintaining my own kitchen involved a large social network. Cooking for myself meant planning menus different from those I was used to at my parents’ home, because I didn’t want to be stuck eating the same thing for two days straight. I learned to be inventive with leftovers. I learned to infuse food with flavours my tongue held dear. Most importantly, I allowed myself to shop for lovely ingredients. This was not always easy on my income. But I realised that cooking for myself didn’t have to mean depriving myself of lavishness. I always got the good smoked bacon, the best cuts of meat, rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, avocados, figs, balsamic vinegar and good-quality olive oil. Having these items in my pantry fuelled in me an excitement around cooking.

In the podcast, Bee Wilson talked about another aspect of cooking that tends to put people off it—washing up after. Maybe because in our house this was considered such a natural extension of the cooking process, I never thought twice about it. In fact, when I’d invite friends over for dinner, it was my favourite part of the evening. I’d wait until the last guest had left to begin clearing the house. I’d pour myself a glass of wine or whiskey, listen to a podcast or a playlist and methodically clean up. It was always such a high. There were one or two times when I hired someone to do it, but I always regretted it later because I felt I had taken away from myself some kind of hidden joy.

All of this is to say that we rarely think about what it means to be resilient in a kitchen, to take the task of feeding oneself in one’s own hands. To wake up in the morning and soak a cup of rice while you make your coffee or to plan weekly menus and prep accordingly. Cooking is the first thing we are content to outsource to someone else, forgetting how crucial it can be towards nursing our sense of agency and looking after our bodies. Because they are worthy of such care and attunement.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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