On hating cooking

Sixty to seventy percent of my mental bandwidth is taken up by thinking about a) what I just ate b) what will be for the next meal c) what else I could possibly cook with rhubarb during the 17 minutes of rhubarb season d) if Whole Foods might have ramps, or should I try the farmer’s market? 

But I’m fascinated by picky eaters, apathetic eaters, and by people who actively hate to cook. 

Since quarantine started, home cooking has taken on new levels. All of my food blogger peers report skyrocketing traffic. King Arthur Flour said in an interview that they’re selling flour at higher-than-holiday-baking-season rates. Rancho Gordo, the heirloom bean company, told Evan Kleiman on Good Food that sales are up 860% year over year. It’s a good time for home cooking, but it’s not a good time for home cooking if you *hate to cook*.

It feels like cooking is a pre-requisite to adulthood, but one that ends up in clear camps of have- and have-nots. 

Cook- and cook-nots. 

There are people who don’t like the uncertainty of cooking. People say they are unsure about the right next step to take. That recipes are unclear in their measurements, that they have to scroll up and down the page to remember what and how much to add, and that the final outcome never looks like the pictures. 

There are people who don’t like the time investment in cooking. That there’s a requirement to do something that takes anywhere from 10-60 minutes to complete, in order to satiate a bodily imperative. That by the time the food is ready to eat, they’re either not hungry anymore or so hungry they could eat a whole fridge. 

There are people who aren’t confident in their skills or don’t have “the touch” with cooking -- that the food they make sucks and just doesn’t taste good. 

There are little things that nip at you and punish you for cooking — a sleeve that gets wet for some reason, a stain on your shirt.

There’s the economics of cooking -- that going to the grocery store is oppressive and takeout is easier (and honestly, sometimes, cheaper).  

There’s the feminist stance -- that cooking is an act of subjugating women into domestic roles and reflective of 1950s cultural ideals. My maternal proto-feminist grandmother famously owned/only used a copy of the I Hate to Cook book. (More on this in the future. I have feelings here.)

And of course, for some people, they have more important things to do. Like this story in Vulture written by Jerry Saltz-- among many other takeaways, that doing anything other than their primary calling for some people is not worth the time.

Normally, food bloggers would be like, here are 10 tips that solve all your problems!! 8 weird tricks to love cooking! Here’s how you organize your mise en place so that cooking comes out! Or, just try this hack and your problems are solved!!!

I’m not so sure about that. 

In the cult of domesticity, food/cooking and cleaning/tidying are, to me, under the same umbrella. To be a good homemaker, even in the 21st-century definition of the word where women work more and theoretically split household duties, is to keep a tidy home where the food is delicious and socks don’t linger on the floor. 

I’m a damn good cook, but I cannot clean. I hate cleaning the way some people hate cooking. It takes time out of my day. It’s tedious. I have to wait for stuff to finish drying so I can wear my current-favorite yoga pants. I ruin dry-clean-only blouses by just throwing them in the wash. I’m not hoarder-messy; I can clean if I’m backed into a corner, but it feels like a punishment from an amorphous authority figure. “Go clean your room.” “Make your bed.” “Pick the clothes up off the floor.” These were all phrases jabbed at me as a child, words that felt like a cutting judgment of my character, words that amplified and zeroed in on my unkempt nature. It brings me no joy to clean out a closet. I despise folding laundry. I know that you’re supposed to clean as you go, to make use of “little minutes,” but I can’t. I leave cupboards open. My vanity is disheveled with makeup and jewelry. I have nothing in Virgo. 

The best I can do is make piles of clean clothes versus piles of dirty clothes. I’m an avid proponent of the idea that “the dishes need to soak.” The only thing that motivates me to clean is having people over. I try really hard to not affect others with my allergic reaction to cleaning, but sometimes others are impacted, and it’s deeply embarrassing, the way I imagine my grandmother (the one who proudly owned a copy of the I Hate to Cook cookbook) might feel serving a burnt roast and mealy mashed potatoes. It’s a reflection of my character, I fear. I’m sure others feel disrespected by it, but it’s nothing personal, I swear. It’s a top 5 biggest character flaw for me, besides my instinct to deflect apologizing. I once got roasted in an all-company email chain for a coffee cup with an inch of remnant liquid + potential development of mold in said coffee, left in my cubicle. My parents comment on how I need to hire someone who can follow me around and pick up after me. My husband regularly brings up my tidiness in couple’s counseling. I’m trying. And yet. 

All is this to say that for the folks out there who can’t cook, who hate to cook, who are frustrated or apathetic towards the ritual of cooking -- you’re right. On all counts. 

You’re right!

Cooking does take up time.

You do have to wait for stuff to cook in the oven and there’s an element of uncertainty of whether it will work out or not. 

A failed bake is heartbreaking. Wasting ingredients you paid good money for hurts. 

Your sleeves do get wet when you’re doing the dishes. 

Flour does puff up from a mixer, like LeBron James’ chalk claps before a game, and get all over you. I have no hack for removing oil stains from your clothing.

The sum of the cost of ingredients can cost more than takeout. 

If your stomach is rumbling when you realize that you should probably fix yourself something for dinner, you’ll be Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant coming out of hibernation from underneath a bearskin level hungry by the time the meal is ready. 

It’s snobby. Foodies are annoying.

It can feel really personal and like a character flaw that being a good cook, or even liking to cook, isn’t in your DNA. To that I say, do you. Eat cheese and crackers for lunch. DiGiorno is honestly tasty and frozen food is a miracle of science. Take out definitely can be cheaper than some home-cooked meals. Who cares!!! Focus your energy on your strengths and just do your best in the areas that aren’t. 

I won’t call you out on your lack of cooking if you don’t call me out on my lack of cleaning.


What I’m reading: I can’t stop thinking about this story from Vulture by Jerry Saltz.

What I’m cooking: Currently obsessed with this low sugar rhubarb compote. I just ate it for lunch with some yogurt. I am about to make some lamb meatballs for dinner. 

Something I love: My pre-order of Fly By Jing chili oil finally arrived, and it’s worth the hype. I put it on some cucumbers, like this recipe here.