What has gone viral across television, WhatsApp, and almost every possible social media platform? No, it’s not Dalgona coffee — it’s cooking, in general! What was once considered a daunting chore — “Me? I can only boil water”, “I hope Maggi qualifies as cooking, bro” has suddenly been awarded celebrity status — “Oh those noodles? I hand-rolled them”, “That biryani is 2 hours of slow-cooking!”
This begs the question — why has cooking turned into a source of comfort for so many of us? Well, it’s not that hard to explain. The activity comes with a host of positive psychological benefits, so let’s jump right into what these are:
Cooking is a form of mindfulness: Cooking is an all-consuming act, and demands a complete awareness of your senses of taste, smell, sight, sound, touch. And yet, it is you who is in control of everything — whether it’s what spices to add or how long to keep the curry on simmer. The process calls for discipline and prolonged focus; walk away for a minute and your onions may brown just a bit too much. Simultaneously, it’s a great way to unwind, since it gives you the opportunity to be mindful of the moment, calm, and aware, instead of distracted and overwhelmed. And in this lockdown, we definitely need more of that!
It provides instant gratification and purpose: The lockdown has disrupted most of our routines, leaving us questioning our productivity levels. Cooking is a low-hanging fruit that immediately gives us a sense of purpose. After all, it is a necessity and takes all of 45 minutes or less to create something, anything. One dish later, we feel a sense of purpose when we tell ourselves, “I created this” or “My friend/partner/family enjoyed something I made with my own hands.” It’s a feeling of personal satisfaction, validation, and acceptance — priceless at any point of time but more so during this unprecedented, lonely crisis.
Cooking is a medium of self-expression: Studies have shown that expressing ourselves helps us manage our emotions and cope with them. And this self-expression involves any activity where we can transfer the energy from our minds into another, more physical form — and this could be a delicious dish prepared with love. After all, we express ourselves in the way we julienne our carrots and in the way we roll out our rotis. It explains why everyone creates something different, even when following the same recipe — it’s that extra little ingredient known as the self!
It fosters a sense of community: The lockdown has brought out feelings of anxiety in all of us, and in times like these, we all need to turn to something that brings us together. So while some people consume art, and others consume books, everyone consumes food, making cooking a common denominator. And when we participate in a universal activity such as this, it fosters a sense of empathy and connection.
Cooking brings memories alive: Sometimes it takes just a whiff of a dish to take you back to your grandma’s arms, your favourite restaurant, a holiday destination — all those places you can’t physically be in due to the lockdown. That’s because stirring up aromas in the kitchen also stirs up long-forgotten moments — the night you baked your first cake, the chai tapri outside college, or your mother’s never tangy rasam. Cooking takes us back to happy memories, reminding us of our deep relationships and bonds — something we could use more of in this time of social isolation!
Finally, even for those who don’t cook, understanding the science behind it, the care that goes into a dish, the multiple steps and myriad ingredients makes us grateful for the food in front of us. This gratitude helps us feel positive, cherish good experiences and deal with adversity head-on. Just taking the time to express gratitude to the creator of your food not only creates a more positive relationship with them but also increases the individual’s overall well-being!
So what are you waiting for — head into your kitchen, get your creative juices flowing, and whip up a dish you’ll remember for a long time to come. And if the kitchen remains your nemesis, relish the memories of your favourite meals, look forward to the next, and say thank you to those who keep your stomach full and your soul happy.