5 Ways the Outside World has Crept into my Kitchen
How has your relationship with food changed during these months of the pandemic? Have you settled into the reality of cooking every single meal at home for every one of your family members? Are you relying more on take-out to spice up the routine and support local businesses? Have you reached into the depths of your pantry and become reacquainted with those items that you had been saving up for this exact moment in history?
Whether you've leaned on meal kits, CSA boxes, comfort foods or time-intensive baking projects, no doubt your kitchen experience has been turned upside down.
Tune in to Tune Out
When it comes to how we shop and eat, I would usually encourage us to tune out the distractions – the conflicting nutritional claims, diet promises, and endless supermarket brands - and really listen to that sensation we call intuition. Even in “normal times,” the outside world can be fast-paced and chaotic. Therefore, slowing down and making space are necessary to truly hear what our body needs. Only then will we realize the simple truth that our food needs are relatively unchanged from what our grandparents grew up with. More on that in a future post.
This moment, however, is different. Nothing in our lifetime comes close to the external forces we're currently experiencing. They're LOUD and DISRUPTIVE.
As a highly sensitive person (HSP) who notices every subtlety in her environment, this time period has encouraged me to seek even more comfort in my kitchen refuge where I can avoid the outside overwhelm. Mind you, I've chosen to live nestled within a community within a planned village within the town of Chapel Hill – so it can feel like a bubble at times.
Within this setting, I have come to recognize and appreciate the healing power of a simple, uncluttered kitchen space intentionally created to bring on calm and soothe my sensitive nervous system.
Since mid-March, however, I've noticed that the external world has slowly crept into the confines of my safe space.
How did this happen? What has shifted?
1) Eating for immunity has taken center stage.
My cooking style is usually centered around health but in the midst of an emergency where the threat is largely invisible, focusing on immunity has become my strongest defense mechanism. I have become obsessive about preparing bone broth (from organic chicken wings), fermenting cabbage, consuming healthy animal and plant fats, and choosing whole foods that will keep my body thriving.
I’m hopeful that this personal shift towards gut health will also become integrated into the medical system. It’s only by prioritizing our physical bodies that we will be able to handle current and future crises stemming from our already-low baseline in health.
2) I surprised myself by following a 30-day protocol.
In my lifetime, I have dabbled in more ways of eating and detoxes than I care to admit. But intuitive eating has since taken a more central approach in my life and I have been eating according to my body’s cravings. In May, however, I did a deep dive into foods for optimal dental health (see Dr. Steven Lin's inspiring book) as I have always been fascinated by the connection between the health of our mouths and the rest of our body. And I am simultaneously trying to reverse a small cavity which can be done naturally. For real.
Since dental visits were not an option during the pandemic, I dedicated a month to eliminating all processed foods, gluten and sugars (including fruit) from my diet and prioritizing healthy fats and dark/organ meats rich in vitamins D-A-K2. It was incredibly challenging but ironically, also easy with zero outside food obligations. At the end of May, I had completely reset my palette and altered my relationship to sugar which is at the root of dental imbalances. I am forever fascinated by the power of food to heal. We’ll see about the cavity once I return to a dentist in some months' time. [update July 2021: the cavity was small enough to stay within the enamel layer so I was able to reverse it - YAY!]
3) I miss nourishing others out of my kitchen.
The art of creating food and sharing it with others is an inherent expression of my love. Normally, my work as a personal chef would satisfy part of this need to nourish but that has been on hold temporarily. Nor am I talking about the 300+ meals I’ve prepared for my own household that have not gone unappreciated.
Instead, I’m referring to cooking out of pure joy and sharing it with neighbors or friends as a simple caring gesture. Over time, this restrictive feeling of not being able to share has loosened up and we have developed a nice exchange with our neighbors. What started with their homemade pizza has progressed into various culinary deliveries (usually warm out of the oven!) along with sweet interactions between their 1-year old and our dog.
4) I’ve turned to emotional baking.
You know, Like Water for Chocolate style. In my home, it’s sweet potato muffins infused with despair, almond banana bread imbued with uncertainty, or that rare chocolate coconut bark steeped with hope. Traditionally, baking has been a deeply meditative practice but I've been relying on it more to work through these tough emotions. And thus, it would feel strange to share these creations with anyone other than myself, my dog or the freezer. No "Bake and Release" here.
5) I briefly fell victim to pantry stockpiling.
At the outset of the quarantine, I became so fearful of a food shortage (again, media induced) that I gave in to my own version of "hoarding" during these grocery visits. In my case, this looks like four cans of beans instead of just one that I would have on reserve. It lasted a month at most, but I look back wondering how so many of us accepted that fearful mindset as truth when in fact, there was plenty of food to go around.
The news certainly heightened my sensitivity and found its way into my minimalist kitchen. My pantry tends to be stocked with the exact building blocks needed to enhance and add flavor to a meal centered on fresh produce. However, the unknowns of the pandemic led me to stash my pantry and freezer FULL, which was both expensive and caused more overwhelm since I had never gone that extreme in my kitchen. But in the moment, it provided feelings of comfort that I could not ignore.
By month two, I had used everything up and pared the pantry back down to the essentials, knowing its precise inventory. In my experience, most people lose track of what’s behind their easy-reach items in front and neglect the gems of the pantry that hide in the deep abyss (a design failure in my opinion).
On a positive note regarding the media, I am ecstatic about Samin and Hrishi's Home Cooking podcast that celebrates simple, improvisational, use-it-up ideas for ingredients and is keeping us all very entertained. The pantry is having its moment!
Know that you are not alone if you’ve experienced any of the above or have developed new rhythms in the kitchen.
Our habits have gone haywire and we must recognize that they are only temporary. However, I encourage you to keep going with those healthy behaviors that may have developed.
I have learned so much by acknowledging these truths and acting with compassion towards myself. This too shall pass.