On Cooking and Connection

I am going to admit something; I am judgmental sometimes because it makes me feel better about my own flaws. I realize this is a horrible flaw in and of itself but there it is. This plays into my feelings about cooking. You see I have a lot of flaws when it comes to food. While I have friends who adhere to amazingly restrictive diets, some for health reasons, others because of strict moral code, I do not. In fact, my favorite meal is spaghetti with meat sauce, which 90 percent of my friends cannot eat for one reason or another. So how can I feel superior? I cook a majority of the meals I eat. I eat out for sure, and have lunches out with coworkers on occasion but for the most part, my husband or I make the majority of what I eat.

For a long time I made assumptions about why other people didn’t cook for themselves. Because I was up in my ivory tower of cooking feeling like I was awesome, I didn’t bother to ask anyone I knew why they weren’t cooking more. I just made assumptions. I decided recently I wanted to see what the deal was, so I posted on my twitter and Facebook the following: “If you are someone who does not regularly cook your own meals, why not? Truly curious.”

Some responses I got made me feel rather guilty for my feelings of superiority.

One friend who lives in New York City said he would like to cook more but lives in a place with a kitchen too small to store much food. This is not surprising since from what I have heard people live in closets in New York City. If he wants to cook he first had to go to the grocery store, adding an hour of preparation time to any meal.  Even though I love going to the grocery, I could see how doing it daily would start to wear on your desire to cook. His comments seemed tinged with sadness, that made me regret how I take for granted my huge kitchen with tons of cabinets

Another friend talked about her busy life and child. While I am busy and have a child, I feel very lucky; my employer has allowed me to have an alternative schedule. I am at the office early but leave by 5 p.m. most days, in time to spend time with my family and prepare a normal dinner. My friend works on several projects, as does her husband. When I added up the number of hours she works, I am doubtful she even gets a reasonable amount of sleep, little alone time to prepare a meal. When you add a child to the mix like that, she is probably lucky if she eats three meals a day regardless of where they come from. In addition, she is vegan so its not like spaghetti and meat sauce are an option for her.

Another friend posted a link to an article about a man who created a drink that could sustain an adult without the need for eating.

Though my friend pointed out that it was similar to having a smoothie or shake, the idea of giving up eating was depressing to me.  I understand the concept but to me it seems like going one step closer to treating myself like a machine versus an animal. As much as I love technology, I am not ready to be assimilated. I found the concept rather depressing because it basically seems to stem from a lack of time to eat a proper meal.

My antidotal sample seemed to point to a lack of time to cook, which isn’t a huge surprise to me. I think what surprised me is that the people who didn’t have time wished they did have time to cook. I guess, while busy feeling superior, I assumed people were content to eat out and it turns out to be untrue.

There are a million articles about work/life balance and I am not sure I am any more knowledge to add. In fact, it is something I have struggled with for a long time and will likely continue to struggle with for the foreseeable future. It seems cooking for ourselves is another causality of that battle. Another thing we have to delegate out. I think there is more emotion tied up in losing that ability than other tasks. I don’t think for example people mourn sending their laundry out versus doing it themselves (though I could totally be wrong on that, I know I feel nothing but joy for not having to do my own laundry from time to time when I choose to send it out.)

I think no matter what there are always emotions in eating. I am not just talking about  “eating your feelings.” I am talking about a connection. When you cook for yourself, you are creating a direct link between the raw ingredients and the final product that goes in your mouth. No matter how healthy you eat, when it is made by some unknown person like at a restaurant you lose a little of the connection. And the ability to prepare a meal for the people you love also creates connection. By having the delegate this aspect of our lives we are losing the connection to our food and ourselves and I think we all realize it. That is why my friends who don’t have time to cook aren’t joyful that they can let someone else cook for them all the time. They know they are missing out on a connection. They don’t get to see a raw mushroom that looks kind of weird transform into part of a delicious stir-fry. And they miss out on making something that their partner or child thinks is delicious and getting to enjoy that happiness.  They are missing the simple pleasure of satisfying your own hunger.

I wish I could wrap this up with an easy solution and make this less of a bummer. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution to making time in your life and figuring out how to use that time to feed yourself. In a world where people work 100 hours a week outside the home, finding time to squeeze in cooking is like playing a complicated version of Tetris. I think it is important to figure it out for all the ideas about connection that I discussed (and some I didn’t). Even if you aren’t cooking most of your meals, perhaps just making Sunday Supper a priority or Friday Pizza Night would be a start.  But like I said, it could be far more complicated for some than others to make the time.

Also, I am not going to feel all high and mighty anymore about my ability to cook most of my own meals. Instead, I am going to feel lucky and appreciative that I have the luxury of time to do so.

2 thoughts on “On Cooking and Connection

  1. The barrier to cooking originally was not having food in the fridge. I didn’t buy fresh groceries unless I was 100% sure I was going to prepare it. So I didn’t buy food, and therefore didn’t have anything to prepare.

    Convincing myself that it was OK to throw out food is what has enabled me to cook. I don’t always have the time or energy cook, and throwing out food was so offensive that I didn’t buy food, and therefore had nothing healthy to prepare when I had the time.

    While I wish I never threw out rotting food, I convinced myself that it wasn’t evil to do so. Now I have chicken, eggs, lettuce, shallots, parsley, vegetables, etc. in the fridge. It still makes me sick to compost so much food, having food in the fridge has enabled me to cook more regularly — whenever I have the time and inclination, which is getting to be much more often.

    1. I struggle with this with veggies and fruit too. I hate waste but it seems impossible not to have some waste with fresh ingredients. I console myself with the fact that restaurants throw way more away than any individual household any day due to various restrictions they have.

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