Cooking Can Help Us Grieve, Heal, and Process Our Emotions

—Here’s Why

By Kayla Hui

Recently, I flipped the last page of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. For those of you who haven’t read it, the memoir is about Zauner growing up Korean in the United States, navigating life without her mother—who passed away after battling an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer—and rediscovering her identity. Down to its core, it’s a touching and fill-your-heart-up story about how cooking and food can help us heal after losing people we love (and warning: reading the book will make you sob).

Whether you cook or not, grief experts confirm that preparing dishes that loved ones used to make for us can play a crucial role in processing grief. To better understand the science, we spoke with a few professionals to learn how cooking can help us heal from loss. And in this week’s episode of the Well+Good Podcast, we had a conversation with Frankie Gaw, author of the new cookbook First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-American Home and Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, psychology professor Emerita at University of Massachusetts, Amherst to talk about the profound healing power of food and cooking.

Taste, memory, and keeping loved ones alive through our meals

Cooking is a sensory experience, involving touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing.  Of all the senses, though, “the sense most strongly tied with memory is olfactory,” aka our sense of smell, says Peggy Loo, PhD, a licensed psychologist and director of Manhattan Therapy Collective based in New York. When we cook, we activate the hippocampus and amygdala, which are parts of the brain involved in memory and emotional processing.

Research shows that human olfaction can cue emotional aspects of our memory, most of which comes from the first decade of our life. “This is why certain smells can elicit visceral reactions and evoke memories from long ago,” says Shavaun McGinty, MA, LPC, CT, a licensed professional counselor and certified grief counselor at the Peacemaker Center in Dowingtown, Pennsylvania. This process is what some experts refer to as the “Proust phenomenon”—at the beginning of Proust’s novel, Swann’s Way, he details a scenario in which the taste and smell of a madeleine cookie dipped in a cup of tea brings back a character’s long-forgotten memory in detail.

What’s more, cooking helps us grieve is by minimizing the fear of forgetting our loved ones, whether it’s “their voice, their laugh, or that one facial expression they had when they were about to sneeze,” says Dr. Loo. “Knowing that our sense of smell is powerfully tied to memories means that you can access them when cooking dishes we associated with our loved one.”

By following recipes that our loved ones used to make for us or recreating dishes we once shared with friends and family, we keep the memory of a loved one or passed experience alive. In a way, the aromas and scents of the meal help us travel back in time—whether that means apples and cinnamon from your mother’s apple pie or in my case, the steaming broth from hot pot. Cooking is what keeps us connected to loved ones after they’re gone. 

When we lose that special someone in our life, it’s also not uncommon to feel like we lost a piece of ourselves, including our cultural identity. However, cooking can be a way to honor cultural ties, or the passing on of something you had with a loved one, explains Dr. Loo.

Like Zauner, I, too, grew up Asian in America and lost a loved one: my gong gong (grandfather in Cantonese), who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1950s to start a better life. When he passed away from a heart attack in 2002, not only did my family fall apart (he was the glue that held us together), I felt like I lost a large part of my Chinese identity.

A chef, my gong gong cooked for a living and for family, but his death meant that Cantonese dishes—stir-fried clams in black bean sauce, garlic-infused green beans, and steamed fish with ginger and scallions—were no longer served at the dinner table. Though his death occurred when I was just six years old, I’ve come to realize that I felt the gravity of it most in college, where I grappled with feeding myself and realizing that I couldn’t cook traditional Chinese food. I didn’t learn any of my gong gong’s recipes, and he was the only one in my family who knew them. I felt ashamed and disconnected to my identity. However, I found solace in the aisles of Asian grocery stores, picking and reminiscing foods and snacks he used to make for me, and learning recipes online. And in making a bold attempt to cook a version of my gong gong’s Cantonese food at home, I felt more connected to him and my culture.

Grief looks differently for everyone, but cooking is the glue that binds us closer together. “It can be helpful to plan intentional pockets of space for your grief—like the one you might have cooking a meal from beginning to end,” Dr. Loo says.

Whether you’ve lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, or friend, cooking is the driver that reconnects us, grounds us, and helps us heal.

Complete Article HERE!

I grieve for my mum by making soup. Big or small, our death rituals matter

The pandemic has meant many of us are in mourning, but the things we do help us remember

It’s more what soup represents; it’s warm, it’s comforting, it’s schmeckt

By Eleanor Margolis

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making soup almost constantly. Never has a nervous breakdown smelled so savoury. Maybe not a nervous breakdown, exactly. But I always act oddly this time of year.

