StoryCooks: Lena Brook

StoryCooks is a new blog series we are trying to start on Recipeer: personal essays on how they first started to cook by people who care about food. Please share your story with and we'll contact you before we post it.

Guest Author: Lena Brook is Senior Program Associate at the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, where she works to harness the power of the California health care sector to redefine the meaning of hospital food. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in San Francisco, CA. In 2008, she launched the San Francisco School Food Coalition, with the mission of reforming school food programs at the San Francisco Unified School District. She blogs regularly at Happier Meal.

It all started with trying to replicate the mysterious yet tasty nacho cheese sauce from the local movie theater. It was an obsession of mine during middle school and explained the many uneaten blocks of Velveeta, cheddar and American cheese overtaking my parents’ fridge (much to their dismay). My homemade attempts never lived up to my expectations (much to my dismay) and though my culinary taste has evolved since the mid-1980’s, I do owe my lifelong passion to those cheesy years.

Food is everywhere in my life. I am a sustainable food advocate fighting for food that is good, clean, fair and accessible by all, especially in hospitals and schools. I am the primary “chef” in my family, responsible for planning and preparing most meals, most of the time. Then there is the eating part – living in a food obsessed town like San Francisco, I revel in the privilege of our food culture, where one can find excellent versions of cuisine from almost every country in the world, not to mention the most creative, delicious manifestations of our own contribution to the culinary canon, California cuisine.

As the years pass, I find cooking becomes a deeper and more nuanced passion for me. I cook to calm frayed nerves at the end of a long day; I cook as a creative outlet, never tiring of trying new techniques, flavors, recipes. Cooking is my most treasured way to nourish our young family.

And lately, I’m discovering a deeper connection to cooking by teaching others, adults and children. Passing on the skills I’ve acquired through observation (thank you PBS cooking shows, and especially Jacques Pépin!) and more than a decade of practice gives me great pleasure. It also reminds how the art of cooking – home cooking in particular – has been lost as our food system industrialized starting in the 1960’s. Our relationship to food preparation is incredibly schizophrenic today. People cook less and less, yet spend hundreds of hours watching competitive cooking shows annually. I would love to see more Americans returning to their home kitchens to reclaim culinary traditions, and invent new ones.

Believe it or not, I’ve even come to terms with the least appreciated part of cooking: cleaning up! These days, I take pleasure in tidying up the sink and counter at the end of the day, setting a clean slate for what is to come tomorrow.

Remember, more from Lena at Happier Meal


  1. Hope to eat a meal soon with one of my favorite foodie/chefs! I liked Velveeta as a kid, and grew up in a house known for processed 70s food.

    :-) michelle

  2. I am Lena Brooks older daghter Ava.I enjoy cooking and caning with Lena.