When I saw a story on Goop headlined "The Kitchen Healer: Relieving the Shame of Not Cooking," I clicked immediately. Because as much pleasure as I take in cooking a lot of the time (maybe even most of the time), a good portion of it is still motivated by the shame I feel in not cooking.
I was surprised, then, when the first sentence of the Goop piece introduced the aforementioned kitchen healer, Jules Blaine Davis as
a woman in Pasadena [, California] known for getting even the most reluctant cook to turn on the stove.
So which is it? Does Jules empower women to say "I'm not cooking tonight" with pride, or does she guide hesitant cooks (and those convinced they're satisfied without ever turning on the oven) back to the stovetop? Through multiple conversations with Jules, I learned how she's able to occupy the two seemingly contradictory spaces.
What the Goop headline, especially juxtaposed with the first sentence, doesn't get totally right is that Jules' work is neither about relieving the shame of not cooking, nor motivating women to tie on an apron and skip into the kitchen—and it's certainly not about assigning value judgment to either choice.
What it is about is giving yourself permission to order take-out if you feel like it; to eat between meals; to examine and interrogate the patterns of your life—and break those that aren't working for you. It's about nourishing yourself so that you can feed others; it's about leaning into, and anticipating, hunger—saying yes when someone offers, offering to others before they ask.
A conversation with Jules may have motivated Goop's Elise Loehnen to start cooking again, but my time talking with the kitchen healer had the opposite effect: It convinced me to put the night's dinner project on hold. And I think Jules would say that both paths, as long as they're what we are truly hungering for, are good and right.
This may all sound a bit mushy-gushy to you (it did to me, and Jules told me, when we first spoke, that people are often surprised to meet her and see that she's normal), which is why you'll hear from Jules, who's been doing her work for the past decade, for the rest of the article. Read on for our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity (you can also watch her TED Talk, here):
Tell me a little bit about your own relationship with food. Before you started kitchen healing, over a decade ago, what were you doing? What inspired this?
I graduated college as a performer; I went to Columbia for post-bac pre-med; I was painting and creating art out here in Los Angeles and showing my work wherever I could, and I’ve been a poet since I was twelve—all of the different creating and healing realms where, of course, my parents were thinking, “What the heck are you doing?”
I didn’t know this then, but I believe I was finding my way to becoming a kitchen healer. And who knew? I just figured, I am many things. And I am. And we are as women. So for those who are looking for that one thing or who are struggling with the idea of being not enough or too much, I can offer permission to just be because I went through it myself, and it was vital for me to get to know who I am and what I love.
I’ve always been someone who is skeptically curious. I always say I have my ear to the door—or the floor—to listen in. And I’ve always loved food. I cooked early on. As a kid, my mom was in the kitchen, healing her stories, and there were a lot of different emotions in the kitchen.
Ten years ago, I was a new mom. I was hosting a music class at my house with mamas and their babies. I would cook up a little food for those who came to rock it out with us. We would all sit together and it ended up that all the women would eat the food before I even got to it. They were really hungry! I was surrounded by people who had income coming in and they were starving. I started to hear their stories—they would kind of laugh and say, “I don’t know how or what to cook, and my husband comes home and I’m just such a mess with the baby,” and I would lean in to listen to them, as I was hungry to hear more. I love learning about how people “do” their lives. I am so curious to hear how people live. I could also hear some shame and vulnerability inside their stories. Then I started to find more of it, and then it started to find me.
I began to wonder, “How do we create a space in the kitchen so that it really feels like you’re connected to it?”—it is the heart of your body. It wasn’t about having the best stuff and amazing things everywhere—because a lot of women had that. I was seeing these major massive beautiful kitchens and nothing was going on in them.
When you started off, you would make visits to other women’s kitchens. Tell me a little bit more about that.
When I started to really connect with these women, I went into my friends’ kitchens and I got to see the depth of what goes on in there, as well as how vulnerable we are in that space. People would go to a Pap smear way before they would have me open the drawer next to the stove.