Or have done, at least, for the past four years, since my mum died on a November afternoon. This year, in a cyclone of chopped vegetables and stock that I’d attributed to it being “soup season”, it occurred to me that this was actually grief soup.

That I was channelling the sadness of another year without my mum into the repetitive actions – chopping, frying, blending – that come with obsessive soup-making.

It’s not that my mum herself made a lot of soup (although her cooking in general will always be one of my happiest memories of her).

It’s more what soup represents; it’s warm, it’s comforting, it’s schmeckt. Schmeckt is the Yiddish word my mum always used to describe something truly radioactive with flavour.

In a soup (if it’s any good) you have the deep brown savouriness of the stock merged with the sweetness of vegetables such as carrots and onions, and concentrated into pure schmeckt. You basically isolate everything delicious about each ingredient, and put it in a bowl. And it helps that I never feel so close to my mum as when I’m chopping an onion.

As year two of the pandemic starts to wrap up, many millions of people are observing death anniversaries. Most are probably not making vats of grief soup, but we all have our rituals that help us remember those we’ve lost in the best possible light.

I know that anyone who saw a loved one in an ICU with Covid will have two conflicting images of that person.

I visited my mum in intensive care when she was dying of cancer, and the sight of her in a hospital bed, full of tubes, will always be at war with my memory of her bustling around a kitchen, making beautiful smells.

Death rituals, be it those entrenched in different religions and cultures, or those we invent ourselves, are designed to help us remember the good over the unspeakably awful. In November, of course, the entire country becomes enraptured by an increasingly divisive death ritual involving poppies and silence.

At the moment though, I’m still distracted by loss on a personal level. As well as the unofficial remembrance act of soup-making, this year I lit a yahrzeit candle for my mum. This is a Jewish death ritual. We aren’t a religious family at all, but I feel like she’d get a kick out of it.

A candle is standard remembrance fare for a reason; it’s somberly calming to stare into a flame as it dances with life, and think about decrying your mum for picking little piles of dead skin off her feet, only to have her reply, “You’ll miss me when I’m dead”.

After four years, she mostly just feels phenomenally far away. But still – I like to think – out there somewhere, watching me perform my stupid little rituals.

Maybe the dead have ways of remembering the living, too. Light years away, perhaps, my mum is cooking grief soup for me.

Complete Article HERE!

Cold Food Festival and Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)

By Sarah Elizabeth Troop


How did an act of cannibalism transform into a national day for honoring  the dead?

As the legend goes, during China’s Spring and Autumn Period following a civil war, Prince Chong Er was forced into exile for 19-years. With him was his loyal minister, Jie. When the pair had run out of food and were starving, Jie cut the flesh from his own leg and made a leg soup from it to feed the Prince, taking loyalty to a whole new level.

When the hard times were over and the Prince became King, he rewarded all those who had remained loyal to him and totally overlooked the guy who CUT THE FLESH OFF HIS OWN LEG TO FEED HIM. Jie packed up his bags and disappeared into the wilderness, taking  his mom with him.

Someone finally confronted the King about his major oversight and feeling ashamed, he went off in search of Jie, but never found him. In result, some idiot suggested setting the entire wilderness on fire to smoke him and his moms out so, that’s just what the king does. Surprise! Still no Jie.

When the fire was extinguished poor, loyal Jie is found dead in the forest , underneath a willow tree, with his mother on his back. Inside the tree is a letter, written in blood from Jie, “Giving meat and heart to my lord, hoping my lord will always be upright. An invisible ghost under a willow tree is better than a loyal minister beside my lord.” Ouch…

In honor of Jie’s death, the King decreed that no fires could be lit on this day and created the Hanshi Festival or “Cold Food Festival,” since food could not be cooked.

Throughout China’s history the Cold Food Festival has been absorbed into the Tomb Sweeping Festival, which occurs on April 4 or 5th each year.

Qingming Festival2

Quingming or Tomb Sweeping Day in China is a day for honoring the dead. The day is reserved for visiting the graves of loved ones. At this time the graves are cleaned and tended to, favorite foods of the deceased are offered and the practice of burning paper goods, “joss paper,” in the form of money and luxury items is practiced. Joss paper has taken many forms in recent years, everything from McDonalds food to IPhones to the more traditional money, ensuring that the deceased is well provided for in the afterlife. It is reassuring to know there is no McDonalds in the afterlife, tho, amirite?

