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The Kitchen Healer: Relieving the Shame of Not Cooking

We’d long heard rumors of Jules Blaine Davis, The Kitchen Healer—a woman in Pasadena known for getting even the most reluctant cook to turn on the stove. We figured it was a combo deal of teaching some basic knife skills and a few easy-to-master recipes, but according to Davis, it’s much more than that: It’s about real healing, about reconnecting with the fire on the hearth, about cutting-board-love. Davis believes that when women burned their aprons with their bras, when they emancipated themselves from the kitchen and headed to the boardroom, they put out an internal, nourishing fire that is very connected to what it means to be a woman. We put her on the phone with Elise, our head of content who is so disinclined to cook that she uses her pantry as toy storage for her two boys, Max (four) and Sam (seven months). Below, Elise explains what happened:

My mom is a great and accomplished cook, and family meals were a staple of my childhood—she was so insistent that my brother and I know how to make a proper meal that she made me read Julia Child’s The Way to Cook when I was a tween, and during the summer, we had to make dinners. I was totally into it—I used to collate makeshift cookbooks from back issues of Gourmet and Bon Appétit, and organize the spice drawer seasonally.

As an adult, I could pull off Thanksgiving dinner, or a dinner party for friends, but I would never, ever cook for myself—and by the time I had kids, I stopped cooking entirely. We subsisted on takeout, and, literally, soup from a can (organic, but, soup from a can). Sometimes, full of Saturday morning ambition, I would shop the farmers’ market and then just never make it into the kitchen to turn it into a meal. I would just wait until it was too late and order Thai. I chalked it up to a dearth of time, a major aversion to the grocery store, and really, a lack of desire. I explained this to Jules—told her I feel competent, just not interested—but that I know that I should be doing this for my kids, and that I worry they’re not eating well. She asked: “Do you feel shame?” And then I almost cried as I told her that I feel so ashamed and embarrassed—but just cannot take on yet another thing that I have “to do.”

She shook my world with a simple, five-second paradigm shift. She simply said, “We need to make the kitchen a place where you can BE, not a place where there are things you have to DO.”

I got off the phone with her, dialed up Instacart on my phone, and made dinner that night. I’ve been averaging about four dinners a week for the past three months. And I actually like it: My four-year-old sits on the counter and pushes the buttons on the Cuisinart, I don’t look at my phone for an hour, and we’re saving so much money on DoorDash. All she had to do was re-contextualize it for me, to make my time in the kitchen a treat rather than a chore. (If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it.)

Here, Jules explains how to get kitchen healing going in all of our lives—and why it’s so important.

A Q&A with Jules Blaine Davis

Q

You call yourself a kitchen healer—what exactly does that mean?

A

I call myself a kitchen healer, a hearth healer, a body-story healer, a food-story healer—all of these words are the same. The kitchen is both so many things and everything. The kitchen holds the space of our memories, our mothers, our stories, our grandmothers, our culture, our grief, our longing, our smells, our sounds, our love, our anger, our too-much, our not-enough. Whether it is good or bad, sad or happy, layered or simple, the kitchen has the gorgeous capacity to hold us right where we are—at the same time it holds a sacred rhythm that we long for inside. Our lineage lives in the heart of the home—we might not even know why, we can just feel it.

“Whether it is good or bad, sad or happy, layered or simple, the kitchen has the gorgeous capacity to hold us right where we are—at the same time it holds a sacred rhythm that we long for inside.”

Everyone wants to be in the kitchen—whether it is a wedding, a funeral, a party…right? There is a reason for this: We long to be fed. We are hungry even if we already ate. It is not all about food and yet it is about food—but it’s not…OY! This is when we might want to call a kitchen healer!

How we were nourished as children and what it looked and felt like to cook, to serve, to eat, begins a deep and wide conversation about who we are and what we hunger for inside our bodies and in our lives. When we become adults we get to rewrite this story. We get a chance to unravel the old stories (usually heavy stories around food and the kitchen and our bodies), and we get to let go of what didn’t serve and what continues to not serve us. We might be repeating the same patterns that we came from, or we might be extreme to the other side, or just completely overwhelmed inside our busy lives. Whatever the case, my work as a kitchen healer is a journey to heal this story and deeply nourish our way to the middle of our messy, beautiful lives.

