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How To Reclaim Joy in the Kitchen

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Celebrating culture and intuition in the kitchen

Every dish is a chance to celebrate your own unique tastes and explore what brings you joy.

For years I was the dietitian that didn't cook. I'd turned my back on the heavy-handed AFAB (assigned female at birth) training to define myself by my ability to home make and caretake in my early 20s, and in the process, I'd lost my connection to cooking.

In recent years, completely avoiding cooking started to feel like an overcorrection. While homemaking is not my jam, I deeply value self-sufficiency, mindfulness, honoring my intuition/ancestral wisdom, and the pursuit of pleasure. I now see time in the kitchen as a great place to create rituals that embody each of these values.

Before I started to look for ways to bring those values into the kitchen I clarified what aspects of feeding myself light me up and what things about working in the kitchen felt gross and heavy. I hated the idea of homemaking for someone else in an attempt to prove my worthiness of love and partnership.I hated the exercise of upholding limited ideas about how I could add value to the world, my family, and my home based on the gender I was assigned at birth.

Following rigid recipes (aka long boring kitchen to-do lists) made me feel boxed in and stifled. Cooking the way my elders modeled for me as a kid, recipe-free, flexible, using intuition and seasonal food looked like freedom to me.

As a grown-ass nonbinary adult I realized that I get to decide what purpose homemaking serves in my life. Historically gendered household tasks aren’t inextricably linked to gender identity. Non-binary people, after all, have to eat too. I love taking care of myself. Homemaking for myself feels nourishing, not oppressive.I was craving a kitchen experience that allowed my creativity and intuition to run the show. But after years of eating a mostly assimilated diet (because explaining your lunch to co-workers and classmates is a boring ass chore) I felt disconnected from cooking the way my gram did.

Luckily, healing work is interconnected. As I worked on trusting my intuition in other areas of life, my self-confidence in the kitchen grew. I started to use commercial and family recipes as general guides and gave myself permission to experiment and make mistakes.

I worked to relearn cultural foods and celebrate my intuition in the kitchen. I embraced my messy side, tasted everything, and let my senses guide me as I cooked. The results were delicious and liberating. I felt lighter and more connected to myself when I ate them. Cooking was no longer a chore or a duty, it became a way to connect with my intuition and creative joy.

Whether you'd like to completely reimagine your relationship with cooking or add depth and texture to your time in the kitchen here are some ideas you can play with.

Make a list of your favorite childhood foods.

Ask living relatives to share the recipes or help you recreate these favorites. Let this serve as a base as you build a repertoire of dishes that you know work. You can experiment with creating variations of these dishes based on what is local to the area of the world you live in now.

Explore vegetables, herbs, and spices, native to the lands of your ancestors.

If you only have a general idea of where that might be, explore by region and dig deeper wherever you feel intuitively called to explore.

Inspired by DNA testing I have been exploring cuisine from Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Mali this year.

Take an intuitive cooking course.

Learn to cook without recipes by learning cooking principles and embracing creativity in the kitchen.

Trust you senses and listen to your body.

Ask yourself

What do you feel drawn to cooking and eating right now? What have you enjoyed in the past? There is no wrong answer – just listen, trust, and go with your gut.

When you start paying attention to what your body is telling you, you'll start making better choices both in terms of what you eat and how you cook it. Start by paying attention to how hungry or full you feel before deciding what dish to try out.

Your five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing – are the foundation of all culinary intuition. When cooking, trust your senses and go with what feels right. Keep checking in as you cook, tasting and adjusting as you go.

Take an inventory of foods you’ve abandoned.

There is no need to feel shame if you notice you've buckled under the pressure to assimilate. But once you notice that your kitchen has become 100% white-washed you can explore what prompted you to shun your food culture. Was it microaggressions and harmful comments about your home lunches at school or work? Was it the hostile email from HR banning "stinky" fish-based dishes from being eaten in common areas? Was it the lover that recoiled at your grandma’s cooking when you invited him to family dinners?

There isn't a damn thing wrong with your grandma's recipes. Your lunch isn't strange and it doesn't stink. Only white supremacy delusion would have you believe that foods that have been around for centuries are inferior to modern assimilated choices.

So many of the comfort foods of our youth that have been maligned as gross, weird, or smelly are manifestations of our ancestors’ wisdom, creativity, and dedication to the pursuit of freedom and autonomy. Reclaim the favorites you've left behind and celebrate the cultural foods that have sustained you and your family through tough times.

Share your culinary creations.

Once you've mastered a few dishes share them with friends and family. Cooking and community building go hand in hand. If you've been feeling boxed in by your approach to cooking, connecting with friends over food will remind you that you are supported as you grow and expand your skillset. Try recipe shares and potlucks with friends. Encourage them to share the stories and life experiences these recipes are linked to.

Food serves many purposes, only one of which is to sustain our bodies. Food can be a source of identity and self-sufficiency for marginalized communities. Cooking and eating can be a way to strengthen our connection to our ancestors. Cooking can be as much about celebrating our culture as it is about fulfilling our individual bodily needs. There's plenty of room for creativity and intuition in the kitchen. Every dish is a chance to celebrate your own unique tastes and explore what brings you joy.

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