"Cooking rice and dal every day for the family is a chore. Whereas preparing a fancy meal is a gift to the family, an act of self-expression or even seduction'" - so says Abhijit Banerjee, the Nobel laureate economist who also loves to cook. How you perceive cooking depends a lot on how you are socially groomed and what you value. Research from mindfulness shows cooking provides a wonderful opportunity to be present, mindful and aware as opposed to being distracted, stressed or overwhelmed.
Why girls need to cook well?
Growing up in Odisha, my father emphasised, my prospects must be outside the kitchen and hence spending time in it was seen as regressive and subscribing to existing gender norms. He was a liberal who wanted my sister and I to break the mould that women in India need to show off their cooking skills to get married. However, due to my natural inclination and interest in different cuisines, I stole time to be in the kitchen, like an alchemist experimenting with ingredients, tempering spices, testing new flavours, and learnt many dishes from my mother and our family cook. Over the years, my love of cooking has only intensified - for me the kitchen has a positive association - a treasure trove of culinary opportunities where I am able to further hone my interest and talent, and unwind. Having the freedom and choice is integral to happiness in the kitchen. Preparing roti, dal and chawal every day is still a chore for me, I must tell the reader.
Not being able to cook to save your life!
Then there is the other gender norm. Many men grow up without learning how the kitchen works; without knowing how to make a meal or anything else to save their lives. Women in their lives (mothers, sisters and wives) feed them. When men cook, it is praised and applauded, and some of the best chefs in the world are men because they get platforms and opportunities, whereas women don't (as many)-for them it is seen as a duty, a life skill...a man is called a chef, a woman a cook- this is a stark gender imbalance. Some women too, in order to defy existing social norms, have stopped learning how to cook. Zomato and Swiggy have of course come to their rescue. However, there is something valuable to learn from men who do like to present their cooking skills.
The new norm - cooking as an art - and should not be linked to gender
Cooking is ultimately a life skill, but it is a refined art form too. Cooking presents the opportunity to anchor the mind and focus attention on the senses tuning them into sights, smells, sounds and textures of the culinary tasks at hand. Cooking develops confidence, mental focus and an ability to create and present which is linked to a deeper relationship with yourself. This can help deal with many life situations. Therefore, men and women, both need to view cooking and their time in the kitchen as a way to deal with life - creatively! Presenting and enjoying the meal cooked (eating alone or together) with appreciation and gratitude is an attitude that we must cultivate. So who does the cooking need not matter - what should matter is how well you have learnt a life skill - to nourish your palate and ultimately to please your soul. So go ahead and spread that aroma of happiness from your kitchen for yourself and others.
Author Bio: Anindita Pattanaik, Consultant Psychologist and Mindfulness Practitioner.
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.