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Cooking and self esteem

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately and wanted to hear from other foodies and people who take pride in the art of cooking.

From my own experience I find part (not all of course) of my self esteem comes from cooking, for example the day I (or others) enjoy a wonderfully and perfectly executed meal that I cooked it really IS the best feeling in the world. I could sing from the highest mountain (if anyone will enjoy THAT is another story :P )

Cooking (to me) is a bit like an emotional rollercoaster, is that part of being passionate about it or am I just nuts?

I don't know or think people who don't cook can relate to this or understand (maybe they can if it comes to something they do or are passionate about?)
I get the impression that they think I'm overreacting or it's just no big deal. Maybe I take it personally, and it's not even the fact that they didn't enjoy it but I felt perhaps it wasn't done properly or the way I wanted it to go (and things like that happen in the kitchen of course)

When I saw the movie Julie and Julie and I believe it was the part when Julie broke down on the kitchen floor it hit me that perhaps this is just natural.
If I create a great dish it can give me a huge boost and inspires me to do more, if something fails usually I can pick up the pieces but if things fail repeatedly then I get that feeling of falling off the horse am afraid but know I have to get myself back up there.

Do share your thoughts, and if you all say this isn't normal then I'll look into signing myself up for therapy, haha.

Do any of you just not let it get to you?

(hope this is the right forum, I also hope this thread isn't deleted because it is not a rant, it's mearly an observation, and curious question about the feelings of most cooks towards cooking results)

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  1. Very interesting observation. I have always referred to cooking as 'my therapy' and I am a therapist by profession. It relaxes me and the joy of creating something delicious is a self esteem booster. I often feel that I cook only for myself and not for anyone else. In our home, my family only DH and kid, know if mum's not in a good mood, the food will be off. So usually its better to get carryout or eat out if the mood is not right. But I have cooked all day when in a bad mood and produced exquisite meals and felt better at the end of the day because I did that. So i enjoyed reading what you wrote. Lets hope its stays so others can comment.

    1. nope, doesn't get to me. my self esteem doesn't come from cooking... if i fail i can always try again until a preferred result is achieved.

      i find good food/drink is an emotional experience. i could be bitter for days after having a mediocre meal [outside the home]. and i could be on cloud 9 for days after having a fabulous [unpretentious] meal, or wine, beer etc [while abroad].

      there's a German saying that goes... 'eating and drinking hold the body and soul together.'

      1. Your OK, enjoy your passion, I'm the same way in most respects. I'm very fortunate to have a wife and family that love what I do. I became a "foodie" in the early '70's. Probably 70% of people won't understand how we feel. I cooked professionly more on than off for the past 30 years and what really bothered me was the amount of people that were in the "biz" who could care less about it, "just a job" to them. And to alot of americans being in food service is a lowly profession. Enjoy yourself, things will "get to you", nothing you can do, just keep on going. I'm retired these days and nothing I like better that to cook a big meal for my family and a couple of friends, crack a few beers, turn up the stereo and enjoy life! Matter of fact I've got some ribs in the smoker now, be ready 'bout 6. Think I'll throw together a mexican cornbread too.
        Bye for now.............

        1. Cooking for me is a creative self-expression. It's certainly not my whole life, but it is a significant enhancement to it. My self-esteem is not dependent on cooking, but is bolstered by it.

          I love that I can produce something using all my senses. I love that what i produce is literally nurturing and life-supporting and pleases people. I love the taste of food. I love its smells. I love the smells and colors and abundance of farmers markets.

          I do notice, however, that my creativity and my desire to cook increases in inverse proportion to what I am doing and achieving in the rest of my life. Part of that is when I am too busy to cook, I am - well, too busy to cook.

          When I haven't cooked much in a while, however, I find that I miss it and will maybe knock off two or three soups in an afternoon.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chicgail

            I love what you say in your first two paragraphs! My job is not at all artistic but I feel I can explore that side of myself through cooking. My self-esteem, like yours, is not dependent on cooking but is bolstered by it.

            I usually work 10-12 hours a day in a very analytical setting. Coming home and cooking nearly every night is a kind of therapy to me. It allows me to physically and mentally separate from my work day. The planning, washing, chopping, sauteeing, baking, etc. are soothing.