Even when they said, “Sure, I’m totally open; come on over,” when I got there, they’d say, “Well, you know, actually that area is... and I haven’t gotten to that… and, ugh, that,” and I get it, I feel that way, too. We just moved our bedroom upstairs and the house is a shit show. I just have to keep giving permission to the non-ending list that will always be waiting for me It really is a practice to let go. Isn’t it?
So I would go in and I would overhaul the space with them. I was a midwife and a Jewish grandmother creating something: a kitchen healer. I did this work for a lot of years—healing the space inside the kitchen, running to Container Store to get the French vessels, taking all the noise out of the pantry, getting people to cook by taking them to the market, showing them the full circle, having them watch me cook like a grandma or a mama.
I found that after a few months, they would be lost again. It didn’t integrate into their lives. It made a shift but it didn’t transform the story. This is that thinking that fixing something really can change the story of it, like a diet: “Now I have the body I want—this is going to fix my problems.” After a few months, that shame comes back, and what I noticed was it wasn’t integrating the way that I really wanted it to; it wasn’t serving the work.
So the work got deeper and I got deeper inside the work. As I was healing the kitchen, I would ask questions and hear their stories, and I would hear about their moms, their hunger, their intimate lives. I would get to know them. And that’s really where the work is—inside our stories and everything our body’s been through; it's like an emotional horoscope.
We would explore different mediums of work to access the body wisdom, bringing my art into it and the writing and movement. I put on a playlist and we would just move, grieve, and feel the music.
And then I'd make a wood board love. The women left here and they would go home and cook —and they hate cooking! Or they would leave and then they’d send me photos of their wood board love with their kids. They had just spent a few minutes with me and this wisdom started shifting.
What exactly is wood board love?
In the most simple terms, it’s essentially cut-up food on a wood board. But it also is the opportunity to be with food and your hunger in a way that is not only inspired by beauty, but that is also incredibly simple. Everyone can do it.
Dinner is of heightened importance in America—it’s a really big deal in our culture. Wood board love breaks that paradigm up, and it literally feels like a party. It’s just food on a board. It doesn’t have to be some special way. It’s very approachable.
For us, in my family, wood board love happens all day, all the time. The minute I wake up in the morning, I cut food up. I don’t think about it; I don’t think “Oh, I’m hungry,” or, “Oh, I’m not hungry.” I don’t think anything but “Get up and grab a board from the wall.” I put whatever food is in my fridge on it, and then I make tea, make the lunches, breathe, and do a little early morning work.
So wood board love happens and then I can make breakfast. I’m all about eating before a meal. The pressure of a meal is too much in our culture. It’s the same pressure of waiting for things to be done. So many people are waiting for dinner and carrying that story of waiting for dinner. When I’ll talk to a client, I’ll ask, “Why is it important to wait for dinner?” Then they’ll pause, and they might start crying, and they’ll say, “I don’t know.” It’s an old story. Waiting for dinner is a different story than coming together over a meal.
Wood board love is this whole emotional landscape of getting ahead of needs, of hunger. For me, that is getting ahead of my kids’ needs so that they’re not going, “Mom, I’m hungry!” With wood board love, they have a place to go. It’s their own conversation with their nourishment. They don’t have to wait for me to serve them, and it also prevents them from grabbing food in the pantry or eating food that’s not in our values. Hunger is a pretty high value in our home, so we want it to be tended to.
I put all different kinds of things on the board. It’s easy and approachable and the thesis of my work. I’m creating a wood board love culture, where women know that they can do this—and that it can be whatever they want on there. It’s not about perfection—it’s about permission and ease and freedom.
And I do it in front of my kids, so that now my son who’s ten comes home and he wants to make the wood board love. Our house is created around it. I grocery shop for wood board love—cold roasted veggies, olives, prosciutto, salmon, string cheese, out of the plastic and cut up.
