What Cooking Allows Me To Express 

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For me, cooking has always been the ultimate form of expression. It is such a simple act, and yet, it can convey so much. Everything from the foods we choose to prepare to the people we prepare them for says a lot about who we are. Some of my earliest memories involve food. My current cooking habits have been influenced by those memories, but they have also evolved as I have aged.

One of the most obvious things that a cook can express through the foods they choose to prepare is a passion for their culture, heritage, or history. Within a mile of my house in Providence, I have access to more cuisines than I had ever experienced in the first two decades of my life in Virginia. And I have yet to encounter a person who owns one of these restaurants or who prepares the food for them that doesn’t have a story to go along with most, if not all, of their dishes. Most of them are eager to share these stories with their customers, and upon learning the history of the food I am eating, I feel transported and find that I love the food even more than before. 

For me, cooking is, first and foremost, an expression of love. This belief is deeply rooted in my memories of my parents preparing meals for me when I was too young to do so myself. It goes back to those days where I would come home sick and someone would place a bowl of chicken noodle soup in front of me, or how I would always be given my favorite meal on my birthday, or those special holiday dinners. Because I associate cooking so strongly with love, it is always the first thing I feel I should do for a friend, coworker, or neighbor who is experiencing some kind of hardship. I don’t think the gesture has to be huge to be impactful; a batch of homemade soup or freshly baked cookies could be all it takes to turn someone’s day around. I will never forget one of my work friends who brought me a cup of tea while I was working a long day with a cold! It wasn’t so much the warm beverage that got me through the day as the knowledge that she cared.  

As I said before, my cooking habits have evolved as I’ve gotten older. When I cook, it will always be an expression of love at its core. Maybe it’s because of that core that I have grown to hate cooking out of obligation. I hate thinking of cooking as a chore because it takes away from the joy I once associated with it. And while we’re on the subject, I also hate that it is a chore that is, more often than not, still associated with women. The diehard feminist in me balks at the idea of cooking for that reason. Maybe it’s because, in those early memories I described, it was never my dad doing the cooking. It was my mom, and honestly, she did not love cooking, likely because she had to do it. My mother always had dinner ready and waiting for my dad when he got home from work; I don’t feel the need to do the same for my boyfriend/possible future husband. My priority is, instead, creating an egalitarian household in which the chores are split as equally as possible. We have room for improvement, but he is beginning to understand that when I cook, or don’t cook, as the case sometimes is, it is an expression of my feminist values and desire for a balanced relationship.

On that note, I have to say that I no longer eat a lot of the foods that my mother prepared for me as a child, despite my loving memories of them. I feel like that’s true for a lot of people my age since we are learning as we get older that a lot of the foods we grew up on in the 80’s and 90’s weren’t super healthy for us. One of my favorite lunches as a kid was a bowl of instant ramen noodles and a grilled cheese (on white bread from the super market with a slice of American cheese, no less!), and I can’t even remember the last time I ate those foods. The reason these foods no longer have a place in my diet is because I can now cook a variety of healthy versions rather than relying on corporations to do so for me. For me, cooking has become a way to take control of what goes into my body and express the desire to reclaim my health.

Cooking my own meals also allows me to express my values as an environmentalist. I did not know a single vegetarian or vegan while I was growing up. I didn’t even know anyone who was all that concerned about eating local. It just wasn’t something people seemed to worry about back then. A lot of the food choices I make these days are with those values in mind. I will admit that I have a very long way to go before I can consider myself either a vegetarian or a vegan, and I’m not even quite sure that’s what I want my end goal to be. However, I am being more conscious about the foods I eat and purchase. Locally sourced and organic foods are very important to me, and I feel like I am making a powerful statement by consuming them. 

No matter what personality changes occur throughout my lifetime, who I am will always be rooted in my love of cooking and my love for the people I cook for. That feeling is universal, reflected in the pride people feel when they present a dish to their dinner guests. I will always see cooking as a powerful way to celebrate my past and express my evolving values.