It may not be easy (at first) but it is very simple: Cooking is the single most important thing you can do for your well-being.
The food industry (and much of the health industry too) have been telling us for decades now that food is about single nutrients (less fat, more fibre, or whatever). They maintain all you need to know is printed on the packet. This dictate of nutritionism is supposedly led by science. The problem is, science cannot possibly analyse the complexity of nature in its every facet, as, by definition, science must look at the factors it studies in isolation. Yet, real food - food that has grown in or roamed on soil - is so much more than a mere list of nutrients. It's the perfect example of a sum greater that its parts.
Should we be worried about the fact that there is no 'conclusive' science on the harm or benefits of, say, eating eggs? Or should we consider the fact that humans have been eating eggs for thousands of years as enough evidence that eating eggs is a good thing in most circumstances? Note this applies to 'eggs' as in whole fresh eggs, not 'egg' as in egg yolk, powdered egg, egg protein or whatever the food industry comes up with. Also note that we are all individuals and some people may not tolerate eggs - if your body tells you it doesn't like eggs you must listen to that message before any other.
Don't be fooled by all the 'healthy' labels (less salt, less fat, more fibre, added vitamins, etc etc...) We easily forget that what these labels really mean: either something that is naturally present has been removed - and replaced by other ingredients, often chemicals - or something that has already been removed for the sake of 'refining' has to be added back to boost the minimal nutritional value left.
Real food doesn’t need a label: Don't dismiss the humble apple just because it doesn't have a 'healthy' label.
And while farmers are in the business of growing apples or cabbages, there is not a single corporation trying to sell you these humble goods of nature (or when did you last see an advert for cabbages?). At the same time a cacophony of 'consumer promotions' is bombarding us from all directions with imperatives about the advantages and 'conveniences' of shiny food packets, from low sugar cereal to, um... meatless burgers. With over 50 percent of all food sold in the UK falling under the ultra-processed category what we eat is now largely dictated by big business (not just food multi-nationals, but agri corporations like Monsanto too). This is a shocking revelation. The good news is that these uber-companies are mainly controlling the major food 'commodities': wheat, corn, soya and sugar. And if you look closely you will find that most ultra-processed food products are essentially made of these four ingredients in many disguises. If you can avoid the packets you can avoid a lot of what comes in the tailwind of the fake food takeover. Few of us have the opportunity to grow our own veggies or raise our own chickens but we can all cook more at home, and be the makers of the food we eat.
Cooking is an opportunity to shift the balance: less consumption, more production.
Cooking is also social: Home life used to centre around the hearth, the kitchen. The preparing of meals - and eating them - was not a solitary undertaking, it was a daily social occasion. Yes, it's true that food preparation used to be mostly the realm of women, but it still was a social activity. While cooking happened, children were playing or helping or doing their homework on the kitchen table, adults were chatting and sharing news about their day, all the while cooking happened, and later this gathering of the family would continue around the dinner table. But increasingly, this important opportunity for connection and communication is getting lost to us too.
Making the time and the effort to cook a meal gives us a reason to make the time and the effort to eat it together gathered around a table, rather than each of us on their own, each in front of their preferred screens. It is in your hand to make meals together the best part of the day: something fun, enjoyable, a shared experience and something to look forward to.
Even if you live on your own, cooking for yourself, and making the effort to eat your meal mindfully without distractions is a powerful act of self care (you don't need an expensive massage). I admit this is something I personally find very difficult, cooking for myself, mostly because I hate eating on my own. But when I lived alone I deliberately made the effort of cooking something nice for myself at least a few days a week. (Learning to love a table for one was a revelation too - more on this some other time).
Cooking is an opportunity to reclaim our connection to our body, to nature, and to those you love. For all these reasons and many more, I love this quote from Dr Mark Hyman:
“Cooking is a revolutionary act.”
So simple, so powerful (but not always so easy). For me, it serves as one of the guiding principles for everything I write (and cook).