It allows you to put the kitchen sink on there and, before you know it, everyone’s eating. And I can put food on it that’s aligned with the values because the board is our value. It’s an intimate, permissive, completely beautiful way of serving food and enjoying food, of nourishing yourself while you’re nourishing your family. It’s a messy beauty; everything in life is so messy. We are no longer waiting for the party—we are the party!
Do most of the people you’re helping come for a common reason? What would you say most of them want to achieve? What is the goal, especially of people who claim they’re not interested in cooking? They clearly have something they want.
They are hungry to know who they are and they want to nourish themselves in a deeper way. All I can say is what I hear, and what I hear the most is that, through all the layers, through everything they’re looking for, they want to know who they are and how to nourish themselves. We don’t know who we are as women right now in and out of the kitchen. We are beyond strong, we are super powerful, we’re in resistance, we’re running for president, we’re rocking it. Some of us want to breastfeed; some of us want to be homeschooling. We want to do everything. We don’t know what it looks like to serve others and to nourish ourselves. We haven’t seen that yet.
This is the generation that we’re going to begin to see that, where my kids see that there’s wood board love out, Mommy’s also working—and that we can really do it all. And by “all” I mean what we want to be doing and being. My daughter even does it in her play. She’s a kitchen healer: She’s circling with meditation and she’s got her work in her hand. She’s totally like, “Okay, we’re all gonna sit down and find our breath.”
It’s about looking at the hunger and feeling into the longing. I think that the women and the families that find me, they’re really hungry for values, which is also a part of this work. And for discovering who they are as a family: What does a family feel like? Because we keep learning what things will fix things. my work is not of fixing. “Okay, we’re going to do this and we’re gonna fix this lifelong problem!” That is not what we’re gonna do. And I don’t even think they’re problems. I think they’re just hungering for a warm tea and to be held. When we slow down we can feel into what is serving us or not—we all know this deep inside us. It is the voice that keeps talking to us. Transformation happens in the listening.
What do you think about people who just are totally uninterested in cooking or being in the kitchen, or have no desire to change that? Do you think that it’s a valid want?
I think that we’re all hungry. Cooking and nurturing is a basic need. It’s like tying your shoes. If you have someone tying your shoes all the time, you don’t really care to tie your shoes. But you might be in a position where that person isn’t there anymore, and then what do you do? The last thing we need is more judgement or feeling judged by each other. We really need each other to support and inspire us. And we are so good at this. Women are incredible together especially when we allow each other in to hold us. I think there are some things that modern life is not going to change about who we are as women. We love beauty, we love food, we love nourishing our families and our friends. And if we’re scared about it or we don’t know about it, and in my work, I have found that there is some kind of longing there.
I believe that we have an innate hunger to nourish those we love. And wood board love is a beautiful sort of bridge. Even if the husband is really in charge of the kitchen, the woman can then do the wood board love and she can tend to the home in the way that nourishes her.
But does it fall to one particular person—and in the case of a heterosexual relationship, to the woman, because of her instinct to nurture—to provide the food? What if she’s at the office all day, too?
Whoever gets home, make a wood board love—and throw some rosé on there if you want! Whoever gets home first, let’s warm it up and turn on the fire. It’s also very different if you have children and want them to have a food story that aligns with your values: Who is writing the story for them?
When you’re raising a family and growing your work—you’re listening to who you want to be at the moment. My work is built on a scaffolding of values—it doesn’t just come out of anywhere. The way we live is centered around values. It helps us make our decisions and how we are going to make things happen. Rather than having a religion or culture that decides who I am, my family has values, and we make decisions based on these values.
I’m all for creating a space that aligns your life with how you want to be living, with the values you want to embody. It’s not “this is the way”—it’s more like, “Are you continuing the stories in a pattern that didn’t work out, but that you don’t see because life just keeps going and life is happening to you?”
