In our society, relationships with food are complicated. Sometimes we might be anxious that our food is not safe, that we are not told the whole story, that we have to educate ourselves on what we can and guess the rest. Sometimes there are emotions connected with food such as ecstasy, joy, guilt, remorse, anxiety, or disgust. Sometimes thinking about food can be stressful, that we don’t have enough money to feed ourselves and others in the ways we would like or at all. Other times, we might wish food away because it is boring or we have limited skills or vision. I cannot say that my relationship with food is the healthiest. I have used food as a punishment and way to self-harm, I’ve been restrictive with food or scared of certain foods. I’m a little or a lot OCD and neurotic with how I handle food.
Ultimately, though, I love good food, and I rather enjoy cooking, especially when I have time to myself and am alone in the kitchen. There is something soothing in cleaning the preparation space and items, chopping the vegetables, combining the green, orange, purple together, letting my intuition guide me for spices. I know that food can be a ritual. It is a time where I listen to the water spill from the spout, the crackle of garlic in oils, the silence in the gaps where I pause before completing another step. Sometimes I go renegade, experimental or familiar, and other times the recipe is liturgy as it requires my faith to be guided by another’s wisdom.
During this phase of my life where I’m back living at home with my parents and applying for full-time teaching jobs, I’m taking things slowly and trying to appreciate the simple things. I feel it is best for my mental health and well-being to focus on family, food, getting sunshine and some physical activity, tending to my students I teach online, and hope for the future that I’ll have a place in some department in the Fall with all the applications I’ve blessed and sent out into the universe.
Why do I call the healing nature of food feminine energy? Food can be communal or private, and it can inspire and heal. In many families, the woman is the sacred sustainer for her family. This role has often been oppressive for women who have a full-time job outside or inside the home, take care of kids, and put food on the table. I have been in situations where I was expected to cook and felt like a housewife and did not like it. But now, my role is back to daughter, one who has the time and the space to cook, and I’m not obligated to cook for others (obviously, some daughters might have different expectations or experiences). When I cook for others, they appreciate it.
It’s also feminine because of my continued chronic conditions of my own body. I have PCOS, and recently I’ve found some supplements, teas, and essential oils that I think will help. I’ve never really tried to cure it before, but with the semi-chronic condition I experienced when I was in Spain that sort of manifested in a slightly different way when I came back to the states, I felt it was worth focusing on these areas of my body that seem to be asking for a bit of self-care. I feel sort of like a kitchen witch mixing the concoction in my kitchen each morning into a smoothie, boiling water for my Healthy Cycle or Pau d’Arco tea, making the ACV rinse that I apply topically, and then sitting in the sun outside, in my makeshift breakfast nook, alone, to journal.
I like that there are sometimes ways we can nurture ourselves, and food can be one of them. We can also feel nurtured by others when we let them bring us a tea or get-well casserole. I get a great sense of goddess nurturing from a website that I have recently found that has recipes that are healthy and actually work (at least for me). It felt redemptive when I tried some of the author’s recipes and they were successful. I will share my version of the comforting vegetable soup from this site, Hummusapien in case you might want to treat yourself with self love and you like and are able to make and eat this soup.
- Stir-fry garlic and onions in coconut (or other) oil.
- Peel and chop a potato while #1 is cooking and add when finished with some salt. I also add butter at this point.
- Peel and slice a few carrots and add to the stir-fry.
- Rinse and cut up a few stalks of celery and add to the stir-fry.
- At this point, I add in spices: oregano, basil, rosemary, sage, thyme.
In another pot (whilst stir-fry is still simmering):
Pour a jar of tomato sauce and a can of chickpeas or kidney beans.
- Add the veggies.
- Add a box of vegetable broth and a bay leaf.
- Cover and cook for 25 minutes or so.
I sort of make this in steps, letting the veggies that need longer to cook do their thing while I prepare the next veggie. It might be a weird way to do it, but it keeps me from “watching the pot.”
I would love to know your own complicated relationship with food, the troubles and the joys, how you are approaching food currently or how you might want to. What kind of energies do you feel or are invoking? Or does cooking drain your energy, and if so, what do you do about that?
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.
