Campfire Cuisine and Positive Peer Culture
At Legacy Outdoor Adventures and Juniper Canyon Recovery Center, our clients cook shared meals over a fire. The significance of cooking on a fire that one creates oneself should not be overestimated. Especially for those who feel unequipped for life, inadequately prepared to face its challenges, doubtful that they have the capability to leave the safety of their parents’ home and take care of themselves, creating fire by means of materials they harvested in nature and cooking on that same fire are invaluable methods to increase their confidence and self-worth.
Most clients, it is probably fair to say, arrive at Legacy and Juniper Canyon without much experience cooking. Someone who is struggling with mental health and/or addiction spends as little time taking care of or nurturing themselves.
Cooking on a fire is a time-consuming ordeal in which the cook must remain engaged and mindful throughout. The clients cannot simply leave the meal on the fire and turn to some other activity. They must continue to stoke the fire so that it cooks the food. They must keep an eye on the food, stirring it and turning the pot or pan occasionally, so that the meal cooks evenly and does not burn. The more engaged the clients are with the process of cooking, the better the meal will turn out. The clients learn a significant lesson: active engagement is positively correlated with satisfaction. The meal itself satisfies physically, and the act of engaged cooking satisfies mentally and emotionally. Prior to Wilderness Therapy, clients were likely disengaged with life. Cooking on a fire teaches clients how to be engaged with a single life-sustaining activity, and as a result of their active engagement they make a satisfying meal.
Cooking on a campfire is radically different from how clients at Legacy and Juniper Canyon had previously lived their lives, in that they are cooking not only for themselves, but also for the other members of the team. Clients come to Legacy with feelings of uselessness. Immersed in their addiction or mental health struggles, they have been concerned almost solely with getting their personal needs met. Cooking can provide the space for clients to contribute to the group and have a positive and tangible effect on the well-being of the other members of the team. The cooks learn to give a meal without asking for anything in return, and the other members of the team learn how to accept this gift with gratitude.
At Legacy and Juniper Canyon, there is a gratitude circle before each meal. Each person expresses a few things in their life that they are grateful for. The gratitude circle is a physical representation of the importance of community. It is a chance for clients to express loving sentiments towards others that they might otherwise not express, and it is also an opportunity for clients to learn how to take in those loving sentiments. At almost every gratitude circle, some person or a few people mention their appreciation for the cooks. Learning how to accept gratitude from others in real time can prove to be a challenge for clients. Opening their hearts to such sincere thankfulness from others challenges clients’ beliefs in their own inadequacy and incompetence. That they have been of use to others, that their effort has been worthwhile and is valued as such, is clear and undeniable.
Cooking around a fire has inherent therapeutic benefits for clients. It necessitates engagement from the cooks, and as a result of this engagement all involved experience a definite feeling of satisfaction. It also provides a chance for the cooks to contribute to others in a clear way as well as an opportunity for the other members of the team to accept this contribution with gratitude. Both the giving and receiving of the meal strengthen the bonds of the community as a whole. The members of the team are literally sustained by each other’s efforts.
Of course, clients at Legacy and Juniper Canyon also spend time at our Base, where instead of cooking around a fire, they help out in kitchens with sinks, stoves and electricity. Here though, clients still experience camaraderie as they share food and meals, and gratitude for each other. It is one way in which our Hybrid Model for Wilderness Therapy for Adults helps clients generalize lessons from the field into everyday life.