            Even when I'm insanely busy, I try to find time to cook. When I travel for work, I bring my chef's knife if I'm driving. On my last business trip, I had to fly and thought I'd only be gone for five days so I booked a room that only had a tiny refrigerator (no freezer) and a microwave. When I found out I'd have to stay an additional week and a half, I went to the store and purchased a few things (including a hobo tool and unintentionally bad knife - I nearly lost a finger!). I needed to cook. Apparently, I've forgotten how to relax in other, more traditional, ways. I just pretended I had been given a particularly difficult Top Chef challenge... I'm no Hubert Keller but if he can make macaroni and cheese in a dormitory shower stall, I can put together something edible with a microwave and refrigerator.

          2. Cooking is a great way to share yourself with others! I totally get that. I find it very satisfying to cook and serve others. And while it's great to be talented, and to continue to grow, I like to separate "who I am" from "what I do". Get your identity from who you are at the core, and not from what you may or may not see reflected back by others, or by your skill set.

            1 Reply
            1. re: scuzzo

              Totally agree scuzzo. Self-esteem is a place to come from; not a place to get it.

              But I sure do like to cook.

            2. oh i def get down if something i'm making flops. I feel.... incompetent. I pride myself in my cooking, and when i set a plan for what i'm making and it fails, i'm pretty sad. I do my best cooking when i have no set plans and i just wander around the store and pick stuff out. Then I feel really proud and happy. So yeah, it has a lot to do with my self esteem.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kubasd

                When something I make flops, I'm sad because it means I don't have something yummy to eat. Plus I feel guilty for wasting perfectly good ingredients.

                I guess I do feel proud and happy when people seem to be enjoying my food, I'd be kidding myself if I didn't admit it. But the food is a means to an ends. Food makes everyone happier, brings people together. The goal is to have a great time with people I love and want to spend time with. Even if the food is perfect, if people aren't happy, then what is the point of the good food? So for me, food isn't about self-esteem, it is about a tool I can use to to lead a happier life.

                I figure effort counts too. If I have made the effort to make something home-cooked for a friend or family member, well, that means I care. If it turns out not so great, well, the thought counts. No one bats 100%. We are allowed to screw things out now and then, but I am not going to let that make me feel bad about myself. There are enough things to feel genuinely bad about.

              2. Growing up, I was never allowed in the kitchen. My parents said I just got in the way. When I moved out at eighteen, I didn't know how to cook for myself. The first time I cut a tomato, I almost lost a finger. I spent the next two years eating fairly poorly. I knew what good food was, but I didn't know how to cook it myself. Then I moved to Italy and made friends with a bunch of British expats, who knew even less than I did about cooking! I made it a mission to cook good food for my new friends, and started making things like homemade soups, pasta-vegetable dishes, big salads, etc. In some ways I was limited by the Italian sense of national culinary pride, but what I lacked in variety of ingredients I made up for in quality of ingredients. When I moved back to Canada a few years later, I was more confident in the kitchen and more comfortable trying new things. I do feel a lot better now than I did when I was eighteen, because I can cook food that is both good for me and delicious. I've come a long way.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jetgirly

                  Indeed, cooking is, or can be, a glorious life-long process! Glad I got started early on my culinary journey! But it's never too late!

                2. I’m not sure that “self-esteem” is exactly the same thing as having a sense of achievement, although the two are certainly connected. There’s nothing unusual about feeling great when you have achieved something that both you and others think is wonderful – whether that be a musical performance, an athletic accomplishment, writing a poem, or cooking. In this sense, I don’t think there is anything particularly special about cooking. Our egos are always nourished by someone telling us, “Wow, that was fantastic,” regardless of what is was we did to earn that praise.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Tom Armitage

                    This is what I wanted to say. My self-esteem is not based on having cooked a great meal, nor does it drop when I burn a cake. However, I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I serve a perfectly turned out meal, and of course I like the compliments. I might be proud, or frustrated, or annoyed with my inability to create a perfect cream puff, but that has nothing to do with how I feel about myself as a *person* which is what the words "self-esteem" signify to me.

                  2. No - my only disappointment is in the lost enjoyment of eating something tasty. Sometimes I can feel bad if I feel that I've let people down when my failure is the main contribution to a meal. But even then the gathering itself is more important than the food. It's not like the conversation and conviviality will suffer if the stew or the pastry didn't work out.

