Preserving food is a way of life that people have been doing to survive since probably the dawn of people—and it’s a practice that most rural trans and non-binary folks are well familiar with. But what maybe hasn’t existed for that long is the concept that preserving food can actually be meditative, fun, calming, and, well, just good therapy. And you don’t need a backyard, a garden, or acreage to do it! Just a few fruits or veggies, a few materials, and you’ll be on your way.
Canning as meditation
Sometimes trans survivors of sexual violence experience a disconnect between our bodies and our environment or surroundings because of post-assault trauma response (you can learn more about this from FORGE’s self-help guide). Many times we dissociate, experience numbness, hypersensitivity, hyperarousal, or other symptoms. Canning and preserving is a (mostly) quiet method of intentional movement that those who enjoy cooking may particularly find pleasurable.
It’s all about slowing down. The Slow Food Movement is a food justice initiative that began with the goal to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” This goal of slowing down can be helpful if you’re trying to be more present in your body. Slowing down is also a Buddhist philosophy of reducing stress and creating mindfulness by doing one thing at a time and doing it slowly.
Canning food, freezing food, and preparing food can do just that. Having something to set your mind to, and thus release tensions and anxiety, helps to reestablish a relationship to your surroundings, the earth, and your body. Here are some more reasons to give canning or preserving a try:
Canning and preserving engages all of the senses:
- Touching and preparing the food (even picking it from the ground, if you have that ability)
- Smelling the herbs and the food as it cooks (for those foods that need to be cooked)
- Hearing the water bubbling and the lids of the jars pop when they seal (very gratifying!)
- Tasting the sauces and stealing bits of the produce off the cutting board
- Seeing the jars on the shelf at the end, all lined up and beautifully packed
Canning and preserving can be as immediate or as slow as you like. For example, you can simmer upwards of five pounds of dried beans and take an entire day to can them, if that’s what your body and spirit tell you that you need. If not, there are quicker recipes like strawberry freezer jam that can be completed in about sixty to ninety minutes.
Canning or preserving can be as social or as solitary as you like. Canning and preserving with a group of friends can be a fabulous social activity—particularly if you don’t have the confidence, time, or ability to do it alone. You could host a canning party, or you could volunteer for a local food justice organization like Food Not Bombs or take a free local class on preservation. And of course, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as heading to the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning and buying bags of produce (to preserve or not!). Don’t forget about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships (some offer reduced rates based on income).
Canning or preserving can be as complicated or as simple as you like. As mentioned earlier, you can put together enough produce to can for an entire day, or you can simply make homemade holiday gifts for people like a quick chutney or jelly. The act of preserving food and giving it away as gifts is an awesome way to express gratitude for the earth and for your friends or family. So, on the days when you’re really tired or really affected by trauma responses, you can do as much or as little as you like. No pressure. It’s all up to you.
If you’re looking to try your hand at canning, here are some great resources:
- The Ball website has just about everything you need to know to get started.
- A Pinterest search for canning recipes turns up lots of great recipes!
- You can search Amazon’s “warehouse deals” for canning supplies on the cheap, or check out a local thrift store—many folks give lots of good canning supplies away.
- Put ’em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton is an awesome and super accessible book on canning and preserving.
And just because, here are some other good related resources:
- Learn more about food insecurity in LGBT communities.
- Have a small yard? Create an edible landscape. Have no yard? Try container gardening!
- Want more self-care ideas for trans survivors? Check out Trans Sexual Violence Survivors: A Self-Help Guide to Healing and Understanding.