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The Arab Kitchen: Preparing Food, a Source of Mental Wellness

posted on: Aug 23, 2023

The Arab Kitchen: Preparing Food, a Source of Mental Wellness
Photo credit: Malorie Lewis

By: Malorie Lewis / Arab America Contributing Writer

No doubt cooking can be one of the most relaxing ways to unwind and destress after a long day. Spending time chopping, slicing, baking, frying, or whatever you prefer can have a positive impact on your mental health and wellness according to a study done by Edith Cowan University in Australia. This is especially true of those who are living in the diaspora or those simply away from home for university or work. Being away from home is undoubtedly difficult, but a taste of home from the Arab Kitchen can have some positive impacts and be a source of mental wellness!

Wellness of Preparing Food

The Arab Kitchen: Preparing Food, a Source of Mental Wellness
Photo Credit: Malorie Lewis
Making Shish Barak from scratch!

There are many positives to cooking at home, especially when it is cultural food from the homeland! From getting a small taste of culture and home to building a routine and self-confidence. An Arab kitchen is a place that can bring mental wellness and connection to home.

Preservation of Culture

One of the defining things of a culture is food! When you think about your heritage it usually is broken down into what you wear, how you speak, and what you eat! Food culture is a complex hodgepodge of history, geography, climate, and social values that go into what food is served, when, where, and by who it is served. It’s an important way of preserving and spreading the culture in its entirety!

Preservation of culture is impactful on mental wellness! A Lebanese friend of mine, Rami, uses cooking as a way to make his day better. When he is missing home and family, he loves to Facetime his mother and cooks some of his favorite home meals! “Cooking just puts me in a better mood and relaxes me.” You can get a taste of his food from the photos above!

Healthy Cooking Improves Brain Wellness

While the preservation of culture is important, so is the way you prepare your food. The performance of the human brain is based on an interplay between the inherited genotype and external environmental factors, including diet. Food and nutrition, essential in the maintenance of brain performance, also aid in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders.

Most foods from the Arab world are very healthy! Olive oil, vegetables, fruits, za’atar, beans, fish, and nuts, all are found in food from around the Arab world! By preparing food in a way that is healthy there is a direct correlation to the way that your brain functions!

Cooking at home helps you to avoid processed foods, which can improve memory and support proper neurotransmission. One diet that is very popular and heavily linked to the Arab kitchen is the Mediterranean Diet!

Sharing is Caring in the Arab Kitchen

How often does a recipe yield a portion for one person? Rarely! Portions of foods oftentimes leave excessive leftovers! This gives the perfect opportunity to invite and share your food and culture with others! Bringing a friend to experiment in the kitchen with or invite some loved ones over to break bread! No matter what you do, food is the perfect opportunity for socializing. Socialization brings a true sense of well-being and mental wellness!

There is an Arabic expression my friends have shared with me after a meal is shared, “There is now bread and salt between us.” Arab culture impresses upon us that even the poorest people share what little food they have as a gesture of hospitality, which is often bread and salt. Salt, bonds and is also a flavoring agent when baking bread. It is not only that but also a bonding agent that preserves friendships.

Boosting Self Esteem and Creativity

Cooking is an art! Getting the recipe just right, down to the seasonings and the aroma of the delicacies you have prepared. Replicating the family recipe just right or creating something new of your own has impressive positives for mental wellness. It instills you with a sense of pride and bolsters your self-esteem! Especially when you share it with others as mentioned before

Tips on How to Get Started?

First, you should sit and think about your favorite cultural foods. Foods that make you feel at home! Make a list of things to try to recreate and test new ways of creating them! For instance, I found a restaurant in Chicago that makes Shawarma tacos instead of wraps! It’s new and mixes modern culture with homestyle cooking!

Second, reach out to family or friends! Get them involved! Have them help you cook or sample your fine cuisine!! Find a cool YouTube channel that gives step-by-step instructions.

Third, consider taking a cooking class if you don’t know much about the kitchen. It can help you orient yourself in the kitchen and learn good combinations of spices and seasonings.

No matter how you look at it, cooking at home is genuinely a stress-relieving task that has the opportunity to enhance mental wellness, well-being, and health. Take the time to explore your heritage and get in the kitchen!

Check out Arab America’s blog here!