Monday, January 25, 2021

Cooking Up Self Esteem

September 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Wellness

Almost Meatless Cookbook by Joy ManningJoy Manning is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia Magazine, the author of the cookbook Almost Meatless , and as you will read below –quite a talented blogger. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Relish, Inked, and When I asked Joy why she writes about body image and cooking, here is what she had to say;
Body image is important because I have struggled with it my entire life; cooking was the single most important thing that helped me overcome compulsive overeating. Cooking is a powerful tool that helps mend our often damaged relationships with food.
Even people who don’t regularly cook have cooked, at least a few times, often for someone else. And that feeling, that ta-da moment when the comestibles are unveiled for the lucky VIP, is a good one for she who has cooked.

There’s pride, usually, about having created something delicious. There’s also the bliss of giving, presenting someone you care about with something you’ve made with your hands, something they will eat and enjoy, something nourishing, sustenance. We all understand on a deep level that this sustenance is emotional as well as physical. This is why the traditional dishes of our families, our cultures, have such a powerful pull on our hearts and stomachs.

We’ve all heard it said, and repeated, a cliché because of its veracity: food is love.

But usually, we cook for the love of another person or group of people. It’s steak and potatoes and Cabernet for a date. It’s a hearty casserole for the neighbor who is sick. It’s a generous pile of cookies for the office meeting. This is a time-tested way to show love and respect for other people.

But how often do most of us love and honor ourselves with food this way? Sadly, not very often.

If we aren’t cooking for our kids, our significant others, our neighbors, the PTA, we are not cooking at all.

I have a friend—a single woman who lives alone—that claims to have not been to the grocery store since 2006. Recently, as her weight dipped into health-hazard territory, her doctor gave her a stern lecture about the importance of eating. It should be obvious that we owe ourselves meals. We wouldn’t let the pets go hungry, but many of us cannot muster the same level of care for ourselves. Since her doctor’s warning, my friend has tried to make herself regular meals. This has translated into a frozen pizza ritual; the arctic disk of processed starch and cheese-food takes its spin in the microwave while my friend—a media executive—sits on the sofa, kicks off her shoes, and collects her thoughts for the first time all day as the microwave hums in the background. She eats it on a paper plate in front of the TV.

Is this the dinner you make for someone you love?

In certain circles, the idea that we should love ourselves is unspeakably corny. I’ve worked in offices where my box of illustrated affirmation cards has made me a laughing stock. But self-love is the most fundamental building block of self-esteem and self-confidence—qualities most of us know are vital to success and happiness. If food is love, what does it say about us when we can’t be bothered to feed the most important person in our lives—ourselves? Why is it that we are so willing to cook for date, a family, an office meeting, a bake sale, but we are so unwilling to cook for ourselves?

I have brought this up to my executive friend and many other women who don’t cook for the “obvious” reason that it’s “just me.” Only me. Little old me. To this I say: is there anyone more important to cook for? To refuse to cook for yourself because of the subconscious and pernicious belief that you don’t deserve it, you aren’t worth the effort, is to deny yourself pleasure, health, satisfaction, and well being.

Some women say they just don’t know how to cook; I also once did not know how to cook. My mother didn’t cook, and like so many people now in their 20s and 30s, I just never learned how. To me, cooking meant inserting a box into the microwave and waiting while watching 5 minutes of TV. But this isn’t cooking. None of us would prepare this kind of a meal for a friend or a date. It isn’t good enough. And, therefore, it isn’t good enough for “just you” either.

Perhaps now you are thinking to yourself that I’m right, it is important to cook for yourself. But how can you considering the lack of recipes for one? Cooking for one is no different than cooking for four, which is about how many most recipes serve. You cook, you eat, you pack lunch, you freeze for a future meal. It’s simple. It’s true that this can take some planning, so it’s important to have a small arsenal of easy meals-for-one in your repertoire. (Check out recipe suggestions)

When you first start to cook, especially if it’s for “just” yourself, it can feel awkward and selfish. There are inevitable mistakes and late night calls for pizza. But the process will teach you something, and it’s something more than how to get a great tasting and healthy meal on the table. As you master how to cut an onion and learn how the sound of their sizzle changes as the onions pass from crunchy raw to soft and sweet, you learn about yourself. You learn that you are more competent in the kitchen, and in life, than you realized. You learn how terrible all those processed foods were making you feel. And in the clarity provided by a truly nourished brain, you begin to realize that cooking for yourself is more than worth the effort.