19 thoughts on “The Healing Feminine Energy of Food by Elisabeth Schilling”
Living in Crete I have been thinking about how women control their families through food. It is a real power in families though it does not translate to social and political power in any simple way. I guess I always saw it as slavery. Reading your blog prompts me to wonder if women’s food issues may be intertwined with our feelings about women’s traditional roles as food providers. PS Your writing is becoming better and better! WOW
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“Reading your blog prompts me to wonder if women’s food issues may be intertwined with our feelings about women’s traditional roles as food providers.”
i was struck by your comment Carol because like every honest woman I know, our relationship to food is problematic. As a woman and one time mother I went through three phases. During my motherhood years 20’s and 30’s I baked my own bread, grew and put up food etc etc – I discovered that cooking was an incredibly creative outlet for me and I loved nurturing through food, although during this period bizarrely I also starved myself to be thin enough…to disappear, At mid life – I stopped cooking period losing interest in food preparation and even resenting the time I had to spend in the kitchen…I was letting go of “mother.” I also stopped dieting noting that my weight stabilized on its own. I also stopped cooking for anyone. I was writing/ attending grad school, teaching etc… and so it has remained until now. However, this winter I started baking my own bread again – re -discovering this creative process and sharing WHEN I CHOSE ( a happy time) In my 60’s and 70’s my relationship to food has become normal for the first time in my life – too late to undo the damage to my digestive system. I have chronic dangerous flare ups with colitis that appear to be stress induced but the physical component is potentially deadly. This is the long way of answering Lache’s question and yours about women’s relationship to food and women’s traditional roles – first I embraced cooking/mothering, then came to resent it because I was stuck in mother long after it was time to let go… and eventually went back to it by choice, re- discovering the joy. I note though, that this is a strictly winter activity, and now that it is spring I have completely lost interest in food again – i eat because I have to.
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Sara, thank you for sharing some of your journey. It is relatable and therefore compelling to read. I too have gone through stages, and it is interesting to think of our food journey as such. I, too, feel sometimes that my more challenging and abusive times with food have done damage. I think I will always resent cooking when/if it is unfair. Interesting as well that joy for food can be seasonal. I think our focus in some regard is always shifting, or can be. Maybe during those times when we lose interest, we just make it really simple. I’ve been there too. I plan, during such future times, perhaps, to think of two or three things I can put together that I like moderately and don’t take much brain power and not think too much about particular nutrients my body might need or be missing. I think cravings for foods come when the body needs something, and so we don’t even have to think about it if we don’t want to.
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Thank you so much, Carol. I always appreciate your perspective. I love how you articulate the control, what is and is not manifested in a meaningful way. How are the strings that bind us and we must start severing and using them for material in our own wings.
fascinating ideas and thread. Have you folks read the book Women, Food, and God? You might find it worth your time. When my girls were babies, I called myself “chief milk bearer” because I felt like my life was so governed by their demands on me for milk, and on me emotionally as their source of life and sustenance and comfort. It has taken me a long time to recover from that feeling of enslavement, and I still suffer from it sometimes. It didn’t occur to me to connect my own eating challenges with that issue, but now I’m chewing on that idea, as it were!
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’ve just looked the book up on your recommendation, and it seems like a read I would like. I read a bit and thought the retreat the author discusses in the book sounds really interesting. I might look into it more. Thank you. I appreciate your insight into your experience. I can imagine how you felt that way. Wow, I’d love to know more, when you gather up ideas, about how such feelings can connect to what other feelings about food in general. I guess the thoughts we have about nourishing ourselves can impact or be impacted by our nourishment of others. I love the way you articulate everything.
Great topic, Lache S. I stopped cooking when my children were teenagers. Never much enjoyed cooking, but did it anyway because it was expected of me and the kids needed to eat nutritious meals. Life, though, became overwhelming for me around that time and I lost my appetite for food. I was depressed. I was not overweight, but as I lost more and more weight, I began to feel better and better. My energy seemed to know no bounds. (I was able to walk from the bottom of the Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch) to the top rim in record time.) It took several years before I allowed myself to eat “normally.” Even today, food isn’t high on my list of fun things to do. The only cooking I do these days is stir-frying vegetables occasionally and making oatmeal in the microwave. My doctor tells me I’m at a “perfect” weight. I still look back (somewhat longingly) at those days when I had more than enough energy to see me through an active day and half the night.