                    I really do enjoy that feeling of improving on something each time I try it (you sort of express this yourself), so a failure - other than wasted calories - is a learning experience (sorry to sound Pollyanna-ish). And again, this is more the case when my failure just affects one or two.

                    I hate to think of your anxiety Bamia: your friends and family adore you whether you are master chef at each outing or not. No one thinks less of you; it's obvious you are a giving person. And heck, your "failure" could very well be their success. Okay - now make that your mantra! :-)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cinnamon girl

                      Every single reply here makes sense, I have to agree with you all and it's interesting to see everyone's perspective and relationship with cooking and it's outcome.

                      Foodwich, what you said is absolutely correct and makes sense. Cooking can be wonderful therapy!

                      Thanks all for sharing your thoughts, feelings and views on the subject. Much appreciated. I can honestly say I've taken alot away from your replies and examples.

                    2. Great idea for a thread! To me cooking is magic. Taking fresh seasonal ingredients and transforming them into something that sustains life and gives pleasure. I love the sounds of cooking and the way the house fills up with delicious aromas. When I don't cook for awhile I get a strong physical urge to get out in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans. It really feels like casting a spell. Every once in awhile I burn something and I do get pretty upset. Best cure for me is to make it again in less than a week's time. I find that one of the ultimate ways to make myself feel loved is to make some effort to cook a tasty and healthy meal when I am home alone at mealtime. Try it sometime, no fair eating a can of tuna over the sink! It feels like you just gave yourself a big hug. I do love to watch friends and family eating the foods I make for them. That appreciation is so gratifying. When no one is talking because they are immersed in pleasure, that's a good thing. Once i wanted a friend to come over, and I hadn't heard from him in few days. He loves Italian hot sausage so I bought some and started frying it up in my big cast iron fry pan, all the while thinking of him. About the time the aroma from the frying meat started to bloom the phone rang. It was my friend asking if he could come over. I grinned and felt like a witch, he he!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: givemecarbs

                        Your story made me smile. I love the idea of conjuring friends through food spells : )
                        Of course, maybe I should worry that I immediately then begin to think, ok, when my boss is being a pain in the whatever, should I let a pot of her beloved chai tea burn in my kitchen that night, with thoughts of revenge hanging in the air.... hm....

                      2. I'm not at all sure, now that you've got me thinking about it. I do believe that if I offered to bring a dish to a party and was given some lame excuse why I couldn't, or if I noticed people avoiding my food, I might have some complicated emotional reactions to that. It kinda is therapy for me, in the sense that it's both a (mostly) pleasurable activity and one that I do well, and more so as time goes by. Effortless competence is about as exhilarating as it gets. And then we get to sit down and eat it, and I get those nice "Yum!" noises, or even better a steady intent munching that continues until it's all gone, and then big grins my way. And of course there's my own enjoyment of the food, too (I have learned not to enjoy it too obviously, as Mrs. O says it looks too much like I'm leading the applause).

                        I don't let someone else's bad cooking bum me out, unless I spent too much money for it. I have two meetings every month at less-than-mediocre restaurants, from whose menus I have finally extracted knowledge of what dishes are at least edible. I'm blessed to live in a family of decent cooks, and one or two very good cooks (including a niece in her 20s who's going to blow us all into the weeds!), and a lot of friends who also use their kitchens very well. One family member considers herself the Potato Queen - she is very good at those dishes - and will sulk if asked to bring another kind of dish, only to find that someone else (me, for instance) has made a gratin Dauphinois, her signature dish. So there's someone with esteem issues; needless to say I now know enough to steer around them!

                        1. When I was laid off in November my self esteem took a beating. I'd always liked spending time in the kitchen and had not spent much time there in a while. When I cook and bake, I feel productive and successful so I started cooking as a way to save money and to boost my spirits. I began going through the cookbooks in the library and in my collection and pick out recipes to try out. I've also been paying more attention to what we eat - I've lost 20 lbs and so has my SO. I still haven't found a full time job, but I am working part time and am using the kitchen as an outlet.

                          1. Last night I cooked for eight of us; a nice sized dinner party. I used to agonize and spend a good part of the day planning, preparing and executing unusual dishes, baking, etc. I worried if I would have something rejected, like my oyster dressing, one Thanksgiving. That really went against the grain of turkey-saged cornbread dressing!

