Cooking it Up: Food and Faith with Mental Health in the Mix
November 1, 2021
When people think of faith, they often think of prayers, clothing, and community, and many may not immediately think of food. Yet, one of the most important aspects of one’s faith is not just how you dress, act, or pray, but how we communion together over dishes that are more than meets the eye.
On November 14, I am hosting a cooking retreat — Nourishment for the Mind, Body, and Spirit — that will feature two interfaith leaders, Makala Dahleen and Engie Salama, who will share the stories behind their dishes and how faith has shaped every step of their journey of mental wellbeing. The event will allow participants to learn about the faiths of others through the experience of cooking faith-based foods while bringing an understanding of how faith shapes our mental health.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Meet the Rev. Makayla Dahleen
Rev. Makayla of Sterling, Illinois, grew up in a household where both of her parents were Christian — Roman Catholic and Lutheran. However, because they had both been divorced, both of her parents experienced rejection in their churches and were not allowed to take communion. This difficult experience forced her parents to seek a new space to worship, and one day, they found themselves able to take communion at a local evangelical Lutheran church. This kind and welcoming gesture from the pastor showed the family what it truly meant to “break bread” together, despite their past and what they faced.
In sharing this memory, Makayla related this experience to when Jesus shared a meal with the disciples and how important it was for Jesus that everyone have a seat at the table, not just people who were deemed “worthy” by others. Everyone had to be a part to experience collectively the love of Jesus. This faith story and the struggles of her parents never left her heart as she eventually became a pastor committed to the inclusivity of all. Nowadays, she often turns to baking and cooking as her sabbath time to reconnect with herself and God.
Mental health is a common topic that appears in her work as her congregation often comes to her with so many different obstacles and struggles, especially in these uncertain times. As a pastor, she works hard to connect those in need with mental health resources in the community and to integrate the practice of seeking help alongside faith. Through her experiences, she realized faith and culture are linked as she now sees faith as more of a way of life than just a system of belief.
Growing up, Makayla learned the stories of the Bible through food as her chef mother led a unique Sunday school program that focused on different biblical dishes and their stories. As a child, she continued this experience of learning faith through food in her Lutheran summer camp in Wisconsin, where she was introduced to the story of the pretzel. Bread was a common dish she made with her peers at camp, as it was often used as a part of communion and worship in the Bible. Not only did she make her own bread, but her camp group grew everything they ate with the goals of living sustainably with the planet, taking care of God’s creation, and living out faith through what they ate.
Makayla cannot wait to share the true story of the pretzel at the upcoming cooking retreat along with her delicious honey-milk recipe and its origins. When she was in college, Makayla had a chance to celebrate Eid al-Adha, a traditional Islamic holiday. She sat with a Muslim friend, and they took the time to learn about their faith, their commonalities and connection points. While they could not eat the same foods, their stories and curiosity helped them understand each other’s experience. Food was the thread that allowed her to connect with another faith and share her own. She believes this upcoming event will be no different!
Meet Engie Salama
Currently residing in Irvine, California, Engie was born to Egyptian immigrant parents whovare practicing Muslims. As a child, she spent her weekends in school learning about Islamic principles and culture. Successfully moving quickly through her program, she began private tutoring to learn the Quran in depth and to continue her rigorous training in the religion. Now a strong woman of impact and faith, she reflects on how her journey shaped her into who she is today.
Engie remembers how vastly different it was to live out her Muslim faith in America versus when she would go back and visit her family in Egypt, where the majority of people are Muslim. Dedicated to truly representing the Muslim faith, she began wearing her hijab at age 12, right after 9/11. While it was not an easy choice, she wanted people to see her for who she was and appreciate her for it.
Throughout college, Engie was involved in several Muslim associations and interfaith programs with a goal to help others better understand her faith but also for her to understand the faiths of others. She believes it is so important to create safe spaces where people can ask questions and learn about faith, even when controversial topics arise.
Engie sees food as a beautiful way to connect with faith, learn about others’ religious experiences and share feelings evoked through tasting the food. Each meal gives space to create new understandings and memories. She is looking forward to teaching participants how to bake Kahk cookies along with preparing the nostalgic Saleb beverage, both cultural staples important to her Muslim upbringing. In this upcoming retreat, Engie states that people can look forward to positive vibes, a safe space, rejuvenation, and they will be able to ask whatever they want to learn more about. Most of all, she believes this experience will bring the joy we all desperately need in these difficult times we face.
Sabriya Dobbins, award-winning founder of Project Passport, graduated from North Carolina State University with dual bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Social Work. Currently, she is a master’s degree candidate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of the Cumberlands. Sabriya launched Project Passport, a preventative mental wellness company that hosts transformational experiences. These experiences focus on providing tools and solutions to help company teams, organizations, and women take control of their mental health. After experiencing her own mental health struggles, Sabriya created a sacred space to help others with the “little things” before they become big things that result in breakdowns. @projectpassportllc on Facebook and Instagram