Volume 34, No. 16
Watching or Participating?
One of the first cooking shows Amanda and I obsessively watched was “Top Chef” on Bravo. In fact, one of the winners, Richard Blais, who had an intimidating faux-hawk and genuine cooking skills, opened a restaurant called Flip Burger down the street from a house we rented in Atlanta. Amanda and I became regulars there, noshing on the fancy burgers and sipping Krispy Kreme milkshakes. And we’ve passed on our love for delicious food and cooking shows to our girls. Their current favorites are “Chopped” and “Kids Baking Challenge.” They often bring their foodie enthusiasm into dinner conversations as we talk about how to incorporate four crazy ingredients into a sumptuous meal.
The process of watching a cooking show is called vicarious consumption. And this type of removed consumption can often be more rewarding to those of us who can’t cook than the process of cooking and eating in real life. Because, you see, most people enjoy and like food, even if we aren’t the ones eating it. Ashwini Nadkarni, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, says that “some patients have actually shared their practice of this behavior with me. What they’ve articulated is that cooking shows are so riveting – in spite of the person’s hatred of cooking ― because it makes them believe in the possibility of what could be.”
At the beginning of the coronavirus-inspired isolation and quarantine, we watched what was going on in the world and were consumed with fear and worry. Yet, beyond the fear, we imagined exiting the pandemic stronger and more passionate for change, believing in the possibility of what could be. But the longer the pandemic lasts, I feel like our energy and enthusiasm is fading. Our brains and our spirits need participation in activities and investment in each other. I saw a study recently that showed a brain scan of a child watching someone play with a toy and the MRI images of that child’s brain lit up. However, when the child actually had the opportunity to play with the toy, the kid’s brain was on fire with activity!
We are in a difficult time and we long for our brains and our spirits to be on fire with passion and purpose. Yet, the pandemic has seemed to transition us from participating in activities to simply watching from the sidelines. We watch peoples’ lives as we scroll through social media rather than getting outside and making memories. We watch content creators play video game streams rather than playing the games ourselves. We binge cooking shows rather than spending time in the kitchen and experimenting with new meals.
How do we participate safely in the world during this difficult season when most of us feel as if we are sitting passively on the sidelines? What can we do in these uncertain days to move the needle from watching to participating? Although we don’t have control over the virus, just like we don’t have control of the weather, we are in charge of our lives and can find small and safe ways to be actively engaged. Maybe it means walking in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s trying out a new hobby. You might explore ways to make a little extra cash. Maybe you could begin to work on that book you’ve been meaning to write. Maybe you could join in Royal Lane’s book discussion on White Fragility as we find ways to dismantle systemic racism, or join a Sunday School class, or participate in meditative prayers on Fridays. Maybe, just maybe, it means getting in the kitchen and cooking a meal to share with family and socially-distanced friends. Whatever we choose, it’s time to do less observing and more doing. Are we ready to take a small step from watching to participating? I know I am.