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Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your experience. I feel honored reading about your journey. I think it can be equally liberating to forgo something our culture may be telling us to do like cooking and just forgo it mostly or completely because our intentions and desires are prioritized elsewhere. When I was living in Fort Collins, there was this awesome little cafe that had food delivery and pick up and each week, they send out a list of the dishes they prepare, such as chicken enchiladas, vegetable mushroom beef noodle soup, mac & cheese bake, bell pepper casserole, and then some vegan and vegetarian options as well. They use quality ingredients, and I would sometimes utilize them when I was working from 7-4 at the high school, was too sleepy after work to cook, and, because my salary only allowed me to rent a room with three other people, the kitchen was not always free. And. . .that energy does sound good.
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Hi Esther Nelson, you mentioned “those days when I had more than enough energy.” There’s a very true and wonderful saying about us getting older, and it does help, if we think of it — It is said: “Age has its privileges.” But there’s another saying I love too — “Lean with the motorcycle.”
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Beautiful post, Lache! And a great topic that’s got me thinking. I could write a post in response! My mother was one of the fifties housewives to whom convenience food was marketed. She did all the cooking (except on special occasions when my father charcoal-broiled steak) and saw it as a grim necessity. Everything came out of a box or a can. Vegetable were bought frozen and cooked without seasoning.
When my husband courted me, he was shocked to see only frozen peas and diet tonic in my refrigerator. I ate mostly instant oatmeal, splurging now and then on a roast beef sandwich. He (14 years older than me and divorced) had learned to cook when he became a vegetarian. His mother ran a school and had other people to cook for her. When she did cook it was badly, though she always thought everyone’s cooking (even her own) was delicious.
I learned to enjoy cooking and eating and eventually also became a vegetarian. I like to make sauces, soups, pasta dishes especially. Anything simple that allows for improvisation. My specialty is transforming leftovers.
My daughter is a real cook, managed a kitchen during college and still does occasional catering. She cannot eat gluten or cheese, so needs to cook for herself, usually cooks a lot on the weekend so she has food to take to work and come home to. She also bakes, and she likes challenging dishes. She made a savory mushroom-chestnut tart for Christmas dinner.
In the days (which I hope are over!?) when I could do nothing right, she accused me of not teaching her to cook, I think because the meals I prepared then were simple, and, I thought child-friendly. When my kids were little, I tried to do meal prep during their nap times, so that I could be available to play or take them on excursions when they were awake. I offered this explanation as my defense, but it didn’t wash. Well, learning to be a brilliant cook, far superior to her mother, was a wholesome act of rebellion on my daughter’s part. I am proud of her.
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Wow, I loved hearing about your cooking journey! Thank you so much for all the detail. My childhood as well was out of a can or a box or the freezer. One thing I loved about moving out was that I could/had to learn on my own how to cook. Somewhere along the way, I learned about fresh food and farmer’s markets. I think I just as well picked up ideas and techniques from the various friends and relationships I had along the way. I remember when a good friend made me French toast in the morning when I spent the night, and then in graduate school for my MA, my partner made lots of Indian food, and I had a friend whose mother would make Vietnamese food, and so many of these cuisines features fresh vegetables. I’m really lucky for what my community has taught me. Otherwise, I might still be in the childhood way. That roast beef sandwich sounds really good. I’m so glad you found your way as well: I think the simple can be delicious and healthy, and that is how I usually go as well. Complicated recipes can overwhelm me and make me doubt myself, so I usually try to revise into a simpler version. I think you had a beautiful motivation for dividing your time. I think that a lot of times, daughters can’t see from the perspective of mothers until sometimes much time has passed. I’m certainly in a more healing stage with my mother now that I am almost in my 40s. I really love how acceptingly you speak of her “rebellion.”
