Have you ever seen the movie “What About Bob?” It’s one of my family’s favorites. Never was neurotic so hilarious and cute, even! One of the best parts is when Bob, who is terrified of everything, goes sailing with friends. The only way he can do it, of course, is literally strapped to the mast of the boat, but his joy at having accomplished something and overcome a fear, even in this manner, is so intense that he yells out “I’m sailing! I’m a sailor! I sail!!!”
This scene came to mind the other day as I was reveling in a cooking accomplishment: a tasty, juicy, flavorful, and husband-approved meatloaf. I plated this and just stood back to take it in.
What was I taking in? Not just a meatloaf. Not just a gourmet meatloaf (and it was). I was taking in a special moment in my life, a moment brought to me by a meatloaf. The moment I finally let myself be a COOK.
You see, I’ve always been interested in cooking, because the truth is, I love food. Wait, let me rephrase. I looooooooooooooooooooooooooooove food. But in my family, my mom is the cook. Like, the grand-champion cook (and that is no joke; she’s literally won blue ribbons for her food). And in case mom isn’t available, my brother-in-law Garrett is the cook. I mean, he knows what every utensil in Williams-Sonoma is used for! So I guess, in my own way of thinking, there was no room for me to be a cook in the family. And as I think about it now, what silliness is that?
Also, once upon a time and not so long ago, I was a terrible cook. Really, truly awful. So terrible, in fact, that I actually once lost a couple of friends due to an undercooked lasagna. (Yes, of course there’s more to the story than that, but the bad food really did play a role!) In the intervening years, I’ve regained those friendships and grown up considerably (thank God for maturity and forgiveness), but I’ve also grown in culinary knowledge, experience, and confidence.
I guess it was bound to happen anyway, because if you keep at something, eventually improvement is inevitable! But the growth really began to happen in January of 2012, when my husband went to the ER one night with chest pains and our whole world was rocked. Turns out, the pains were due to high blood pressure, and even though his cardiovascular system tested beautifully, we were told that if he’d had a blockage with that blood pressure, he would definitely have experienced a heart attack that night. So, it became abundantly clear to me that it was my job to help Marty keep his cardiovascular system healthy, and I knew even before the doctor coached us that the key to doing so is observing a good diet. Simple enough, right?
Oh I wish. How about the opposite of simple? It seems the more I read, the more I didn’t understand, and the more I researched, the more sources I found to educate me, and so forth. Hello, Pandora’s box. Without going on endlessly about it, the gist of it is this: There is so much misinformation out there, and a lot of it is due to our good ole government (the FDA still touts the food pyramid, even though medicine is showing more and more that our dependence on grains is what’s making us obese and killing us!). Not to mention the absolutely toxic products on the shelves at the store that until we know better, we’ll just keep buying and consuming without batting an eyelash because they wouldn’t sell us something *bad*, would they??? (Oh yes, they would — it’s called chemical dependence, and manufacturers would love nothing more than to have you as a customer for life.) See, I’m going on about it…but I’ll rein it in. Essentially, I’ve scoured the Internet, I’ve watched documentaries, I’ve engaged in discussions with doctors. And as it turns out, there’s no real trick to it at all — it actually is simple (though the path to that conclusion was anything but!). The answer is whole food, balanced on what our bodies need (water and fiber first — that means veggies, kids!). The more “whole” we eat, the healthier we are. But walking away from processed food has been one of the toughest journeys I could ever have signed up for, and I didn’t even know what I was getting into when I took the first step!
Fast-forward to now, a little over a year later, and I’m thinking differently, shopping differently, and cooking SO MUCH differently. Which brings me to Sunday afternoon, when I plated that meatloaf meal and I realized that not only am I cooking whole foods (nary a processed item on the plate!), I’m cooking them *well*. And I let myself have that little moment of success.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m far, far, far away from doing this perfectly. I still have guilty pleasure items, like that darned Hungry Jack pancake mix. And neither do I tout an all-or-nothing lifestyle; I don’t have a single problem with junking it up every now and then. Have some barbeque chips on a Saturday; have a donut on Sunday morning (but not 3!). But do not live like these are actual food choices — they are snacks and indulgences and should be treated as such. Make good choices 90% of the time and your body will show it. At least, that’s where my philosophy is right now. I’m allowing myself more room to grow and learn and change. I mean, that’s what life is all about!
But I now know this: I’m cooking! I’m a COOK! 🙂