Cooking for the Soul – Pandemic Edition

Written by Betty Biju Varghese & Tanya Sadiza


Do you often sit and marvel at videos of professional chefs making beautiful, mouth-watering dishes? Do you get this instant motivation to get up from that sofa and make a dish from scratch? Have you started cooking or mastering your culinary techniques during this pandemic? If you answered  “yes” to any of these questions, you are not alone. We all have hunger pangs and cravings, and we know that they stem from watching so many food videos on youtube or watching competitive cooking reality shows on TV. If you’ve ever wondered why you feel a rush of happiness or accomplishment after having cooked a wholesome meal or dish, it’s because cooking is definitely known to be a source of positivity, both for your mind and your soul.

Everyone loves a home cooked meal and will only disagree with this statement if they dislike the dish that is prepared at home. “I find cooking to be therapeutic, but I admit, I don’t cook very well. I am a big foodie, but I try and eat healthily and go organic as much as possible. I enjoy eating at home, and a home-cooked meal scores higher than outside food on any good day.” This statement was received from Neha Dhupia, one of the leading actresses in Bollywood when she was interviewed for an article published in 2012. As someone who finds cooking therapeutic, even if it doesn’t taste like the world’s best 7-course meal, Ms. Dhupia’s words resonate with so many of us. We can definitely understand why she loves home-cooked meals. Who doesn’t love a hot plate of dal khichdi or a specialty made from our mother’s unique recipes? Several studies have stated that cooking promotes self-confidence, self-esteem and puts one in a jovial mood, while improving socialization and other physical and mental health benefits for the body.

While there was always a sense of motivation to try new recipes and create masterpieces on plates worth devouring whole, time was an element that was never in sync with motivation. The hastened pace of life didn’t allow people to stop, take a deep breath, and do the things they love. However, during this pandemic, many people got the opportunity to stay at home and spend time with their families.While we can find numerous articles stating how cooking is therapeutic, we needed to determine if the special impact of cooking (either as a necessity or as a hobby) has helped people during this pandemic.

Cooking brings you closer to yourself and your family, and becomes a bonding experience which turns into beautiful moments and memories for the future. Chef Dhirendra, who has his own restaurant in Kanpur, is known for his culinary craftsmanship and boldness to try new recipes. He stated that “Cooking for the restaurant is very different from cooking for the family. Because of this pandemic, I have beautiful moments to cook for my family and see them happy with my food, which makes me satisfied and content.” These words are proof of Chef Dhirendra taking this otherwise morose phase of 2020 to spend time with his loved ones and make food for his beautiful family.

Let’s talk a little about the inspired art (and mesmerizing science) of baking. Why do you think #QuarantineBaking is trending on Instagram? Is it possible that the simple beauty of baking is helping people around the world in the middle of a global quarantine? According to Kosoff ,a freelance reporter and editor living in New York City, she states in an interview that “Baking provides a sense of normalcy, which I think many people are craving right now. We all are trying to go back to our life before the pandemic and cooking makes us feel that we are. “ She continues to explain that cooking helps her to tune out the world and spend a little time being present in something else.

To understand if cooking as a therapeutic activity has actually helped people during this pandemic, a short survey was conducted by two trainee researchers under the guidance of Prof. Sabu John from CHRIST (Deemed to be University) Delhi, NCR. The survey was conducted on 160 participants belonging to the age group of 18 to 60 years spread around India’s different cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai. Kanpur, Bhubaneswar and  Chandigarh. Around 64% of the participants stated that cooking has been therapeutic for them during the pandemic. The reason behind this proved to be the fact that cooking helped participants to spend time with family and helped to boost self-esteem along with staying calm during the pandemic.

Cooking has more than just a singular effect on people’s minds, thus giving it the title of being a therapeutic activity.. Researchers have noted that other than raising self-esteem levels and positivity to promote the exchange of food and ideas, cooking offers plenty more when it comes to socialization and other physical and mental health outcomes. Dr. Ruchi Verma, a renowned Clinical Psychologist from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), stated that  “Cooking enhances self-confidence, builds up interaction skills, and decreases feelings of loneliness. It is a perfect way of distracting oneself from negative contemplations that are due to happen during this pandemic.” According to Dr. Verma, cooking helps a person feel more in control with their lives and helps them cope with the uncertainty that one is going through, especially not knowing what their future holds for them. This also falls under the study which shows  an increase of 20% in the cooking behavior among the participants as compared to their cooking activities before the pandemic.

According to the New York Times, cookbooks are rarely among the top-selling books on Amazon. Yet, “Magnolia Table, A Collection of Recipes for Gathering” by Joanna Gaines sought the no.2 spot on that list. The search term “online cooking classes” saw a five-fold increase on Google over the past four weeks, and the search title “cook with me” saw a 100 percent increase in average daily views on YouTube in the second half of March.” This statistic is also in sync with our research findings because we also found that the pandemic has helped the age group participants 18-25 in learning many new culinary techniques and different ways of cooking for themselves and for their families. The age group of 40 to 55 older adults have felt that cooking became very helpful for them to cope during the pandemic. Earlier, they would not get enough time to cook for their families and spend time exploring new recipes, whereas the situation right now allows them to start and end their day with their beautiful families.

So if you’ve been dying to pick up a new hobby or that new bookmarked recipe for banana cake has been calling out to you, this is your opportunity to dive right in. It could be your very own spin on a pasta carbonara or a contemporary twist on the beloved  butter chicken & naan recipe. You could master the art of making momos or replicate The New York Cheesecake with impeccable finesse. In the end, all that matters is that you are happy, hungry and hopeful for a future that will bring better things, while you get ready to savour your home cooked masterpiece, cooked with love. Bon appetit!

Betty Biju Varghese & Tanya Sadiza currently pursuing MSc in Clinical Psychology from Christ University, Delhi NCR Campus




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