The other day I was talking with someone from my church who has a friend with terminal cancer. He mentioned how his friend had recently gotten very interested in cooking, including watching lots of cooking shows, and he had a hypothesis to explain the change.
Paying attention to food, either directly by cooking or eating, or indirectly by watching other people cook, requires being in the moment, not having to look forward to an uncertain future or a past that maybe bring sorrow or nostalgia.
I hadn’t previously considered it in quite that way, but I realized he had a good point. And perhaps that’s part of what I enjoy about cooking, too. When I’m preparing food, soups or stir-frys or cookies or simply cutting up vegetables to steam, I find it easier to be in the here and now than with many other activities. It requires enough attention that my mind doesn’t have as much time to wander, but it’s not as taxing as things like my job. I also find that if I can get my “fill” of food this way – by a visceral, physical experience apart from eating – I may not be as inclined to eat as much once it’s prepared.
Similarly, when watching shows about food (in my case, usually cooking competitions), I can get caught up in the fun of whatever the chefs or cooks are putting together. I like seeing the possibilities they come up with, how they recover from mistakes, and how they present their dishes – all of these things can give me ideas about my own food preparation, or I might simply enjoy them vicariously, knowing I won’t be creating anything quite so elaborate.
Admittedly, I’m not always in the present when cooking. Sometimes I’m looking ahead, anticipating eating, or perhaps sharing with others as part of a meal. Or I might be thinking back to a previous time when I made the food, to how much I enjoyed it, or if there’s something I’d like to do a little differently this time. Even then, though, my focus returns to the present, to the act of chopping, mixing, stirring, shredding, or arranging.
I wonder, now, if part of the increasing numbers of foodies and the growing attraction of food shows is because others, too, find that it promotes focusing on the moment and finding enjoyment in it. Of course, there are many other ways to be present that don’t involve food, but if food is your passion, perhaps you, too, may find some joy in mindfulness with cooking, either directly or indirectly.