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At that first mention of garlic, I could smell it, and recall the wonderful smell of it on my hands – fresh from my garden. After a period of ecstasy, I thought again of my mother. I think in the 40’s the idea was to cook everything to mush to “kill all the germs”. And she hated cooking, but did it with a stiff German sense of duty. Brussels sprouts were agony for me. Even the dog wouldn’t take the ones I tried to slip to him under the table. The focus was on eating healthy and even though overcooked, everything was fresh.
As an adult my menu was mostly cheese sandwiches unless someone else was doing the cooking. It wasn’t until I went north to work in Prince Rupert, where it rained every day and someone gave me sourdough starter that I started to take an interest in preparing a meal. Saturdays became dedicated to baking sourdough bread and making soup or stew. The warmth of it, and the smells and satisfaction took over. I like crisp veggies and try to have varied and healthy meals.
I try to eat healthy and haven’t used processed foods in a very long time. On the religious end it fit into my re-thinking of Eucharist and Communion, and being very dissatisfied with the rituals in use. Lately I’ve been going to meetings with the Society of Friends (Quakers). Once a month the worship is followed by a pot luck lunch. Real food, prepared and shared, seems much more meaningful than a small wafer of dry bread that requires an ordained male to “change” it. This is not meant to be sarcastic. It worked for me for a long time. There just comes a point of change, then avoidance, then finding something that fits better.
I’m off to make dinner – pork tenderloin in beer, carrots, onions, and who knows what else! Thanks for your recipe Lache. I’ve saved it for another rainy day!
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This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I love the sensuality of food, something I regretfully sometimes miss when I don’t let myself eat with my hands (because of supposed germs). But when I do, I am surprised at how wonderful food feels, smells and tastes. Actually cheese sandwiches sound pretty good. But I love to hear of how you became inspired, and with your guidance, I can envision the textures, sounds and smells of kneading and baking bread in a cozy nook with the rain spattering against windows. It is wonderful what our souls stretch for in such weather. I agree that communal dinners are sacred. I remember some long ago in graduate school with some dear friends. Your dinner sounds amazing – I hope it was.
Lovely post, Lache, and as you see, we can all relate to it in one way or another. Food is central to our lives, and absolutely an embodiment of healing feminine energy. I love that you see the act of cooking as an act of ritual. I feel that way absolutely, as if all the repetitive movements and rhythms of washing, chopping, preparing, bring me into sacred time and space. I don’t “have” to cook for others (no children, no waiting family), and so when I do I experience it as a kind of privilege, a sacrament. But I know that it’s very different for women who are obliged to cook for hungry children and family members . . . My mother was that kind of cook, though she excelled at it . . . I never wanted to grow up to be like her, and so I resisted spending time in the kitchen. It was only much later that I learned to cook and to appreciate her gifts to all of us. Today, when I cook, I honor Her.
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“when I cook, I honor Her” – I love this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and practices. I feel I as well will not have children or family to cook for as I move on in life, except for occasional times when visited or visiting. I will remember to keep it a ritual and, as you mention, to cook for the women who do not have the choice.
What a wonderful post on a topic that clearly speaks to so many of us! I learned to cook from my mother for day to day cooking and my two grandmothers for special foods – one was a wonderful baker and the other had a whole portfolio of amazing really Southern dishes (not the kind on tv, but the kind that consisted of fresh vegetables and lots of corn meal because she had grown up and spent much of her adult life in a time when her family could not afford meat). I learned to enjoy cooking for myself when I lived in New York City and became a vegetarian because it made such a difference in my health. I worked downtown and walked through Chinatown and Little Italy on my way home, picking up fresh vegetables and tofu on the way. Even though I have almost no time to cook due to my work schedule, it is a ritual when I am able to. Thank you for your insights into something I hadn’t thought much about!
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Thank you, Carolyn. I love this idea of thinking about where we learned what we have and from who. I’m glad that you have had this experience. It is amazing what people can do with meals even when they are limited, i.e. some ingredients aren’t accessible. Sometimes they make a whole new genre of cooking. I’m glad that you have found a nourishing path that speaks to you. Thank you for your kindness. I wonder what your work schedule is. I know I have been in jobs as well where I was too tired, at least, to cook, even if I did have time. Thank you.
Wow! So insightful! Really loved your perspective on this❤️