“Cooking demands attention, patience, and above all, a respect for the gifts of the earth. It is a form of worship, a way of giving thanks.”Judith B. Jones
Cooking is magic.
It really is – you take ingredients, grown from the magic of soil and sunlight, combine them in different proportions, add water, fire, fragrant herbs and spices, and transform them into something greater than the sum of its parts. Cooking is an act of alchemy.
Cunningham (1990) writes: “Food is magic. Its power over us is undeniable. From the sweet, rich lure of a freshly baked brownie to an exquisitely steamed artichoke, food continues to seduce us. Food is life”. People in every culture at every period of history have honoured food for its ability to not only sustain life, but bring people together. Food has always played an important role in religious and cultural festivals, as it still does now – think of Christmas Dinner in the UK, soba noodles on New Year’s Eve in Japan, the feast of Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, Potlucks and food festivals the world over. Folk magic has long incorporated food into spells and rituals, and here is where kitchen witchcraft can come in today.
Cooking for me is a form of creative expression. Some people paint, or play music, or dance – I cook. Making food is an expression of soul and love. It is a gift, given and received. While I rarely do any specific spellwork or rituals while cooking, I take time to select ingredients that I know will combine well, and I use the time stirring, frying, steaming and roasting as a time to simply be in the moment, often listening to music and dancing around the kitchen, thoroughly enjoying the act of preparing a good meal. The kitchen hearth is the heart and centre of the home, and has become even more so for me over the last year and a half of lockdowns and more time at home than ever before.
Cooking can be made more magical the same way most things can; with intention. Patterson (2020) writes: “Whenever I cook, I add a dash of magic…I recognise and acknowledge the energy of each ingredient”. In Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide To Cooking, she lists several qualities that make cooking more Pagan, including eating seasonally and locally, being mindful of where your food is sourced from, and reducing food waste.
Being more aware of how your food is grown, reared, farmed or fished, puts you in relationship with the animals and plants you eat, as well as the farmers who work to bring that food to the market, butcher or shop. It makes you more than just a passive consumer – and through pressuring supermarkets to stock ethically produced food, you can help change welfare standards and support local agriculture. Then, when you cook, knowing where your food comes from, you can truly participate in an act of co-creation.
This doesn’t need to be expensive, or daunting. There are many cookbooks out there designed for people on a low budget or who want quick and easy recipes: I recommend the books and website “Cooking on a Bootstrap” by Jack Monroe as a good place to start. And once you have a few good recipes off by heart, the fun bit can truly begin as you experiment and tweak them to customise them to your personal tastes.
Food is necessary for survival, but it is also so much more than that. Cooking can be a way of bringing people together, an act of gratitude, a language that transcends barriers.
I recognise my own privilege writing this – I am fortunate to have, even with the supply issues in the UK, a well-stocked kitchen, and can afford to treat myself to quality produce from the farmer’s market every now and again. But it wasn’t always that way. I grew up poor, and food wasn’t always there. I learned the hard way to feed myself from a few tins and a loaf of bread. I also had a period of my life when I became a bit obsessed with the popular conception of “fitness” and counting calories deeply affected my relationship with food. So it’s taken a long journey to get here, and lots of trial and error on the way, but now food is more than just fuel, it’s a joy.
And there is magic in that, too.
Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encylopedia Of Wicca In The Kitchen. Llewellyn, 2019 (first published 1990 as The Magic of Food).
Patterson, Rachel. Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide To Cooking. Moon Books, 2020.