Creativity, Faith, and Cooking

What if we reimagined cooking's purpose? Our daily routines of food-making would not merely serve purposes of utility or quick-fixes, but involve an exploration of our creative and spiritual lives.

Picture the upper room—pregnant with the aroma of lamb simmering in saffron, the crack of unleavened bread in calloused hands, and the splash of wine trickling into cups. The evening before Jesus’ death is spent here, around a meal with his disciples. In mystery and truth, Jesus chooses bread and wine to convey his body and blood to his followers. And this ‘last supper’ becomes the bedrock of Christian tradition throughout history.

Food, cooking, and the sharing of meals involve a mystical power. They are remarkably fit for articulating the things of God. In Proverbs 16:24, gracious words are compared to a honeycomb, “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” The early church is encouraged to practice the ‘breaking of bread.’ In the earliest scriptures, we uncover the first mention of food.

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” (Genesis 1:29) 

Since our collective beginning, humanity has always had a relationship with food. Food is the greatest equalizer; it captures memory, it creates entry points, it constructs bridges, and it serves a purpose. Cooking is necessary, traditional, and delicious—but altogether creative.

Everyone cannot always draw, sculpt, paint, or practice the traditional means of creativity—but everyone must eat. Cooking, or the practice of preparing food, is the most accessible, engaging, and understandable form of creativity. It is a practice born out of universal need, but infinitely diverse, meaningful, and personal in nature. When smelling your mother’s steaming curry, unwrapping your abuelita’s tamales, or biting into your uncle’s barbecued ribs, you can be instantly snatched back to a time, place, and feeling.

Cooking is commonplace. Besides entertainment shows and high-class restaurants, it often gets little credit as a creative form. But cooking artfully is not reserved purely for a Le Cordon Bleu Chef or a professional baker. Fine china, plastic plates, old newspapers, and banana leaves are all canvases for the commoner’s food.

What if we reimagined cooking's purpose? Our mothers and fathers would be our first artists, forming food that imprinted us with experiences of delight, satisfaction, and love. Our daily routines of food-making would not merely serve purposes of utility or quick-fixes, but involve an exploration of our creative and spiritual lives. Our relationship to produce, animal, and land would be rescued from misguided systems to meaningful connections.

In his book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan asks, “For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?” Strangled by the speed of industry and culture, cooking has lost much of its role in the world. But no matter their background, every person can point to the kitchen as a place where they received deep love.

Jesus, himself, cooked. In John 6, Jesus miraculously multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish into enough for 5,000 men and their families—effectively catering for a large gathering. He shares multiple meals with his disciples, including his last supper before death. And, in John 21, Jesus appears to his disciples on a seashore after his resurrection, tending a fire to cook fish and bread.

Cooking and the breaking of bread can form an outlet of creativity and care. In this very mundane and ordinary rhythm, we can access an ancient and meaningful expression of creativity. Perhaps you might consider preparing and sharing a meal with a new neighbor, prioritizing family meals together, or simply making cooking a more mindful, creative exercise.

Consider the heat and cut of meat you salt, spice and sear. Consider the colors and structures of produce you smell, slice and sauté. Make the mixing, kneading and baking into a meditative, devotional practice. Pay mind to the plating, the portions, and your palate’s response. Even as you eat, consider the tastes, textures, and appetite rumbling inside you.

The great reward of this creative practice, however, is the meal. Like Jesus often demonstrated, the breaking of bread is a space to enjoy the labor of cooking, extend love to one another, and experience the gift of community. As you eat, look at those around your table. Remember the people that planted, picked, and prepared the food. Clink glasses together, fill each other’s plates without hesitation, and relish the creative joy of cooking, serving, and feasting together.

Words: Daniel Sunkari
Images: Bryan Ye-Chung and Tyler Zak