Cooking up new ways to wellbeing

Allow yourself time for privacy,
quiet and introspection.

Bíodh am agat féin don aonaracht, ciúnas
agus an bhféinmhachnamh.

Writer and Cook, Jacques Brennan will launch his cookbook ‘Hungry Soul’ at 49 North Street on Saturday, October 12, between 11am and 1pm. This is just one of the many events, says Mary O’Brien, taking place as part of the West Cork FeelGood festival, which has been organising events to celebrate World Mental Health week since 2011.  

With research showing a direct link between our stomach’s health (good gut health) and how we feel, more and more people are opting to follow a plant-based diet. Hungry Soul is a vegan everyday cooking manual with methods of cooking essential staples, a guide to ingredients, useful utensils and culinary techniques and meals for every occasion – dishes that are simple, cheap and most importantly, taste great!

It was written for those learning to cook, for the uninitiated, for college students, young adults leaving home, for anyone who could use a little help in the kitchen – instructions on all areas of cooking from boiling pasta to a four course meal.   

Jacques Brennan grew up in a vegetarian family watching his mother cook in her French style – simple dishes, many salads, plenty of fresh herbs and never less than five or six parts to the meal.

“As soon as I was old enough, I was ‘asked’ to help,” says Jacques. “Cooking for seven was a lot of work: peeling carrots, peeling potatoes, washing lettuce and washing dishes! I learnt to make soup, to cook rice, to boil pasta, to toss the salad and to make home fried potatoes – my father’s contribution. My mother had her own way of doing things and we were taught to follow them: vegetables chopped small and uniformly, very little salt and parsley on everything. Before leaving home, we children all knew how to cook and, I might add, quite well…my opinion!”

Over the years, Jacques developed his own style in the kitchen…garlic on everything, lots of chilli and pools of olive oil!

And so Jacques decided to put pen to paper to share his passion and knowledge of cooking with people who could use the information.

“What gives us more pleasure than good food?” says Jacques simply.

“And food, good food, mainly whole food – unrefined and unprocessed, is at the heart of our physical mood. Elements produced in a healthy stomach send messages to the brain, which in turn make us feel good and that is where the saying comes from, ‘Good Food equals Good Mood’.”

It’s a proven fact. Food is at the heart of our wellbeing. Research by Dr. Ted Dinan at University College Cork has demonstrated that what we eat affects us, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

According to Jacques there is another important aspect to food and wellbeing – the act of cooking. “In the realm of health and wellness, there is a set of guidelines, summarised as the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. It is recommended to stay active, to notice the good things in your life, to keep learning, be connected with others and to give to others. The act of cooking can incorporate all of these and I always like to incorporate the acts of giving and sharing food with others in my workshops; and I have found this act of giving to be beneficial to my own wellbeing.”

Jacques has been visiting West Cork for nearly 25 years. “Not only are the festivals very good but we enjoy the culture, the food of course and the land. Last year we discovered Lough Hyne and keep coming back to it.”

This time last year on World Mental Health Day, Jacques hosted a workshop entitled ‘Food and Mood’. Due to the interest of those who attended, he was invited back to 49 North Street on a more regular basis. “Those present were interested in the links between the acts of preparing food, cooking, listening and talking to each other and ultimately creating connections and community when we cook and share food together,” explains Jacques.

“I am well aware, having experienced my children growing up and learning to cook, of how cooking and good food affects ones wellbeing and I would say sense of purpose. To be able to share this passion with others, to offer my cooking and cooking knowledge and perhaps to listen to others’ experiences of cooking – to cook, to break bread, to bring people together – to have ‘creative culinary conversations’, is something I am very much looking forward to.”

I hope they are ready for me?…and do not mind the strong smell of garlic and basil!

From his time there, Jacques describes 49 North Street as a community of friends. “49 North Street seems to me to be a refuge from the stresses of everyday life, a space to pause, a place to have a chat, a drop in centre, a support group, a Wellness Centre…it is all these and more, and the kettle is always on for that much needed cup of tea or coffee.”

“In a time when the support of a community is rare, when you feel alone and nowhere to turn to, you can come into 49 North Street. If they cannot help, they will find someone who will.”

The book launch is only part of Jacques’s involvement in this year’s Feelgood festival. He will also be serving food at the launch of the Benign and Beautiful book, on October 10 at 1pm, coinciding with World Mental Health Day. This event will also feature music by classical guitarist, Eamon Sweeney. Benign and Beautiful is a collection of proverbs by Mr. M.P.Garg, an academic and educator who spent his later years , distilling his observations and learning on how to live a happy and healthy life, in a weekly newspaper column in India. The book also contains beauitful images by artist Aoise Tutty Jackson, who comments: 

“The road ahead is not always clear, however how we approach the journey is the important part. ‘Benign and Beautiful’ is full of wisdom, which though at our cores we may know the essence of, we tend to forget. Having reminders of this innate wisdom in many different shapes and forms can help us to lead a more authentic and joyful life. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to photograph and consider the images that best illustrated this sense of presence and essentiality on my own journey.” 

Each photograph in the book is accompanied by a proverb with an accompanying translation into Irish, by native Irish speaker Deirdre Ní Luaisigh who also leads the informal ‘pop up; Gaeltacht ‘Fite Fuaite’, which meets at 49 North Street on Tuesday mornings and to which all are welcome. 

Fite Fuaite is a ‘Pop Up Gaeltacht’Irish language circle that aims to

provide a creative and enjoyable space where all levels of Irish can be spoken in an informal and relaxed environment. Deirdre adds “conversation, Twitter and a little craic more than grammar and the modh coinniolach feature at Fite Fuaite. For the many people who say they wished they knew a little more Irish, well here is a great place to start”.

An evolving colloboration between the Feel good festival and the Skibbereen Arts Festival has also culmininated in some other exciting events on the programme: There will be a screening of the award-winning film ‘Irene’s Ghost’, which follows a son’s search to find the mother he never knew and was screened to acclaim earlier this year at the Skibbereen Arts Festival.  Due to demand, there will be an afternoon screening of this beautiful film on October 10.  

Following on from his sold-out workshop on Memoir, during the Skibbereen Arts Festival this year, award-winning writer Arnold Thomas Fanning, returns for the Feelgood festival. Fanning is the author of ‘Mind on Fire – A memoir of Madness and Recovery’ (published by Penguin books), which the Irish Times described as ‘A Triumph out of tragedy’. He will lead a workshop exploring Life Writing on Friday, October 11, and will return to North Street for monthly workshops over the coming year. This is the only event of the festival requiring a fee of €10 and prior booking, is essential, as spaces are limited.

So now so you have seen the menu, drop in to meet Jacques and others at the Feelgood Festival, at 49 North Street October 8-12, 2019.

The West Cork Feelgood festival, is an initiative of Cork Mental Services with support from Healthy Ireland, The National Learning Network and Skibbereen Arts Fesitival. 

For more information, go to For updates on events visit 49 North Street on Facebook.

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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