Q

So many women are either intimidated by the kitchen, or otherwise reticent to cook—where do you think this comes from?

A

Cooking and what happens in the kitchen, what happens with fire and food is cultural, it is anthropological, it is political, and it is also very personal. For many women, it is deeply emotional even if we don’t know that it is. The idea of being a cook, or an artist, or naming yourself as something can also be very confusing. (We are so many and so much!)

Many of our mothers, our grandmothers, and the women before us burnt their aprons with their bras. Once women were free to RUN out of the kitchen and go get an education—they did! They were running from the kitchen, they were running from the story of what it looked like to serve, to cook, to be a servant, and to never be known as anything else but a good wife who has a warm meal for her husband to come home to. But we are hungry for nourishment, to tend to our body and the bodies we love: We look for nourishment on Instagram, and we buy the spatula key chain near the cash register, and some of us have five-star kitchens where nothing is happening in there…YET!

Here is the thing: We create our own story. We are “thinking” about our bodies and what we need to “know” about our bodies from the mind. We are fixated on what we need to “fix” next with our bodies. We are not sure how to be free inside the kitchen without any agenda other than love, and warmth, and goodness. This is because we are new at this in our (modern) culture, yet we are not new at it in our lineage—which lives inside our body wisdom. Many of us do not know who we are in the kitchen. We know who we are in other parts of our lives, but in the kitchen we have to reckon with the old ways of sacrificing our selves to serve, and all the other fantasies (like time and perfection).

“We have to get out of our own way for what we truly hunger for—so we can cook up a new story that our kids, our girls, our families, and their bodies can learn from. We must cook up the culture we are hungry for.”

We decide if we want to cook for our family given our busy lives—if it is a high value, we make it happen. We decide how we want to connect to food and our bodies. In America, we usually need a wake-up call to see this. We need to get really BORED of our story, or really sick, or feel really extreme to begin this conversation inside old stories stories around food, around worth, around our bodies, around being enough, around how to nurture ourselves. We have to get out of our own way for what we truly hunger for—so we can cook up a new story that our kids, our girls, our families, and their bodies can learn from. We must cook up the culture we are hungry for.

Q

Why do you feel that it’s so important for women to reconnect with the kitchen?

A

If we translate this question, it is like you are asking: Why is it important for women to connect with their hearts? If our homes are our bigger bodies—they hold us, nurture us, rest us, and support us—our kitchens are where the blood flows, the bodies are fed, the values are nourished, and so much more. Our kitchens hold the opportunity for us to ground when filling a glass of water, to feel your feet on the ground amidst all that needs to be done. To BE still for a moment, inside creating something from nothing, to warm something hard and let it soften inside the day-to-day—and to open yourself up to beauty in the core of a gala apple or a cara cara orange. It is an artist studio, it is a lab, it is a therapy office—it is where we can reconnect to our needs, to our bodies, to our stories—even if we have no idea what they are at the moment. This is not from the mind. This is a body thing. We can’t know this if we never saw it, or felt it, or thought of it this way—so we need each other for that.

Q

There is a lot of shame-unraveling involved in the work you do—where does the shame come from, and how can women leave it behind?

A

Leaving shame behind and all the other old, vulnerable, and uncomfortable stories is a practice. Naming it is just the beginning. Then we carry that story around with us for awhile, or a lifetime of who we think we are. We connect with each other that way, too. We attach ourselves to this pain. We will say, “I am this,” and then a friend says, “Oh, me too,” and there is a relationship created and connected through shame or old story. We have to get underneath it and then go under that some more. This happens when we are willing to stop fixing, and fall into a rhythm of slowing down. Our bodies are OVER being told what needs to happen next. Truly. You can go ahead and ask her right now. The tension, the clenching, the overwhelm of the next thing I need to DO to BE is killing us. When we allow ourselves to lean into this shame, when we can invite these parts of ourselves to the light, when can we offer this shame a warm tea and get curious about it—that is when we can begin to loosen the grip on the feelings, the judgements, and allow it to unravel a bit. In the beginning I am not sure we leave it behind, but the volume gets lower so that you can’t hear it the way you used to. And when we soften in this deeply fierce and courageous way—we can change the story. I believe we need each other for this, too. We also need warm tea. We need to understand that this kind of healing will change the world.