It’s not about a man or a woman cooking. My husband, at the moment, works at an office, and I have chosen to not drive too much. So I’m here at home. The fire’s on, and I love when clients come and they can smell an aroma. I love when wood board is on the table. And if someone wants to learn how to do that, that’s great. But if someone loves to work in an office, then “Fuck yeah!” I’m not going to judge you.
How do you see all of this fitting into feminism?
This is feminism! It’s feminism to the highest power, when you can really take care of you and then take care of your tribe. The resistance on International Women’s Day—“Don’t cook!”—I found really interesting. Because I was like, “Well, then don’t eat?” Like, what? But go support women who are cooking in their small businesses? Then don’t support your farmer who probably is a woman or has a wife? I think we’re really confused.
Of course I’m going cook because I’m a mom and a woman and I have a body! But I would say this is not a mind-y realm. This work and this conversation doesn’t live in the mind. There are no rules on how to do this—which, when our bodies hear that, there’s a relief. And we so need this relief as much as we can allow ourselves to have it.
Until we truly know our bodies and we give our bodies the room to really shine and be, and be enough, we will not get what we are hoping for. We are going at this with our minds. And we are bodies. We are minds and bodies, but our bodies make people. We’re all here because of women. Yeah, there were men involved. But our bodies are what formed other bodies. And if we are not okay with our own beyond-incredible bodies being enough,I’m not quite sure where we’re going to head.
The room has to be made in the body for us to lean into this hunger that’s truly there, so that you—we—can truly hear it. And then your hunger becomes a value, and when something becomes a value, that’s when it becomes a part of who you are. And then, and then, you might start cooking every day or every other day or whenever you want to. Or you’re wood board loving every day, or you’re giving yourself permission to take out on Wednesdays and Saturdays and it’s really no big deal. Or you takeout a lot and you wood board love. It doesn’t matter when you know who you are and are loving it.
How do we change the enough-ness? How do we change the permission? And when those things shift, people want to roast carrots.
I loved when you said, “Give yourself, if you need it, permission to order takeout and not be ashamed about it”...
Oh my God—add it to the wood board for the next day! With a chimichurri sauce and some carrots, whatever.
I was wondering if you had any foods that you deem “good” or “bad,” or that you don’t serve or eat?
No. I mean I think that pesticides suck. You know, the board is like a canvas. So I shop for the board—the board just gives so much beauty and permission in so many ways.
When it comes to food, I would say beauty is the first thing. What calls to you? What do you feel like? What reflects who you are? Are the strawberries in plastic feeling like you? If not, you can set them free—put them in a bowl so they can call to you. Those strawberries cut in half on the wood board are going be gorgeous, too.
If someone wants to start the process of kitchen healing, are there any steps they can take on their own?
The first thing you can do is grab a bread knife and a wood board. Grab that shit and get a hold of it. Put food out and see what happens. Don’t wait any longer. No more waiting. And don’t ask if anyone is hungry! Don’t ask yourself either. Just begin to nourish with love.
You can ask yourself about this idea of permission and freedom. Is this happening? Are you feeling it? And if not, know that it is available. Maybe you’re inside a story that’s sticky or tight, or scared to be imperfect—whatever the fears are, breathe and allow yourself to be. Put on some music and enjoy. Even if you have five minutes. That’s why wood board love is so great—all the different possibilities for what your wood board will be; some people do them in little containers because they still can’t let things touch each other. Be wherever you are and know it is okay.
Create wood board love in front of your kids and partners, at meetings, at work. Everyone wants to cut food up especially once they try it. We are missing our grandmothers and their hands... Mine would peel the best Red Delicious apples. I remember her peeling that apple with her manicured nails. She would tell me about the six points at the bottom—that is what made it a Red Delicious. I couldn’t get enough of those apples. There was something to it: I would watch her cut it; I would watch her peel it over the sink. It was her hands, her love, the whole moment nourished me and still does when I think about it.
When people watch you do it, there’s a healing happening. And it’s just cutting food up. But it’s not. It’s like creating a revolution inside.
People love it and then they feel like they can do it—and they can.