I love spending long days in the kitchen, taking my time to make a batch of cookies or chopping up the vegetables for dinner. I like to wait as a pot of soup simmers on the stove and find it relaxing to spend an evening in the kitchen slowly bringing a dinner together.
But while I feel that way, I know not everyone does. People often come to me and say:
"I want to eat well and serve myself and my family good meals, but I can't stand being in the kitchen -- I just don't like it. I dread the thought of having to cook every night. Cooking stresses me out, and that is that. What do I do?"
While I don't feel the same way about cooking, I sympathize with people who don't like to cook. There are plenty of things I know I should do that I just don't like doing. I know I should go to the gym on a regular basis (and I literally live across the street from my gym this year), but I still often dread the thought of lugging myself over there. I can't stand having to change into my gym clothes and spend an hour pedaling a stationary bicycle and lifting weights. I get it: just like I don't like going to the gym, some people just don't like to cook.
I have heard people say in response to this cooking dilemma that if you don't like to cook, don't. Cooking should be about pleasure, they say, and if you can't find pleasure in cooking, there's no point in laboring over a meal in the kitchen.
In my opinion, that response falls short.
At a time when the loss of home cooking has such serious consequences, saying "I don't like to cook" just doesn't cut it. Cooking at home is about a lot more than the time it takes to prepare a meal.
First, it's about eating healthy food that comes from real ingredients -- ingredients that haven't been over-processed, preserved or loaded with artificial ingredients. I'm not saying never eat a potato chip again or never pick up the phone and order in a pizza. We all do that. But if we say McDonald's or Pizza Hut is an acceptable dinner choice for families on most nights, we have big problems. We have kids and adults getting sick -- really sick -- because of the food they eat. We have a few corporations controlling our diets and poisoning our food system. We have people totally detached from the food they're eating and the story of how it got to their plate. And to top it off, we have a method of growing food that is totally and completely unsustainable for the environment in the long run.
Second, cooking is about being with the people in your life. Home cooking allows people to come together, with your family and friends at home or college or wherever you live. It's about finding a way to connect with your community. We live in a culture where parents were never taught how to cook as a child and so don't cook as adults. They aren't teaching their children to cook and so they turn to fast food or prepared food for themselves and their families. Cooking homemade food isn't just about physical health, it's about connecting with people. Learn how to cook and spend time in the kitchen and at the table with the people in your life.
So if you don't take pleasure in cooking, take pleasure in knowing that you are feeding yourself and your family or friends healthy meals from real food. If you don't take pleasure in being in the kitchen, take pleasure in being with the people you love. To all you who dread the kitchen, I tell you that the kitchen is not a scary place. Cooking is not a special talent. Good food should never be intimidating to prepare. People, all people, should know how to cook. Until the mid twentieth century, cooking at home from real ingredients was virtually the only way to eat. Because a few decades of prepared food have brought us regrettably far from the kitchen, that doesn't mean we should be ready to abandon it. If anything we need to realize how important it is to get back there.
Don't think of cooking as a chore, think of it as a necessity. If you can find pleasure in it, and I truly think most people can, all the better. If you don't know how to cook, ask someone you know to teach you. Find a simple recipe and try it out. Cooking is important to our lives more than you might think. Don't let Burger King or the frozen aisle take cooking and everything it means away from you. If you give cooking a little effort, it will give you a lot back.
In the meantime, I'll try to make it to the gym more often.
If you want to get cooking, visit Will's recipe page for simple recipes to make at home.
Will Levitt is a food writer and founder of the blog Dorm Room Dinner. He has contributed to Serious Eats, edible Nutmeg Magazine, Big Girls Small Kitchen, CIBO Magazine and more. He currently lives in NYC.