Cooking is dead, and our souls are malnourished. We have been severed from the systems that nourish our bodies and souls. Not only does this negatively impact our health, but also our relationship with nature, our communities, and our families. Devotional cooking is the process of realigning your cooking methods to those that nourish the body and soul.
Modernity Killed Devotional Cooking
A culture of convenience convinced us to trade deep communion for processed foods, outsourced cooking, and time-saving gadgets. While we spend less time cooking than ever before, our bodies, minds, and souls have paid the price. The death of devotional cooking has robbed us of the ability to connect with the foods we take into our bodies. This translates to little understanding of what food even is, let alone how to nourish ourselves.
It isn’t just the individual who has lost knowledge of and connection with cooking. We are several generations into this culture. Our grandparents and great-grandparents turned their backs on natural ingredients, traditional cooking methods, self-sufficiency, and their backyard gardens. They traded the natural world for the modern world, and much of the knowledge they had has been lost with them. If you look at your family’s most cherished recipes, chances are you will find a proliferation of processed foods, repackaged and repurposed in some form of Frankenstein midwifery. Because so much has been lost, many people no longer even know the basics of cooking, making it difficult to break free of the chemical cocktail that is modern food.
What is Devotional Cooking?
Devotional cooking is the process of reclaiming connection to nature, self, and others through mindful and traditional cooking methods. It takes work to transform the toxic modern kitchen into a healthy hearth, but the rewards are a life of nourishment, joy, and healing. The devotional cooking journey includes learning devotional cooking techniques, intuitive cooking methods, and nourishing recipes along with whatever else calls to your soul. The three principles of devotional cooking are time, attention to detail, and communion.
Devotional cooking is slow.
Modern cooking is all about convenience. We buy pre-cooked foods and warm them up, never knowing what is in them. We buy pre-chopped ingredients and use them, never wondering what has been sprayed on them to keep them fresh. We use time-saving gadgets to minimize the effort we expend, never realizing we are undermining our own ability to cook intuitively. These things save us time, but they rob us of the opportunity to connect with our food.
Next time you are cooking, slow down. Buy whole ingredients and break them down yourself. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes of your fresh ingredients. Feast with all of your senses while you cook, and you will be surprised how much you learn in the process. We were designed to be in communion with foods in nature, and when we allow our brains to connect with ingredients, there is a lot of information we just know intuitively if we can get past our own conditioning. Stop rushing the process of cooking and learn to cook by feel.
Devotional cooking is a process.
Modern cooking is a means to an end. We do as little as we can to get food on the table. 30-minute meals and other quick dinners are a mad dash to the finish line and encourage you to combine cooking steps and simplify cooking processes. Sure, you save time, but you lose so much flavor. One-pot meals are fast because you can throw everything together in one go, but foods don’t all cook at the same pace.
Everyday meals can be significantly elevated if you take the time to break apart the steps and do each one to the fullest extent possible. Caramelizing onions is just one example of a step that is often neglected and can make cooking more of a process. It doesn’t matter what you are cooking, if you take the time to caramelize your onions before you complete the rest of your steps, the dish will be unrecognizable. By expanding your cooking process, you can significantly improve the flavor of basic natural ingredients. Food that is cooked with devotion just tastes better.
We rarely enjoy going out to eat these days, because I can make things better at home. Why? Because I take the time to break down my cooking into steps and processes that honor ingredients and the finished product.
Devotional cooking is communion.
Modern cooking focuses on feeding the stomach; devotional cooking focuses on feeding the soul. Approach cooking with a devotional mindset. See it as the time in your day when you get to commune with nature, yourself, your ancestors, your community, and the people you love. You commune with nature by interacting with natural ingredients, foraging, gardening, and eating in season. You commune with yourself by being embodied in the process, letting your senses come alive with the human art of sustenance. You commune with your ancestors by cooking as they did, honoring and restoring lost traditions. You honor your community by buying local when you can, seeking out farmers, butchers, and neighbors with produce stands. And of course, you commune with the people you love by sharing your devoted efforts with them. Devotional cooking is the best way to show the people you love just how much you care. When you imbue your cooking with love, it truly can be tasted.