                            I said agonize and worry didn't I? As I have progressed through about 35 years of having dinner guests (and an additional 18 years of cooking for family or just myself), I have become more temperate, more relaxed, more comfortable with what I do. As Will said, "Effortless competence is about as exhilarating as it gets." That and I don't worry so much if I don't please everybody, fail at a dish or if it is not steaming hot when it is ready. Dinner parties, where you are pretty much working alone, can be like herding cats. Difficult to get people and food all together at the precise moment you would hope for. I'm really lucky when there is a foodie in the group that wants to be involved. Last night my SO pulled her weight by taking care of everything I hadn't.

                            Like some have mentioned, I have always enjoyed the artistry and creativity of cooking as a personal outlet as well as a vehicle for pleasing others. More so now, I do it because it pleases me. No one makes me do it. Last night I don't think I got any wows! for a specific dish, but everyone had a great time, and food disappeared, and when they left they thanked us for a nice evening. I had one, too. I didn't stress out about anything, like I have in times past. Change is good.

                            1. I agree completely. When I am dealing with stress, I love how baking makes me feel. Bread baking, especially, seems almost magical. None of my friends really cook, and sometimes they think I'm crazy to spend so much time in the kitchen when I could be doing other things. But there is something so comforting, and so gratifying to prepare a meal, or make a loaf of bread.

                              1. My self-esteem is not based on my success in the kitchen, but it is definitely impacted by it, especially because I pride myself on cooking very well. For me, cooking is about creating something beautiful to the taste buds; sharing it with others is important, but it is entirely secondary to the act of creation itself. If I flop, then yes, I have failed, and am generally disappointed. I won't beat myself up over a few failures here and there, as more often than not, they serve as learning experiences, but if I go into an off period, which has certainly happened on a few occasions, it does affect my self-esteem to a degree.

                                1. No - my self esteem doesnt come from cooking.

                                  Cooking is about making something nice to eat for dinner. A suitable goal in itself but l
                                  let's not get up our own arseholes about it.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Harters

                                    Personally, for me, cooking is a lot more than making something nice to eat for dinner and I am pretty certain that most people on this forum would agree with that. Everyone wants to eat something 'nice' for a meal but for many, this amounts to 'filling the gap' with whatever convenient food they can get their hands on with as little effort as possible.

                                    There is nothing wrong with that; each to their own, as they say but there is a huge difference between cooking as a means of subsistence and cooking as a passionate and creative expression. In this respect, I wouldn't say it impinges on my self-esteem but it certainly constitutes a significant part of my life from which I derive a huge amount of plasure and, like other poster have mentioned, a sense of accomplishment when something I have put much love and effort into is praised and enjoyed.

                                    I cannot separate the love of good food with the love of cooking. I am sure some people can but to me they are inextricably linked and one doesn't exist without the other.

                                    However, I don't boast about this or look down on people who do not share my passion. Self-esteem is different for everybody and I can understand how feeling good about yourself can have a lot to do with being the best you can be at something you love and I don't see anything wrong with that as long as it doesn't become an obsession that stops you from enjoying food.

                                    1. re: Paula76

                                      Very nicely put. I think some of the different points of view expressed in this thread reflect different understandings of the term “self-esteem.” The Wikipedia definition is “a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth.” When I look at myself in the mirror and ask, “Am I proud of myself?” the answer rests on lots of different factors, some related to specific skills (e.g., I believe I’m a good writer, a good cook, a good banjo player, etc.) and others related to traits of character (I believe I’m honest, kind, ethical, etc.). My personal sense of self-worth relies much more heavily on my character traits than my specific skills. If, for example, I became paralyzed and unable to cook, I wouldn’t feel that my sense of self-worth was thereby threatened.

                                      1. re: Paula76


                                        I'm a great fan of Nigel Slater - I've got all of his books (except Thirst) and they are my mainstay when looking for something new to cook (or to use up the things lurking at the back of the fridge). His oft repeated phrase (and he'll probably use it in his current TV series) is "Don't worry. You're only making something to eat". It's an excellent philosophy, IMO.


                                      2. re: Harters

                                        Funny I'd get deleted because I want to know what you mean by "get up our own arseholes". I can't find a meaning for this colloquialism.

