So someone in response to my Andrew Sullivan Approved™ post on my eating disorder asked for some concrete things that people should do to overcome any similar issues of their own. My basic advice is: 1) seek professional help, and the 2) repeat step 1. However there is something else that defiantly helped me gain some of the necessary education and sense of control that I was apparently missing. Simply put, learning how to cook helped me appreciate food and discover a way to make other people happy through a creative outlet.
The lack of a comprehensive home economic class remains one of the saddest things about the post No Child Left Behind hellscape of public education. My issues with food developed when both of my parents began working jobs where they simply did not have the time to cook proper meals everyday, much less teach me this essential skill in any detailed manner. In this void I started to figure out somethings on my own, but I lacked the knowledge necessary to construct a well balanced meal. A class that would teach the importance of having vegetables, whole grains, and protein at every meal would have been nice- especially if it involved an interactive demonstration.
While in college I worked in the school cafeteria. This job paid well and the hours were moderately flexible, but the daily grind of coming between Brandeis students and their food was always a bit much. Turnover was high, but for those few people that stayed the job did actually provide some excellent lessons on knife skills, menu building, and even basic nutrition. As much as I whined about Aramark, I probably couldn’t have lived on my own without first learning from the every patient cooks, chefs, and managers at that job.
But self-preservation is really just the first benefit of learning this skill. Cooking allowed me to express a creativity that I didn’t even know that I possessed. A high level of patience and artistry goes into tinkering with a recipe. The process of developing a palette was a fun, and at times became almost zen-like pursuit of mine. Challenging myself in the kitchen to try new things allowed me to conquer any fears of mine regarding food, but to also appreciate the delicate balance of the senses that goes into making any meal.
But frankly the best part about cooking for me is the level of intimacy that preparing food seems to bring out. Making a dish for someone that reminds them of their childhood, or just starts a really excellent conversation is something that I could not do if I did not partake in this hobby. Having a really good method for convincing people to visit is also nice (and I say that as someone who has overcooked the last two meals I have made for guests), and has allowed me to stay in touch with the variety of people I have met in the 27 states in which I have lived.
So if you have a problem with food learning how to properly cook is my only other piece of advice other than seeing a shrink. Cooking allowed me to love food through studying the intricate process that goes into making a decent meal and it provided me a social outlet to build the necessary relationships that help check any feelings of depression. Plus I can now caramelize onions, which taste amazing in a cheese panini paired with brussels sprouts and a decent Hefewiezen.