How to Cook up a Storm With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Learn how one woman single-handedly took on RA—and four other types of arthritis—and created culinary art.

Chrystle Fiedler
More Sharing +

When Melinda Winner heads for the kitchen, miracles happen. Despite having five types of arthritis—including rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—and limited use of her right arm, she is an accomplished cook who has devised creative ways for people with arthritis to succeed in the kitchen. Last year, she published her secrets in a book, A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis. “You can cook with arthritis,” she says. “You just have to learn new techniques.”

Educating Melinda
Melinda started learning early. Her first creation was a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. She was just 10 at the time, and instead of just slapping a couple of pieces of bread together, she cut off the crusts and configured each sandwich into the shape of a pinwheel, which she topped with powdered sugar. “My parents had friends over that day,” she says, “and everyone raved.”

As the youngest of 10 children, Melinda loved being the center of attention. Her skill in the kitchen helped her shine. “I began by making food look beautiful—from basic hamburgers piled high with lettuce and tomatoes to breakfast plates with toast cut into triangles and garnished with citrus slices and parsley.”

She soon realized that she wasn’t cooking just to get attention. “I truly loved it,” says Melinda, now a 48-year-old single mother of three and grandmother of five, who lives in Zephyrhills, FL.

The truly amazing thing about Melinda’s cooking is that she prepares all her food single-handedly—literally. “A birth injury to my shoulder and arm caused irreparable nerve damage,” she explains. “I am unable to extend my right arm, or to lift it any higher than my waist. It’s also several inches shorter than my left arm.”

When she was a child, other kids often taunted Melinda. But cooking was her refuge. “Escaping into the culinary world,” she says, “allowed me some peace and tranquility.”

Arthritis warning signs
When she was 8, Melinda started having unusual aches and pains. “My legs began hurting,” she recalls. “My mother and the doctors thought I had growing pains. When my neck started to hurt, they assumed it was because my arms were uneven. When my knees began to swell, they said it was from playing too hard.” The pain was so bad that Melinda’s parents had to take her to the hospital more than 20 times.

Undaunted, Melinda continued her education. “Supermarkets, farm stands and bakeries were my favorite places,” she says. She also did research on food and cooking at the library. But mostly, she modeled herself after her mother, Dorothy, whom she calls the world’s finest cook. “She taught me things, like the fact that the perfect cooking time for a cupcake is 22 minutes. And that most soups taste better with tomato added, even if you don’t love tomatoes.”

April 2013