Qingming Festival3

Since the tradition of eating cold food remains a large part of the festival, qing tuan, sweet green rice balls, have been a traditional festival food for some 2,000 years. A  “green rice” dish is also common, containing a mixture of rice powder and green mugworts, stuffed with a sweet bean paste. Both dishes are common offerings to the dead.

Modern elements now include the recent crop of websites where busy families and professionals who cannot travel to the gravesite can choose from different “tomb sweeping packages.”  Professional mourners will go to your loved ones grave, clean and provide traditional offerings. Sobbing or weeping is extra.

Complete Article HERE!

The Hungry Mourner

From funeral biscuits to cemetery picnics to parsley crowns, here’s how the world marks death with food.


Funeral biscuits, a Los Angelitos celebration, a cemetery picnic
Funeral biscuits, a Los Angelitos celebration, a cemetery picnic

Our relationship with food is almost as complicated as the one we have with death. Food can bring comfort, be tied to feelings of guilt or pleasure, and can evoke memories and feelings as powerful as any song. It’s no wonder that throughout history and across cultures, people have used food to help honor loved ones who have died. Here are some ways in which it’s been done.

1. Dumb Supper

During this feast — thought by some scholars to be a precursor to modern Halloween — a table is laid out all in black, with places for both the living and the dead. No one speaks to allow for communion with the dead. Guests bring with them a letter written to a loved one who has passed. When the meal is over the unread letters are burned and one by one the messages within are thought to be carried into the spirit world. Believed to have roots in ancient Celtic tradition, the dumb supper was brought to Appalachia by American settlers. Some living in the region still hold the suppers. It is also observed on Samhain, one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, by Pagans and Wiccans.

2. Telling the Bees

One old English custom also practiced in America in the early 19th century — and a risky one, to be sure — involved going out to the beehive to deliver the news that a family member had died. The messenger would tap on the hive and whisper, “Little Brownies, your mistress is dead.” Families would attach an invitation to the funeral on the hive and bring food from the funeral feast to the bees. This was a way to show gratitude and respect for the bees and their gifts of honey, beeswax and pollination. Fail to do so, and you would risk offending the bees, which might choose to move on to a more appreciative family.

3. Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead) 

During ancient Roman times, the souls of ancestors were thought to reside in fava beans. At Roman wedding feasts, beans were presented to the bride and groom, who would eat them in hopes of attracting the souls of male ancestors to carry on the family bloodline. (Eating beans on your wedding day — that’s risky in a different way.) As a bonus, beans were also believed to ward off ghosts and vampires, who were easily tricked into thinking the beans were living people. And on All Souls Day in Italy, it is common to consume bean-shaped cookies, or fave del morti. There are many different variations, but the most popular resembles a macaroon-like cake in appearance, but with a rich, buttery texture and sweet almond flavor. More traditional versions are shaped like kidney beans and flavored with almond flour and extract. Here’s a recipe.

4. Obon Figures

Obon is a series of festival days in Japan when the souls of the departed are thought to visit their living relatives. Horses and cow figurines are made from vegetables placed on altars. It is believed that the spirits of the visiting ancestors ride the animals between worlds of the living and the dead.

5. Funeral Biscuits

Funeral biscuits first appeared in 1600s Europe, and were also commonplace up until the early 1900s in America. They were sometimes taken door-to-door and served as a funeral invitation or handed out as a keepsake after the funeral. According to Barts Pathology Museum’s curator Carla Valentine, funeral biscuits were wrapped in a paper that bore a poem or prayer with the name of the deceased, then sealed with black wax and stamped with a skull or hourglass.  Should you want to make a batch, here’s a recipe.

6. Lemons 

In Switzerland, male mourners would wrap a lemon in a handkerchief and place it into their hat. The hat would be carried under the left arm for the duration of the funeral. At the end of the service, the lemons were placed on the grave to symbolize the “sharpness” of their grief.

7. Los Angelitos 

During Mexico’s Days of the Dead, a sacred observance when spirits of deceased family members are believed to return to the earth for a family reunion with the living, one day is set aside to welcome the spirits of children, or Los Angelitos (The Little Angels). Altars are decorated, and food is offered up in miniature portions and served on tiny plates, often with a little glass of milk.

8. Journey Cakes 

A staple of cuisine in the American south is a little corn cake, known as a Johnny Cake. The term “Johnny” was derived from the corn cakes’ original use as “Journey Cakes,” among some African tribes. They were placed in coffins to provide sustenance for the deceased during their long journey to the afterlife.