It’s an act of self-care—self-love—that is vital to the well being of your body and your soul.

-Joy Manning



10 Responses to “Cooking Up Self Esteem”
  1. Helen says:

    Great, inspiring message. Gretchen Rubin at the Happiness Project ( likes to say “Act the way you want to feel.” Your article is a great reminder that cooking is a simple, daily way to show yourself some love.

  2. lissa10279 says:

    I LOVE this post, Joy!

    It took me a long time of living on my own post-college to feel ok about “just cooking for me” but in time, it got easier and easier to do. It really does nourish the soul to put together ingredients.

    Now that I’m married (no kids yet) and share cooking responsibilities (or grilling!) with my husband, it takes on another dimension – but even on the nights where he’s not home, I still try to fix myself something special, even if it’s just an English muffin pizza using fresh ingredients and a salad (vs something frozen or a bowl of cereal). Or I make a big batch of something like meat sauce, or chicken cacciatore, for leftovers. If all else fails, I can chop up ingredients and pop them into the crockpot– seriously the best, most-used wedding gift we got 😉

  3. lacedinblack says:

    I love cooking, and I quite often cook just for myself, even if it’s just that I make something to freeze and eat some of it.

    The thing I struggle with is ingredients. Spinach, for example. I love fresh baby leaf spinach but I can only get it in huge bags and end up throwing away half of it. This seems like a shame.

    Any ideas?

  4. Joy Manning says:

    Hey, Lacedinblack,

    To keep baby spinach fresh for up to 10 days, I would buy a salad sack:

    I have 10 of them for keeping greens crisp and fresh. The thing is, you have to make sure the leaves and bag are damp and then place it in your crisper. The moisture–but not sogginess–is what does the trick.

    Another option is to blanch it, squeeze out the excess water, and then freeze it for another time.

  5. mamaV says:

    I love this post, I am a cook at heart that lost her way during the toddler days!

    Now my husband requires a special diet, so I am discovering all sorts of new foods I never knew existed — hulled barley (had it for lunch cooked in chicken broth), couscous (which I have convinced my son is mashed potatoes), and I just got a bread machine at a rummage which is just awesome! I am wondering why I was wasting our money on the store bread when it is so easy.

    Thanks also for the spinach blanching idea — I would have never thought of that in a million years!

    Keep cookin!

  6. Lampdevil says:

    A cooking post! WOOT!

    I am something of a low-rent bargain-basement foodie. I cook because I genuinely ENJOY cooking. I’m likely annoying the heck out of a lot of people when I blither on and on about the fun meals I can’t wait to prepare. Food is more than sustenance for me. It’s a hobby and it’s a passion.

    It took some effort to get here. My parents were serviceable cooks, but not very adventurous in the kitchen. I left home with some very basic kitchen skill, but little idea of how to prepare things that didn’t come from boxes and cans. It took the efforts of a good friend teaching me the value (and taste!) of well-prepared food to really, really understand what I was missing out on. I can never thank him enough for giving me that basic grounding in the kitchen. The rest has been self-directed Adventures In Making Stuff. I like Making Stuff. I like it a whole lot.

    I’m annoyingly passionate on the topic of food. I’m coming to learn that I need to dial myself back, because not everyone does have the skill or training or passion or time to hole up in the kitchen and make a meal every night. I recognize my privilege in having a good kitchen to cook in and the time to assemble a meal. But I still feel really, REALLY strongly that cooking is a Good Thing, and definitely undervalued these days. (Can we at least make Home Ec classes suck less? Less muffin baking, more applicable daily kitchen skills!) I wonder, too, if my “food food yay food” perspective comes across badly for me, seeing as I’m fat? I feel a little awkward, wondering if people interpret me as some kind of drooling monster ready to OM NOM NOM the whole universe.

    Ha, and I know the fuss about cooking for one. I’ll succumb to the fast-and-easy route if it’s been a long day and I have no one else to feed other than myself. Open a can, nuke something, call it a night. We’re only human, and sometimes the treat of sitting down and resting is just as wonderful as the treat of a good meal. And frankly, I’ve shared “bowl of soup on the couch with a hard day” meals with good friends, when all parties were completely bushed, and that’s got its own sorta charm. (If I had a point in this anywhere, I think it’s long since lost…) More often than not, I’ll enter the kitchen with the intention of just making “something quick”, and then an hour later I’ll stumble out, plate in hand, slightly befuddled. My friends know not to expect my cooking to arrive in a prompt fashion. I guess I need to work on that.


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