How often do you hear people say how much they “love” food? You probably hear this several times a week, and there’s good reason for it. Food is love, according to Kitchen Therapy founder Charlotte Hastings.
Charlotte’s business is all about providing food-based re-connection therapy based on the impact that primary care has on us. Those all-important first few months of life are when we connect with our caregivers. These first experiences go a long way to making us who we are today. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke with Charlotte to discover how she helps people to connect with their own feelings. She fosters a self-awareness in her kitchen that liberates a person’s capacity for change and positive development — bringing people a level of peace and contentment they never thought possible.
Charlotte wants us to remember and cherish both our conscious and subconscious memories, thoughts and feelings — and she uses several ways to achieve this goal. By relying on the people around us and working together, we can tap into human connections to make ourselves happier and more content with life.
Qualified in psychodynamic therapy, Charlotte uses food as her therapy tool of choice. And when she explains why, it’s clear to see why it works.
We use food as an expression of love and affection throughout our lives. If we entertain, for example, we usually do so with food. Or when we want to show someone how much we love them, we prepare a meal or book a table at a restaurant.
But Charlotte’s approach to therapy is based on mindful cooking and eating. Through the language of food, Charlotte is helping people to improve their lives and deal with a range of emotional issues. Kitchen Therapy focuses on the journey, rather than the destination.
A recipe for life
Charlotte describes the connection between love and food as a deep, cellular experience — which she first noticed when feeding her first child. “I remember trying to feed my first child while doing other things. I noticed that every time I lost interest in her, she lost interest in feeding. She just stopped.
“I decided to do some research, and I was amazed at what I discovered. The process of feeding involves the creation of millions of neural pathways in a baby. This is crucial to development.
“And this connection with food lives inside us for the rest of our lives. We connect with other people through food. After all, everyone needs to eat. In the case of a mother and her child, both are rewarded by the feeding experience — not just the mother.
“Whether it’s animals at a watering hole or a group of people eating around a campfire, food is a universal language that connects groups.”
Kitchen Therapy classes
Charlotte offers group and one-to-one sessions, but both involve collaborative experiences that foster human connection. While there is always a goal and a recipe, these sessions are organic, and can change depending on the dynamics of the group.
The destination is the finished dish, but that’s not the most important factor involved in a Kitchen Therapy class. Far more important is the journey. The way Charlotte and her guests collaborate, communicate and exchange ideas and opinions is the priority. And this is where Charlotte believes we’re losing out. We’re constantly bombarded with images of the perfect foods and dishes — put together by the best chefs in the world. Many of us are living off convenience foods and takeaways. We are sent to the destination, without ever experiencing the journey.
This process leaves us feeling empty. We are missing out on a wonderful journey of love and collaboration, so we’re left feeling unsatisfied. What do we do? Well, according to Charlotte, we simply try to reach the next destination (the next plate of food) as quickly as possible.
Kitchen therapy classes are very much the journey — the destination is far less important.
Charlotte said: “I teach mindfulness, and it’s the most secure feeling in the world when you experience it. Food that is made with love and human connection is what’s really important.
“I teach people how to use what they’ve learned or experienced in the past to help them find happiness in the present.
“A recipe is both time and space. It gets passed down by people who may no longer be with us. When the next generation has it, changes are made, or ingredients may be forgotten. The recipe evolves, and can become something different.
“I try to teach people how to embrace this, but I’m always learning myself. Each person I cook with teaches me something. My classes involve an exchange of ideas, experiences and feelings.
“Most of all, I want people to cook creatively and intuitively. I’m not interested in perfection. It doesn’t matter how good your chopping skills are, the most important thing is to work together with passion and instinct.”
Where does Charlotte’s love of food come from?
Charlotte’s love affair with food began as a child, and was inspired by her grandmother great grandmother.
“My grandmother used to love to cook. She’d grow her own vegetables, and prepare them fresh from the garden. I used to watch her for hours. I was an only child, so I was able to spend a lot of time with my grandmother, cooking and connecting through food.
“My great grandmother used to play cards with her friends. I remember coming up with the idea of putting on a tea party for them. I set the table, prepared the food, and even sent them invitations. This experience has always lived with me.”
Social media is all about the destination
When it comes to social media, Charlotte uses it more than she’d like. She understands why it’s so addictive, but she worries that it leads to superficial exchanges without any real depth. She’s also concerned that the likes of Facebook and Instagram could be taking the place of real human interaction.
Charlotte said: “Social media doesn’t allow us to connect in a meaningful way. We don’t experience the process, the journey or the context, so things can get lost in translation.
“When we communicate properly, we pick up signals. If someone isn’t engaged, or is giving us important signals with their face or body, we can’t pick those up on social media. And when that happens, we don’t get the security of interconnection we need.
“Social media can also give us unrealistic goals when it comes to food. A dish created by a professional chef and shared on Instagram might look great, but all you’re getting is the destination. It might be Photoshopped, or the chef responsible might be an accomplished professional.
“What we see looks good, but without experiencing the journey, we don’t nourish our souls. Putting social media down and connecting with people through food is vital to creating a life journey”
Charlotte’s approach to cooking involves experimentation, collaboration and imagination. Therefore her measurements aren’t all that precise. Take this away, and cook with a partner or your children. During the process, you’ll exchange ideas and connect — and the final recipe you come up with could be very different.