“You cook, I clean.”
This phrase has become something of a personal mantra in the apartment that I share with my boyfriend, Chris. He loves to cook, so I do my part by putting leftovers away and ensuring no crumb or sauce-lined pan is left behind. (A practical concern when you have two intrepid and perpetually hungry cats.)
“Cooking relaxes me,” friends and acquaintances say to me, usually during a conversation in which I share that I rarely, if ever, make my own food. I try to visualize the kitchens to which they retreat after a long day. I picture the motions they go through and steps they take; I sense the satisfaction they get slicing, chopping, kneading, squeezing, stirring and mashing after eight hours of tapping on a keyboard. There’s gratification in creating something that’s greater (and more edible) than the sum of its parts. There are many reasons why people cook. I get it.
I used to say I was too busy to cook, but that excuse only works when you’re not with someone who feels energized in the kitchen after a 10-hour work day. (But, let’s be real, Chris is a unicorn.) Sometimes I play the Convenience Card, rattling off names of restaurants within a stone’s throw of home or lunch delivery spots stored in my phone as “favorites.” There’s no end to the reasons why I don’t cook, but at the root of my excuses is one long-standing fact: I feel that I can’t.
It’s a modern-day conundrum, and it’s more prevalent than you might think. Why bother to cook when you don’t know how or when you live in a city (or an apartment) where you don’t have to? I went on a soul search of sorts for the answer to this question, and while I can’t speak for every self-proclaimed non-cook, I discovered a few compelling reasons why it’s worth trying.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my family took pride in cooking meals in large quantities. At the time, I didn’t realize not everyone made soup in vats and had it as an accompaniment to dinner throughout the week — or that eating both the meat of an animal and its insides was “weird.” While I didn’t inherit my parents’ penchant for big pots and containers (“all the better to store food in, my dear”), I’ll always admire their efficiency in the kitchen: There was almost always leftover rice to make fried rice the next day. And when we baked, we doubled the servings to gift to neighbors and relatives.
Some of my favorite dishes are textbook multitaskers: They feed you more than once (post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, anyone?). And many actually taste better after the first day, like crumb cake. Yum.
Leftovers are easy to come by when you control how much to make.
What Is Cow? How Much?
When you hand off the responsibility of feeding yourself to another person, you end up paying for far more than what you eat no matter how you frame it. In New York, you’d be hard-pressed to spend less than $40 a day on food and drinks alone. In a typical weekday, you can easily spend $10 on lunch, $2.50 on coffee (or $4 on a latte, if you’re feeling generous) and $12 for an after-work cocktail (and that’s not including tip — or a second cocktail). And dinner can run the gamut; even a standard bowl of ramen will set you back $15 with tax and tip. Generally speaking, restaurants will triple the cost of ingredients when determining the price of a dish if only to cover the basics: food, labor and operating expenses. What’s more, it’s easy to succumb to cravings or complacency when you’re in someone else’s domain, where options are limited to a menu and decisions of the chef. While I trust most chefs and cast my vote of confidence whenever I dine out, I wonder: Were these vegetables found in nature or grown in a greenhouse? Should I consume the same portion size as someone who’s twice my weight? Did this cow wander a field, or was she locked in a cage? What does “organic” mean?
It’s easy to turn a blind eye and pay someone — anyone! — to make you a meal, but the consequences, calories and unanswered questions remain your own. (Cue dramatic music.)
Cooking Is the New Black
It’s never been a better time to learn to cook. Chefs are celebrities. Home cooks land book deals and become authors. If it involves food, there’s probably someone looking to build a business on it, from sourcing, production, preparation, cooking, promotion or discovery. Even ingredient-centric events draw crowds with promises of popular preparations and/or ingenuity. It’s undeniably cool to cook. Besides, who can resist a party called aPORKalypse?
Sharing Is Caring
When news reporters and the media announced Hurricane Sandy last fall, I set out to build an emergency kit: a 12-pack of bottled water, cheddar cheese, mozzarella, dried pasta, bread, peanut butter and food for my cats. Chris had other ideas and made meatballs to go with the mozzarella. He made enough meatballs to last a week. I poked fun at him, saying if we lost electricity, his plans would be doomed. Instead of being deterred, he made pork wontons, too.
We got lucky and were left unscathed by Sandy. But had things turned out any different, the food wouldn’t have gone to waste: Instead of hoarding meatballs for ourselves, for instance, we would have fed neighbors and friends in need. That’s the thing with cooking, you don’t just do it for yourself — it’s largely selfless.
My old college roommate used to say “Sharing is caring.” Few things exemplify this maxim better than making food to enjoy with someone else. And, you know, you can’t do that if you can’t cook.
Amy Cao is the host of Stupidly Simple Snacks, where she tackles easy dishes that both novice and expert cooks can enjoy using basic kitchen equipment and ingredients you can easily get at most grocery stores.