first year psychology PhD student Marios on embracing cooking as an outlet for mindfulness and creativity
Cooking. A concept that most undergraduate university students probably grapple with for the first time or perhaps it’s just a thought that crosses their minds when desperately raiding the fridge for something to eat. I am not an exception… this is a story about my experience in the culinary world as a student.
From my mother’s meals to take-aways
I came to the UK almost 8 years ago to pursue my dream to become a psychologist. Far away from my mother’s lovingly made home cooking (this was hard to swallow), and without much knowledge of cooking (despite eating being my forte), I had to do something about it. In order to save myself from wasting away, I visited my local fish and chips shop for the first time. While in the queue I overheard someone ordering “black pudding” and “haggis”; words which both scared and intrigued me as to what sort of food this could be. I decided to take a punt and go for it; I saw the nondescript sausage-like delicacy and couldn’t refuse. Back in my communal kitchen, I quickly devoured the contents while catching up with some of my flatmates. It was only once I had finished said ‘supper’ that my Scottish flatmate decided to let on exactly which ingredients lingered under the golden crust…
Learning to cook
After a year or so of eating whatever ready-meals I found on the discount shelves in supermarkets, I decided that I had to take some ‘serious measures’ to improve my eating. This was the time that I was truly introduced to cooking…
I spent hours and hours talking to my mother about recipes, especially those favourite Greek recipes that my mother seemed to whip up in seconds. I now had the knowledge, but what about the technique? Ingredients? What does parsley look like? How does an oven work? What is my name?
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
After some failed attempts and having in my mind Samuel Beckett’s quote, I finally managed to make my first homemade dish.
After that day I fell in love with cooking. I would buy every interesting cookbook I could find, such as DK’s The Cook’s Book by Marcus Wareing, and would immediately want to try every dish that captured my attention. But in the meantime, I started making my own improvised foods.
A pinch of mindfulness
Seven years later, after countless disastrous plates and unintended marvels, I find myself in the middle of my PhD and not knowing what I would do had I not learnt how to cook. Cooking has become a distraction for me; one of the best ways to lose myself and forget for a while the stress I hold, the worries I may have, what is going on in the outside world… It combines all of your senses as one like a form of meditation. Have you ever tried to peel a potato or a carrot? Have you ever chopped an onion? You focus all of your attention on that one thing, all your senses such as touch and smell focus on one thing, switching off from the outside world, looking inwardly…
A dash of creativity
For me, cooking is about creativity too. I like to think of it as an experiment; a learning process which via trial and error success will come and you will “taste” the seeds of your effort. A learning process which offers you in abundance so many experiences and ideas.
A recipe for a strong mental and physical health
Cooking is the alpha and omega of a strong mental and physical health; you can control your diet and nutrition by what you are eating. Have you ever asked an athlete or a serious gym goer if they cook? Do you want to lose weight or improve your health? Cook!
Most importantly cooking offers you serenity and also improves your wellbeing, a culinary therapy of sorts. Eating well (i.e. a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients) is associated with wellbeing; the Mediterranean dietary pattern (MDP) has been considered to reduce inflammatory, vascular and metabolic processes, which may be part of the involvement in the risk of clinical depression. Studies have shown the potential protective role of MDP regarding the prevention of depressive disorders
(Sánchez-Villegas et al, 2009).
Served with some cultural appreciation
Among other things, cooking is about experiencing cultures from all around the world, with every food possessing its own story to tell. There are so many choices, so many cuisines that you can cook, taste and explore. Through culinary creation, we are reunited with nature experiencing raw ingredients unique to the specific country, and it also makes us more open to other cultures and even more sociable as we encounter people from these countries.
If you are not yet convinced, maybe this is your time to give it a try!
Psychology PhD student Marios is the Psychology Social Media Ambassador (Research Focus) at the University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye on the School of PPLS Instagram account and the Psychology at Edinburgh Twitter account for updates from Marios.
Sánchez-Villegas, A. et al. (2009). ‘Association of the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern With the Incidence of Depression: The Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra Follow-up (SUN) Cohort’, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 66(10):1090–1098. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.129