The Unexpected Connection between Cooking, Tango and Therapy

…not necessarily in that order!

Buenos Aires wander— Photo by Henrique Félix on Unsplash

Therapy is a big part of life in Argentina. The country has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world. I did not know that before I moved here and I was pleased to discover this feature of Argentina since I think mental health is often undervalued. Here in Buenos Aires, going to therapy is a common thing to do.

One might wonder what made this cultural exception occur in Latin America. Up to Mariano Plotkin, Argentina experienced a cultural boom after dictatorial President Juan Perón was overthrown in 1955. “That opened a moment of fast cultural modernization in Argentina,” says Plotkin. “There was a big reception of anything coming from Europe. Psychoanalysis was seen by many as an emancipatory doctrine.” This trend means it’s perfectly acceptable to re-arrange work meetings around a therapy appointment, which would be quite unusual where I come from or in most countries.

For Graciela Bar de Jones, who was interviewed by CCTV, this cultural exception comes from immigration. She has observed that countries where immigration has formed a big part, psychoanalysis tends to be more popular than in countries with strong roots. In 1910 7 of 10 inhabitants in Argentina were immigrants.

“We are near our feelings as a culture and we are used to share our feelings more easily than other cultures” Graciela Bar de Jones

Individual therapy is not the only means for anyone in Argentina to get to talk about anything in a friendly environment. In Buenos Aires, there are several other events you can attend, like symposiums and talks in cafes (cafes are widely spread all over the city). There are also several group meetings that are like group therapy. They are a place where anyone can go to talk about anything, but the most important part of these meetings is to listen, since hearing people’s stories can shed light on something happening in your life. It’s a moment when one takes time to think about themselves and their experiences, without the distraction of smartphones or television. Some of these meetings are free and open to anyone. I really enjoy going to some of the weekly meetings organized by BabelPsi, a community focusing on psychotherapy and the study of intercultural experiences and migration. They are a safe place where you can meet inspiring people that are not judging you in any way.

Sofa — Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash

I can think of another example illustrating the huge presence of psychology in Argentina: psycho-tango, a movement that experiences the marriage of psychoanalysis and the deep, emotionally-charged dance of tango. People tend to associate Argentina with tango and a lot of foreigners come to Buenos Aires to dance tango and what they might get out of the practice is more than the dance itself, but a better understanding of themselves.

Tango dancer — Source unknown

“Tango is a truth drug. It lays bare your problems and your complexes, but also the strengths you hide from others so as not to vex them. It shows what a couple can be for each other, how they can listen to each other. People who only want to listen to themselves will hate tango.”

Nina George

A few weeks ago, while I was researching the internet about the latest cooking trends, I came upon another movement called kitchen-therapy — a new way to understand cooking, where culinary performance and the final result are set aside in the service of creativity and personal growth. This is a form of art therapy that uses cooking as the means of communication and expression.

I had the opportunity to talk to Emmanuelle Turquet a few weeks ago, she runs a workshop in Paris called Cuisine-Therapy. There are a few similarities between Cuisine Therapy and Take Me Cooking. Take Me Cooking is a platform connecting travelling food enthusiasts and local passionate cooks through hands-on cooking experiences. I think cooking with local people is a way to meet them, like cooking is a go-between in order to attain personal growth for Emmanuelle’s Art Therapy in the kitchen. Another similarity is the fact that people don’t need to have cooking skills before the workshop, since we are not asking them to cook the fanciest meal, but just to contribute and express emotions through the cooking, whether it is to better understand themselves in the case of Kitchen-Therapy or to express gratitude to the host of a Take Me Cooking experience.

Cuisine-Therapy workshop

When I asked for Emmanuelle’s opinion about Take Me Cooking, she said that the concept had potential since it helps to connect people around food. The kitchen is known to be the one room where secrets and tips are exchanged, so what better place to really meet people and learn about their culture.

In her workshops, “people that had never met before share contact details and sometimes keep in touch because they have shared a unique moment together.” She added, “the kitchen is an environment conducive to building strong relationships.”

I also asked her what features she believed hosts and guests should have. Here’s her answer: “The host should be somehow generous and able to give a bit of himself, without wanting anything in return. The guests should be able to receive what is given to them (the food and the invitation to the host’s kitchen) and consider the efforts made by the hosts and be thankful. A typical guest should be curious, able to listen and keen to discover more about the host and his culture and traditions.”

“We are friends only after we’ve shared a meal” Jean Tremolieres

I must say that I agree with this quote by the French nutrition specialist. My best friends all have in common with me a sincere love of food.

Meal shared — A nice picnic I enjoyed with fellow travellers last week during a trek with lamas in Northern Argentina

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