The Benefits of Devotional Cooking
Healing starts at the hearth, and home is made around the table. What you serve and eat, and the attention with which it is acquired, prepared, and consumed impact your physical and mental health. If you are a caregiver or host(ess), these impacts also extend to those you serve. When you transition to devotional cooking, eating together becomes communion — a daily opportunity to celebrate the earth, your bodies, and the love you share.
Common Objections to Devotional Cooking
If you’ve read this far, you are probably interested in devotional cooking yourself. But if you are a modern human, you also probably have a million reasons why you just can’t spend more time and attention in the kitchen. Let me help put your objections to bed.
I don’t have time to cook.
Make time. Cooking is living, and what you eat is the most important choice you make every day — for your physical and mental health. Not all meals have to be big ordeals in order to count as devotional cooking. Slow down? Yes. Be attentive to the processes ingredients require? Yes. But be flexible with yourself; like devotional cooking, changing the way you cook and eat is a process. Make small changes at first and make your devotional cooking practice whatever works best for you and your family.
I don’t know how to cook.
Learn. Nothing is more important than knowing how to feed yourself. As I mentioned above, we are generations into this culture of processed convenience. Your parents and grandparents likely didn’t know how to really cook either so don’t beat yourself up for having to start with the basics. The internet is a vast resource of information, much of it entirely free. Make learning to cook a priority in your life. I truly believe there is very little you can do that will be as beneficial to your physical and mental health.
I don’t have the money to cook.
Yes, you do. It costs far less to eat whole ingredients you prepare yourself than it does to eat processed foods. You think it is expensive because you are buying unnecessary things. Stop being fancy; get back to the basics. Stock your kitchen like your great-great-grandmother (with a few bonus items you love), and you’ll be amazed at the variety of foods you can enjoy for less than you would be eating frozen dinners and canned soups.
I don’t know what to cook.
I get it. The amount of conflicting information about different diets is overwhelming, and although the internet is a great resource, it can be hard to navigate with all of the falsehoods being spouted for gain. I try to keep it simple. When determining what I should cook and eat, I tell myself over and over again, “eat nature.” I don’t focus on counting calories, eating a certain diet, or anything else. All I do is stock my kitchen with foods and ingredients that can be found in nature. Fresh vegetables, whole grains, whole-fat dairy, and quality meats make up the base of our diet. The things I cook have changed substantially as I’ve practiced devotional cooking, though it was a very slow and steady process, one that still continues as I deepen my devotion. Just start eating nature and listen to your body.
How to Practice Devotional Cooking
Have I convinced you how important it is to learn how to cook and start practicing devotional cooking? If so, the following 6 step process will help you learn how to practice devotional cooking in your own daily life.
Step 1: Toss Toxins; Eat Nature
The first step is simple, but that doesn’t make it easy. Get rid of all that processed food in your kitchen. You can’t have a healthy hearth if it’s full of toxic junk. Am I perfect at this? Absolutely not. There are many things I just haven’t evolved enough to give up yet, but I have made substantial changes to what I keep stocked in the past several years. Healthy decisions are best made before you go to the grocery store. Unhealthy decisions are most likely to be made when you have already made the purchases. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opted for a few carrot sticks over a sugary snack simply because I was too lazy to drive to get one. Slowly, seek out a local butcher, produce stands, and farmers to help you eat local foods. Fill your kitchen with foods found naturally in the world and keep your pantry stocked with cooking basics. Don’t go overboard and buy things you’ll never eat, but learn the natural foods that fit your lifestyle best and keep them stocked to make devotional cooking easier.
