In his poem “Onions,” William Matthews writes, “How easily happiness begins by
dicing onions” (n.p.). Indeed, there is something about the rituals of meal preparation that is both sacred and therapeutic – and just the thing to drive away winter blues.
Cooking is an exclusively human activity that followed our mastery of fire. According to Michael Pollan:
Cooking opened up whole new vistas of edibility by rendering various plants and animals more digestible, and overcoming many of the chemical defenses other species deploy against being eaten (6).
This makes cooking, a chore to some, a primal and powerful rite, although with busy schedules and many mouths to feed it seems more people are shying away from the kitchen and our roots.
Cooking is also a “method of knowledge-making” (Brady qtd. in Brady et al 61) in which the hands, the body, and the senses inform the mind. It is a way to connect with food and experience simple, nourishing fulfillment, or as Pollan put it, “…the alchemies of the kitchen transform the raw stuffs of nature into some of the great delights of human culture” (9).
This activity is mostly private for me; domestic. Though I’ve considered culinary school, I would never make food for a living, nor could I survive in a commercial kitchen. My kitchen is peaceful, necessary place. Keeping it in order keeps my soul in order; when the stove is warm, so too is my heart.
As with many other home cooks, my spirits rise with the smells of food being made, and even “the onions and the pan give me pleasure” (Wong qtd. in Brady et al. 60). There is something about the familiar violence of cutting vegetables and smashing garlic that makes everything right. It stirs the thoughts to poetry.
I cook for myself and my partner, and for family and friends if they visit. I cook and eat alone sometimes, but I find food is best when it’s shared. Cooking will get me through my first Vermont winter, and it is always there any time of the year when I need to become absorbed in the blissful little tasks of meal preparation, to escape from life’s larger and more complex demands.
When I have an idea for a dish, especially if I’ve never made it before, I enjoy the researching recipes for inspiration and finding the best ingredients available. Cooking helps foster an appreciation for quality, but there is also something satisfying about using up lingering pantry items in a clever dish. I call this “cabinet cooking” and it’s a useful skill – even an art form.
Experimentation in the kitchen is the best teacher, and I encourage all home cooks and aspiring chefs to continue to play with flavor, texture, and color and challenge themselves with new techniques. After all, it’s one of the things that makes us human.
Brady, Jennifer, et al. “Stirring the Pot: The Performatives of Making Food Texts.” Conversations in Food Studies, edited by Colin R. Anderson et al., Manitoba UP, 2016, 52-72.
Matthews, William. “Onions.” Poetry and Food, Poetry Foundation, 2019. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/145091/poetry-and-food
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Group, 2006. 6-11.