                                        1. re: Scargod

                                          It's British-inflected English: think navel-gazing, but a different location of the body.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            It is, indeed, Karl. Very common expression in my part of the world.

                                            I had to look up "navel gazing" but, yes, same sort of inference. :-)

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              Navel gazing is something of which many east coast Americans used to accuse the Land of Lotus Eaters aka California (specifically SF and LA).

                                        2. re: Harters

                                          Egotism and self-absorbed pursuits= getting up ones own arse?
                                          As I said, and got deleted for some reason for saying, I disagree that it's wholly about eating or that it involves self-esteem or egotism issues. You cook for yourself or your mate repeatedly and then, yes, it can be mundane and not too rewarding. But studying cooking and working to understand and master the interplay of flavors and the chemistry of cooking is something to be proud of. Everyone has an ego and they need to feed it.
                                          There's the social interaction, which I think is at the heart of the question. Are you loved, respected, admired or sought out because of what you can do with food? Don't tell me that nobody appreciates or responds to attention and praise.
                                          It shouldn't be a make or break factor in your mental health, but come on, it's relevant. It's a lot more important to us than doing the dishes well. You never get any strokes for your cooking?

                                        3. Cooking certainly is part of who I am and I take pride in a good result. But a good result for me is that everyone involved in the meal enjoys it.

                                          I do love it when people rave about something I've cooked, but I try not to take it too seriously (I don't think it's too healthy to put too much stock into compliments or criticism!).

                                          I've always really liked Nigella's attitude toward cooking: enjoy it, don't obsess about trying to be perfect, wonderful food can be prepared without you killing yourself over it. I'm certain that I'll never execute the perfect meal as perhaps you envision it, but that's only because to me, the perfect meal involves many factors over which I have no control; it's not just about the food.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Kagey


                                            Since Nigella got over her "domestic goddess" persona, she's been more focussed on clever food shopping. Earlier in the year, I spent some time in a small French town. It doesnt have much going for it in terms of restaurants (proof that it is possible to eat badly in the country) - but what it does have are a couple of excellent traiteur and patisserie shops. If I could buy food this good, I'd never make starters and desserts myself - and almost always do buy desserts on the occasions when we eat one.

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              Hey Harters. The truth is, I've never really been a huge fan of Nigella's TV persona, although I did like some of her earlier programs. Mainly I love her How To Eat, which I still pick up and read every so often after all these years. I just recently read the chapter on low fat/healthy/whatever it's called food, and found myself thinking "amen!" a lot.

                                              Interesting about the French town. I've heard the same thing from friends who've been to little villages there and said that there's always a wonderful patisserie no matter where you go. It would be great to have something like that here, although I must admit I really like to bake. I wonder if the lack of good restaurants is because everyone cooks at home? I spend a lot of time in Italy (mostly Florence) and it seems that the restaurants are mainly for tourists. Italians that I know cook and eat at home, with the exception being pizza. It may be different in larger cities like Milano, not sure.

                                            2. re: Kagey

                                              I agree with you, Nigella's approach is nice and relaxed.

                                              Perhaps "self esteem" wasn't the right word used in my original post. Also cooking for pickey eaters is pretty much setting oneself up for failure.

                                              I envy those of you who have a close chow network/outlet.

                                            3. I get great joy from cooking. Well, from eating really. The cooking doesn't always turn out as you wish, but then sometimes it surprises you and rises way beyond your expectations. I guess that's where much of the joy comes from, in both cooking and eating, in that it's not always what you expect, and that there are so many surprises and unknowns, and discoveries, and epiphanies. Many of the things that separate good cooks from mediocre ones are small things, like letting roasts rest, or allowing foods to come to room temperature, or knowing when things are in season and ripe... I can't say though that cooking affects my self esteem. I mean, when something goes wrong I am annoyed, but I don't feel badly about myself, and I always try to make a mental note so it doesn't trip me up the next time. It's funny though, when I have guests and they rave, my inclination is not to believe them and ascribe it to good manners. So much for the self-esteem angle in my house! Never did like too much attention. Well, at least not publicly.

                                              1. Cooking is my love. It gives me thrills and happiness and sharing it is the best part.

                                                It's normal to feel that crazy about it. People who aren't crazy about cooking are crazy about something else.