Q

Women, and particularly moms, are the most time-starved segment out there—how do you help women find the time and the space? Are there any practical tools/tips?

A

Did I say this is a practice yet? Ha! There is no magic potion or fix-it fantasy—I know, we all want to believe that there is, but I think as women we would have ALL found that by now. We know how to share the love with each other and we would all have bought stock in the “more time and space business” for sure. I feel that the “starved” mind-set is so true and it is not only moms—in my practice I see it in all women. The longing for the space, the freedom, the peaceful moment is also a longing for connection to ourselves. This lives inside our very personal stories of what it looks like to take time for yourself. If your mother never sat down and just kept going and going and going, then maybe you don’t know how to do it. You have so many feelings around it. This story, along with everything else, is taking the space and time up that you might have had inside a day or a week.

Not knowing can be so painful. When we are starved, making a decision of what will sate us the most when we finally do have 10 or 20 minutes is also beyond intense and lonely. I remember this when I was a new mom: There was so much to do. My husband might randomly take our son on a walk and I would just be completely paralyzed. He would say, “Take a rest, or a bath, or relax,” and I would almost laugh at him. Then, of course, I would start crying. Inside all the to DO, a bath sounded ridiculous! I actually had no idea what would FIX the longing, the hunger, the deep layered cake of feelings in my body. I didn’t know what it looked like to take time for myself. I also knew all the doing wasn’t feeding me.

“The longing for the space, the freedom, the peaceful moment is also a longing for connection to ourselves.”

This is where the practice part comes in. This is just like hunger. When we leave it to our minds, which have no idea how to help us here, we will wait until we are completely on edge, or we will “think we are fine” until we are so NOT FINE! Right? Some practical tips:

  • If your kids are sleeping through the night, wake up before the house is up. Hear your own breath before anyone else’s breath. Sit and breathe for 5 minutes.

  • Become best friends with your timer: I swear by the timer for so many reasons. Put it on 5 minutes and sit with your breath. It might be crazy—just sit there. Stop doing and BE for 5 minutes. It adds up.

  • Write the word “SPACE” where you can see it in multiple places around the house—maybe on the sill or shelf over the kitchen sink, in your bathroom, in your closet—remind yourself about space.

  • No more listening to what your MIND wants to DO. We can love her too, she is just younger—so listen to your body instead. To listen to your body, you have to ask your body. If there is no answer then just wait for one. You will know. She is probably not used to being asked for things like this so give her some time—practice, practice, practice. Your body is the elder—she knows more about this kind of thing.

If we show up every day, tending to a five-minute space for ourselves—moving out of the way of whether we want to or think we need it—we will find a small amount of space and some energy will be saved away, like in a savings account. Five minutes a day is thirty-five minutes a week. There is some space there. One thing we must remember is that the LIFE we live is OURS. It is our life. We decide how we want to live it; and we have to know that it is full with phases.

Did I say we need each other yet? It is so true. This is where we need the elders, the conscious folk who have been there and survived it—like with early motherhood, which is so full, and layered, and deep.

We must be patient with what comes. All the fears, the not knowings, all the very human parts of us take up a lot of space. This space in our mind is beyond-full, so we need a place for all of that stuff. That is again where breathing comes in. This is all very courageous work.

Q

What sort of food do you generally try to make, and what are your go-to’s when you’re coaching women to pick up a knife and a wooden spoon?

