Growing up, the value and importance of freshly-cooked food was drilled into me and my siblings. We ate together most nights around a circular table, unified over hearty bowls of spaghetti bolognese and chicken soup.
As we morphed into a family of fully-grown adults, we found that our cooking habits were growing increasingly lax. With each of us navigating the fast pace and demanding nature of life in London, cooking had diminished into something purely functional – squeezed into small pockets of time with minimal fuss and effort. Either that, or the house lay empty as we were scattered around various restaurants, eating out with friends.
Acting mainly as a means of sustenance and comfort, my family had fallen into careless new patterns around food. When we were at home, the dinner table had become substituted for trays on our laps in front of the television – the sound of A Place In The Sun drowning out any potential for conversation.
“If there’s any silver lining to be taken from the pandemic, for me it’s that it has sparked a notable shift in the culture around food for our household.”
Though my sister and I still managed to pack in our five-a-day, my parents’ plates rarely strayed from the colour beige – far from the rainbow my Mum had raised me to fill my plate with. The oven and hob lay idle, whilst the microwave worked in overdrive. Their attitudes and habits around food had disintegrated noticeably, a reflection of their overall self-care and undoubtedly a result of city-induced fatigue and lack of time. It was not uncommon for a microwaveable pot of apple-crumble to be the only piece of fruit to pass through their lips during an entire day.
The decrease in cooking at home had taken its toll on both my family’s health and sense of togetherness. But, if there’s any silver lining to be taken from the pandemic, for me it’s that it has sparked a notable shift in the culture around food for our household.
“Hours of my lockdown days were spent preparing dinner for myself and my family, the effort behind each meal drawing everyone back around the table, night after night.”
I spent the first bout of lockdown getting reacquainted with the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the apron had become my most frequented attire besides pyjamas and I’d landed myself a new role as chef of the household.
With lockdown providing a break from the manic rushing around and hectic schedules for all of us, it felt important to make the most of this time together. I began to cook dinner every evening, delighting in the opportunity to explore cooking in a way time hadn’t allowed before.
I was exhilarated by the endless culinary possibilities, my internet browser heavy with bookmarked recipes to try. Hours of my lockdown days were spent preparing dinner for myself and my family, the effort behind each meal drawing everyone back around the table, night after night. Subconsciously, the bad habits we had previously built were being replaced.
Eight months on, and my momentum in the kitchen still persists. As darkness swallows up more and more of each day, cooking dinner gives me a structure to the long stretches of evening. It becomes an intention to guide me through a disorientating part of the day.
“For as long as I can bring my parents joy and pleasure through the simple act of cooking, then I will continue – it’s my way of reciprocating the care that they have given me throughout my life.”
I am incredibly fortunate with my current circumstances. I wake each morning to a warm home, a replenished fridge and a supportive and understanding family. With so many people caught in precarious situations as a result of the pandemic, I feel overcome with gratitude for the generosity that my parents have shown throughout this time.
As they work tirelessly to keep the bills paid and our family afloat, serving them a plate of food at the end of the day is the least I can do. Cooking is my humble offering to them, a small gesture to express my thanks. It is a silent acknowledgement of their efforts, alleviating at least one element of the daily load.
Often, my Mum will sit back in her chair, having just nosedived into her bowl and cleaned the surface with her tongue, and exclaim: “This food makes my insides smile!”. For as long as I can bring my parents joy and pleasure through the simple act of cooking, then I will continue – it’s my way of reciprocating the care that they have given me throughout my life.
“Cooking makes me feel productive, in a subtle, non-demanding way – there is a real gratification in creating something from nothing.”
I also enjoy it. Cooking makes me feel productive, in a subtle, non-demanding way – there is a real gratification in creating something from nothing. I feel no pressure to be good at it, and with that comes a sense of liberation. Whether it turns out to be a culinary masterpiece or not, I know the food will be gobbled up appreciatively, regardless. The love, care, and time invested in the food will always suffice for my family.
What’s more, the methodical process of following a recipe is the perfect medicine for an anxious, busy mind like mine. Cooking demands my attention remains in the present, making it something of a meditation. Cooking dinner has evolved into a peaceful time of the day, grounding me and bringing the noise of the day down to a manageable simmer.
“Meals have become an anticipated occasion, a chance for experimentation and exploration.”
With the potential for travel greatly limited, cooking has granted us access to different cultures, bringing them into our home. It has been a way of reaching beyond the confines of our four walls, different cuisines providing a taste of alternative cultures, when we cannot seek them through the usual channels.
Meals have become an anticipated occasion, a chance for experimentation and exploration. When the kitchen is thick with aromas of fresh lemongrass and ginger, I can close my eyes and be transported.
Every day, without fail, my Mum will kindly offer to take over the role for the evening. She assumes it is a cumbersome responsibility that I feel I have to carry. But I will always decline – explaining to her that cooking for the family brings me joy. It is a role that I have come to relish and embrace.
The time invested in cooking dinner every night for the past eight months has helped re-establish a healthy culture around food within our home – nourishing both our bodies and our sense of connection. Our family ties have been strengthened by full flavours and full bellies – and the fulfilment of that feels worth every onion-induced tear, oven burn and hour of my time that it’s taken.
Gaby Conn (she/her) is a 23-year-old Londoner, working as a freelance writer and artist. She specialises in opinion pieces, personal essays and social commentary. @gaby_conn
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