When the pandemic struck the world in March, two university students decided they needed to do something to help those struggling, not just physically, but also mentally. With so many stuck in quarantine, they knew their solution had to be home-based, so they looked to the very heart of the home: the kitchen.
Niklas Hess and Sarah Sanchez’s answer was simple: a therapeutic cookbook that would help those in lockdowns across the world.
Combining his love of cooking and her interest in psychology, the two looked for ways to combine their passions into a health-conscious lifestyle guide that could benefit others. The result is Mindfoodness: Cooking your way to Mental Health.
In a video interview, Niklas and Sarah spoke about their aims and ambitions for the book, the process behind its creation, and, critically, why they believe that a simple cookbook could help people in so many ways.
But first, I had to pose a question that had been perplexing me since I’d first learned about the book: what brought a business student and a law student to the unusual conclusion that culinary therapy might be the solution to quarantine-related mental health problems that they observed?
Niklas said: “Cooking is an escape,” going on to explain that the idea formed almost organically from their love of food and the time they now had at home, thanks to covid-restrictions, to cook. Living in quarantine with six other people, Niklas felt cooking brought everyone together over a meal.
He knew this was part of the answer to many problems, especially mental health ones. He said that the more “orthodox” solutions have already been done many times, and he and Sarah were looking for something different and more enjoyable. Given the accessibility of cooking out of the comfort of one’s own home, a cookbook could help even more people, they felt.
With a preliminary idea of how to relate cooking to the solution, Sarah began intensive research.
“It is a practice… culinary therapy [and] although it was being used in a professional sense, no one had really tackled the possibility of doing culinary therapy for themselves,” she says. She further explained how, with cooking for oneself becoming even more essential during the pandemic, it could also be combined with existing culinary therapy practices for at-home use. It was a wonder why no-one had done it yet.
So how do you teach someone to cook therapeutically?
Sarah explained enthusiastically, delving into the book’s scientific background and expounding on the Trans-theoretical model (TTM). A commonly used theory of therapeutic behavioural change by psychologists, the model provides a basis for integrating new and healthier habits into one’s routines. Acting as a “skeleton” for the book’s structure, TTM is integrated into a five-step system, with each of the steps corresponding to one of the chapters of the book.
Niklas illustrated how the first TTM stage on Precontemplation is about “whether there exist[s] a problem in the reader’s life”. He went on to elaborate: “We then combine [that] with the aspect of cooking, which means you can discover that problem while cooking, and at the same time you also discover your relationship with cooking”.
Niklas admits, “This might sound a little complex, but really it’s a step-by-step process – quite simple to follow – and most importantly, each stage of the TTM is paired with dishes that perfectly fit with it.”
The book starts the reader out with simple, easy, “on the go” recipes, perfect for novice chefs.
As one advances through the book, the recipes become more complex, mirroring the progress one will make on his/her culinary and mental journey. By the end, you should have the ability to manage such skills and maintain that lifestyle.
“Reflected in terms of cooking … you start off with not a lot of knowledge of cooking … and eventually you get to the stage where you can open the fridge, and you know you will be able to cook with what you have available,” says Niklas.
When asked about the future, the two said that they are looking into cooking workshops and seminars to further spread culinary therapy awareness. They even hinted at a possible second edition of the book, with Niklas jokingly lamenting that he comes across a new recipe almost every week that should have been included in the cookbook.
The book, which offers some 80 different recipes collected from friends and family, has already nearly sold out of its first edition with several positive reviews. Hosting all types of cuisine “from vegan to pure meat,” including Sarah’s beloved risottos and Niklas’ favourite carrot cake, Mindfoodness offers an array of therapeutic recipes for any household.