Contributing Author: Nelson Bunn, Executive Director, NDAA
If you’re like me during this pandemic, the days run together, and I couldn’t tell you if it was Monday or Friday. The days seem endless yet fly by at the same time. Emotions continue to run high, we miss the personal interaction with friends and family and, as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the country, we all are willing our everyday lives to get back to “normal,” or whatever the new normal may look like. With all the stress and pressure of today’s world, our mental health and well-being can’t be emphasized enough, and our own sanctuaries of solace have become essential to maintain our sanity. For me, a long, stressful day only means one thing in one place…cooking in the kitchen.
In 2016, the Journal of Positive Psychology published an article on the ability of individuals to increase their potential to flourish by expanding their creativity with daily activities. The Wall Street Journal highlighted the power of cooking with an article entitled, “A Road to Mental Health Through the Kitchen,” which examines the kitchen as a mechanism to treat depression, anxiety and other psychological challenges. I have to be on to something, right?
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. As someone who isn’t super creative, the kitchen allows me to exercise the few creative muscles I have through culinary creations that not only taste and look good but make others happy when hosting dinner parties (pre-COVID of course) at our house. Food brings people together in a way that many other things can’t and is a social outlet that relieves stress and anxiety that builds up over the course of a day or week. It’s a welcome mental escape into a world of ingredients that showcase cultures across the globe during a time when we can’t travel and experience what others have to offer.
A couple of months into the pandemic, my husband and I decided to do our own form of traveling through cooking so that we could experience some of what other countries and cultures have to offer — in a socially distant way. Once a month, we pick a country, research recipes for a feast and then spend all day Saturday cooking. There is one rule — each culinary experience has to include at least one item made from scratch — typically in the form of some kind of carb! We learned quickly that many of the items, particularly from scratch, take a VERY long time and also had us searching all over the city for specialty ingredients that aren’t commonly found at your neighborhood grocery store.
We traveled to Italy and made homemade pasta. For France it was a crepe cake. In Mexico we made homemade tortillas and sopapillas. India was naan and all things saffron. Our international nights provided an escape from the isolated days of the pandemic, an opportunity to be creative in the kitchen and ultimately to release some stress as a result of everything going on in the world. We took the lemons of the pandemic, isolation and professional and personal stress and turned them into memories of enjoyment through cooking. As culinary icon Ina Garten puts it — “How easy is that?”
Since November 2017, Nelson Bunn has served as the Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association. He first joined NDAA as the Director of Government Affairs.