A

I usually turn on the oven first thing in the morning. I love to set an intention when I turn on the fire—even if it is the coffee pot or slow cooker. A woman and fire are very powerful things, so I say use it for good. As the oven and the tea kettle warm, I make wood board love—with berries, nuts, banana, whatever I have. I light a candle by the board and put it on the table for when my kids wake up. The wood board love tends to all of our hunger and gives me time and space. It also allows a conversation about hunger to happen with them and the board. There is no tugging at my leg (physically or literally), or telling me how hungry they are, or waiting for me to serve them (stressful!) That stress is full-on with so many needs—yours and theirs. Their food story is also being written—their body can decide what it wants from what is on the board.

I might cut up cauliflower with scissors or a bread knife and place it in a pan, casserole, or pie dish with olive oil, salt, and love. I will throw carrots in another dish (that I do not peel) or turnips or beets or whatever I have gathered from the market. Knowing it will cook down, I make more than looks like enough.

When you have cooked food, it becomes a part of the quilt of your day as though someone was there. I love having something cooking when clients are coming to the house, too. I love for them to walk into the warmth and the scent of home—it is a win-win for all.

“We know how to put it all together—we really do.”

I make food because I have a body and I need to eat. That might not sound as beautiful and graceful and fun as it could. AND it is fun! Once we create a ritual around it. Of course it can be the most delicious farm-to-table food and beauty abundance and all of that goodness. We can learn that, too (if we want). But one of the things that stops us in the kitchen, or doesn’t help, is that we think too much: We wonder what we will cook, or when we will cook, or what they will like, or what will be good and delicious, and we think about “DINNER” too much! Just turn on the fire and put food in the oven early in the morning or at a time that the hunger isn’t high. We know how to put it all together—we really do. Once we get out of our own way, we can do it so easily. We can make a salad, or add an egg, or some goat gouda, and on and on. This all lives inside us, and inside ease and simplicity, and source, and ultimately our story.

Q

What have been some of the biggest surprises from the work that you do?

A

I am in AWE of women who show up for their hunger, for their body, for themselves no matter what. They show up when they don’t have the financial means, or they certainly don’t have the time but they make it happen anyway. This is also one of the most gorgeous and intimate things to witness. They say YES to themselves—inside all the fear, the old stories, the scarcity belief systems, and they TRUST in the not-knowing. This is courage. It is such an honor to witness women saying YES. YES I want this. YES I need this. YES I want to be fed in this way.

Q

What do you encounter the most?

A

  • Women who want to know who they are and take care of themselves.

  • Women who want to meet themselves inside the lives they are living now.

  • Women who are hungry to be nourished.

  • Women who want to know how to nourish their families.

  • Women who long for permission and freedom inside their lives.

  • Women who want to BE with their bodies in this deeper way.

  • Women who want to dance in the kitchen!

Q

For women who aren’t able to come and see you, or work with you directly, how can they begin this work at home?

A

I work with women everywhere—all over the country and the world. I work virtually and in-person. I had the honor of giving a TED talk, which is a free 13-minute love fest: Grab a tea and enjoy. That is a great place to begin.

“Slow down. Stop saying YES to things that do not nourish YOU. I mean, seriously. Why do we keep doing this?”

I feel if there is anything we know—we know this deeper hunger in our lives. We know the voice of our body. We just turn her off to get to the other stuff. Let’s turn that voice up a bit and start listening to her. Lower the volume on the mind and make a wood board love. Work softer. Light a candle. Turn on the fire. Use your timer. Begin the journey of loving your body. Get curious about your story. If you feel yourself running, stop. Make a tea. Lean in to her. To YOU. BE with yourself.

DANCE IN THE KITCHEN. Have lots of dance parties and let your BODY mooooove. Slow down. Stop saying YES to things that do not nourish YOU. I mean, seriously. Why do we keep doing this?

With everything that is happening in our world and the state of panic we seem to all be in—I am starting a smiling practice. I am smiling at you. And you. And you. We need to smile at each other. I know it might be vulnerable to put ourselves out there, especially when the person is so surprised they don’t smile back, but we need each other to remind us that we have bodies. This might just begin with a smile.

SHOP ALL KITCHEN
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