Step 2: Learn Cooking Techniques
If you have very little experience with cooking, you will need to start with the basics. Watch cooking shows and internet videos on cooking techniques. Consider taking a local cooking class or find one online that you can dive into right away. Personally, my favorite method of learning a new cooking technique is to choose a recipe I’d like to learn how to make that uses the method. Then, I google “best homemade (insert food I want to learn here)”. Food bloggers always come up, and they always have great tips and technique write-ups that accompany their recipes. Then, I choose the one that looks the best and make it. Well, now I usually combine elements of several of them and make my own version, but in the beginning, I did a lot more recipe-following until I felt comfortable enough to start cooking intuitively.
Step 3: Master a Soul Food
Some foods just make you feel happy. They nourish you on a level well beyond your stomach. Whether they are foods from your childhood or just comfort foods that you have discovered in your own explorations, these are your soul foods. For me, devotional cooking all started with a longing for Grandma’s fried potatoes. She’d been gone for years, and even though I’d watched her make them hundreds of times in my childhood, and she had told me her secret before she died (only flipping them once), I could not for the life of me get them right. Enter COVID, and suddenly I had quite a bit of time on my hands. I decided to practice making fried potatoes until I got them just right.
I didn’t realize that my quest for Grandma’s fried potatoes was actually the start of my devotional cooking journey, but it changed something inside of me. It was easy to see how I was communing with her as I started making fried potatoes, but what surprised me was how much more there was to it than that. As it turned to winter, I started thinking about the roots of the earth as I sliced potatoes, how my grandmother was my own root linking me to a lineage of nourishing caregivers. Eventually, I stopped incessantly checking under the potatoes before flipping them which was the first key. I felt like I was laughing with Grandma that day when I realized if I’d just trusted the process, I would have been making them right all along. They still weren’t perfect, but a couple of years later, when I sliced my potatoes directly into the oil on a whim (just like I used to watch her do), they fell together in that same perfect way hers did. That day, I felt like I was eating them with her, and I honor her memory every time I make them.
Pick a food that speaks to your soul and learn to make it. Then practice making it for your entire life, perfecting your process and deepening your devotion as you go. Personally, I find this particularly powerful when the recipe comes from my ancestry or geographic regions where we originated or when the foods use local land-based ingredients.
Step 4: Practice a Devotional Cooking Method
Once you’ve mastered a soul food, choose a devotional cooking method to practice. When I say devotional cooking method, I mean any cooking style, process, or technique that is manual, time-intensive, or lost to modernity. Making bone broth soups, baking bread, braising meats, caring for cast iron, infusing oils, french pressing coffee (on the rare occasion I drink it), and cooking over an open fire are all devotional cooking methods I’ve found great pleasure in practicing.
Step 5: Invest in the Tools of Cooking
We travel extensively, and we’ve been living in furnished rentals for over four years. My kitchen is made up primarily of whatever the unit’s owner furnished it with. But over time, I have added several tools to my traveling kitchen. My absolute favorite kitchen tools are a set of chef’s knives my husband bought for me. They are sharp, portable, and have beautiful green handles. Chopping vegetables and breaking down whole cuts of meat are two of my favorite aspects of devotional cooking, and these knives have significantly elevated the experience. Other tools my devotional kitchen wouldn’t be complete without? Cast iron griddle, cast iron dutch oven, rolling pin, mesh strainers, meat tenderizer, and a rice paddle that I use for cutting/mixing things together by hand rather than pulling out the electric beater. Yep, even mashed potatoes get mixed by hand. Are they a bit lumpier? Yes, but honestly… I like them better that way now.
Step 6: Deepen Devotion Through Play and Practice
You’ve figured out the basics of devotional cooking. Now it’s time to make it your own. Deepen your devotion through play and practice in the kitchen. Learn new devotional cooking techniques and seek out nourishing recipes. Practice intuitive cooking and making things up as you go. Ultimately, devotional cooking is about feeding the soul — so follow your heart’s calling as you reshape your hearth and home.
Devotional cooking doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t need to change everything all at once. Start by bringing your attention to your kitchen and asking yourself what your personal devotional cooking journey can look like. What kind of cook do you want to be? What kinds of things do you long to create? What feeds you? Then, take the first step.
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