9. Parsley 

After ancient Greeks dedicated this herb to the goddess Persephone, who reigns over the land of the dead, it became a staple during funeral rites. Parsley was planted over graves and athletes donned crowns of parsley during Funeral Games. The games, depicted in the Iliad, were played in the deceased’s honor and are recognized as the precursor to the Olympics. They included chariot races, wrestling, boxing, discus throwing and running.

10. Cemetery Picnics

During the Victorian era when cemeteries were cultivated as parks and gardens, people came to enjoy a day of leisure, to partake of a meal with loved ones no longer with them or even dine on the family’s prepaid plot. In America, the practice took on a more practical purpose: when communities would come together to help clean and maintain the cemetery grounds. Graves would be tended to, trees and flowers planted, and repairs made. Once the work was done, families would set out their potluck dishes and share in a communal meal.

Complete Article HERE!

An Ice Cream Truck at the Funeral

And 6 other meaningful ways to incorporate food — and cocktails — into a memorial.



We mark life’s milestones with festive food and rituals. And culinary traditions can play an important role for mourners, too. Here are 7 ideas for meaningful ways to incorporate food and drink into a memorial.

Bespoke Libations

Personalized, or ‘signature’ custom cocktails (or non-alcoholic mocktails) and craft beers celebrating the unique personalities are increasingly popular at weddings. And they make sense for funerals, too. A special drink, named after and inspired by a loved one, could be served during a toast or at a time when friends and family are invited to share a memory of the deceased. Later, the recipe can be given out to guests. That custom cocktail can be prepared on the deceased birthday or their “deathiversary” — or anytime, really.

Ice Cream Truck

There are numerous cultures around the world that incorporate a special sweet dish or candy into their funeral rituals or feasts to remind mourners that, even amid grief, life is sweet. An envelope with candy may be passed around at Chinese funerals, for example. A great twist on this important sentiment — and I wouldn’t mind incorporating into my own funeral — is the well-timed appearance of an ice cream truck, leaving my loved ones with their last memory of me being one that’s sweet.

Rosemary Bread

On particularly difficult days — like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day — one way I honor my grief (and the memory of those I’ve lost) is by making rosemary tea bread. Rosemary is an herb of remembrance. The Romans used it in burial rites. Shakespeare references it in “Hamlet”: “Ophelia in her madness names plants that were known for their capacity to ease pain, particularly inwardly felt pain” — “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.” Here’s a recipe.

Funeral Biscuits

Funeral biscuits were paper-wrapped cookies handed out to mourners at funerals or taken door-to-door as an invitation to a funeral. The biscuits first made their appearance in 1600s Europe and were commonplace in America through the early 1900s. The wrappers were custom printed with a poem or prayer and the name of the deceased. Although edible, the biscuits were often kept as keepsakes. A modern version can easily be adapted and created with the help of children, who are so often left out of these important rituals and are seeking a way to express their own grief. Children can decorate the wrapper, and even help with the baking. Here’s a recipe.

Custom Cookbooks

Danielle Oteri, the mastermind behind the foodie website Feast On History, creates custom family cookbooks. Here’s how it works: Oteri’s company, according to its website, will “look at census records and immigration documents. We’ll conduct interviews with you and/or your family members and record the memories and meals that were shared. Next, we’ll research those recipes and delve deep to find out exactly where your relatives came from and what influenced their cooking. Finally, we thoroughly test the recipes and record them so that these wonderful traditions will never again be lost.” Amazing, right?

Vegetable Wreaths

Funeral florist extraordinaire Cassandra Thompson ofStems UK created a stunning memorial wreath made with vegetables. It’s a meaningful tribute for a loved one who enjoyed gardening. You could even use vegetables from their own garden. Another idea for those mourning the loss of a beloved gardener — seeds or plantings could be harvested from their garden to be distributed and replanted


Funeral Books

If you’ve been to a wedding in the past few years, chances are you’ve been handed a wedding program, featuring photographs of the happy couple, factoids about how they met, details about their families or the story of their first date. Little booklets like these can frequently be found in Thailand as well, but at funerals — not weddings. In Thailand, these memorial books, called nang sue ngam sop, are typically written by the family of the deceased, and contain photographs from graduations, weddings or personal stories and anecdotes. A hallmark of these books are favorite recipes of dishes they were known for cooking (or for enjoying). In fact, recipes from Thai funeral books were the main inspiration for Chef David Thompson’s Nham restaurant, which earned a coveted Michelin Star – the first for Thai cuisine.

Complete Article HERE!