“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates (“founder of medicine”)
We are all familiar with the concept of food as medicine; as a Cooking Tutor at Cyrenians’ food education programme, the health benefits of eating a balanced diet and the importance of getting our 5 a day is one of the key messages that we promote daily.
For centuries, our ancestors used food to cure all sorts of physical and mental ailments. Although eating the right foods is unquestionably of the utmost importance to us physically, for me “food is medicine” has been about so much more.
I arrived at Cyrenians around 3.5 years ago having been referred on to the 8-week cooking course by a resource worker. It was crucial for me to keep myself busy and distracted from the chaos of my life at the time. I started the course nervous but keen, with an enthusiasm for cooking that belied my complete lack of skill or knowledge. My mum had always cooked for us growing up, and after leaving home my life had been so chaotic that learning to cook – or even eating properly – was near the bottom of my list of priorities. But starting the course meant that I was able to enjoy some time to myself, some time to just be, and create something nourishing to share. It lifted my spirits and, along with the encouragement that I received from my tutor, kept me coming back. It was feeding my soul.
Unfortunately I could not complete the full 8 weeks the first time around, due to illness and other factors. In short – “life happened”. But I was welcomed back, without judgement or question by the team. Second, third (and fourth, and fifth!) chances are commonplace here. It speaks volumes for the power of a kind word and some compassion that I was able to return without feeling like a pain or a failure. Everyone had such a passion for food and cooking and a love for passing this on to others. It was impossible not to let a bit of this rub off.
I was asked to help out in the following round of cooking classes and I could not believe it! The fact that someone outside of my family thought that they could rely on me to turn up every week was mind-boggling. Surely they didn’t think I could do this? I had been out of work for some time by this point and my life had spiraled out of control. But cooking and teaching others was empowering, and humbling. It was the medicine that I needed to bring structure to my day, forge relationships and build confidence, and the emotional and mental benefits were endless.
Soon after, I began volunteering at the weekly lunch club. This is an amazing opportunity to meet new people, exchange stories and have a hearty meal at the same time (if you have not been I URGE you to go – every Thursday 12pm at Flavour & Haver cook school). Being at the cook school on a regular basis became immensely important to me. Sometimes it would be the only constructive thing I would do all week. It was often a challenge to get there, but it got less and less so as I grew in confidence and started to find my way out of a dark place.
At the beginning of 2017 I took part the Good Food Good Health course at the cook school to learn how to deliver the classes which had helped me so much. Later that year, the Cooking Tutor job was advertised. I did not consider applying at first – why would I? It was an amazing job; a dream job for many (myself included), and I could not hope to be in with even the slightest of chances. But the team encouraged me to apply, which was an experience in itself (I really hadn’t been intending to apply – there seemed to be no point!). But I was persuaded that it would be good experience if nothing else, for when I felt ready to start applying for jobs “for real”. So I applied. And got an interview. “That’s nice of them,” I thought. “They’re trying to give me some practice.” I thought the same after the second interview. And then I got the job. I was in absolute shock! I still can’t quite believe it.
It has been a dream job and I love what I do. Cooking has been my savior, and if I can help even the most reluctant of participants find some joy or pride in what they have made, then I go home a happy woman.