Every time I turn around, some new authority is howling about how everything that’s wrong with our society — namely, obesity and fraying families — is because nobody cooks any longer.
All our problems will be solved, we are told, if we just shop organic, gather around the gas range while we cut, parse, steam and bake, and put a healthy dinner on the table. Oh, and that would probably be an attractively set table with good china, fresh flowers, and napkin rings. Lively conversation will ensue and everybody will get thin and happy.
Good grief. I know I am supposed to be deeply relieved by this new batch of organic wisdom. But I’m not. Instead, it flings me into a neverending shame spiral.
If the answer to the failures of the world is home cooking, then I might as well hang it up. I come from a long line of horrible cooks. In fact, I can’t quite decide which of my grandmothers was the worse cook.
I spent hours at my maternal grandmother’s table, going eyeball to eyeball with a slimy mound of okra, which I refused to eat. Eventually, I was sent to bed with an empty stomach, which was supposedly my punishment, but I never really saw it that way. My paternal grandmother spent most of her time chain-smoking Parliaments, which meant she was too preoccupied to cook, but at least we never had any okra faceoffs. Anyway, Granny’s idea of a vegetable was a French fry.
My mother’s cooking philosophy was to shove inexpensive pieces of meat into the oven and blast them at high heat till they resembled an old pair of shoes. We often went off to Sunday school, then church, on weekends with the oven roaring for hours. We’d return and Mother would peer into the oven and announce the roast beef wasn’t quite done yet. By then, it would have shrunk to the size and consistency of a molten baseball. Extremely well-done meat has always been confused with Methodism, in my mind. Also, Mother always tied string around her roast beefs; my sister and I never knew why, but this may have had something to do with Protestantism, as well.
I bring all this up simply to show that bad cooking is part of my DNA and you can’t argue with fate or genetic material. I have tried to cook over the years, God knows I’ve tried. But even when it’s turned out marginally well, I have always hated to cook. In my own kitchen, since my husband likes to cook, I am the designated sous-chef and scullery maid. This makes me happy. I don’t have to cook and I don’t have to think.
After a recent and lengthy call to action ye cooks of America in the pages of The New York Times, which suggested society should pay people to cook at home, for crying out loud, one courageous woman wrote a letter to the editor in protest. I hate to cook, she began her letter. Have I made it clear I loathe cooking? she reiterated midway through the letter, ending it with a simple, straightforward, I really, really hate to cook.
I was thrilled to read that letter, but then it got even better. On Mother’s Day, a charming and perceptive young woman wrote a Times op-ed piece entitled, My Mom Didn’t Cook. So What? Her family lived on the Upper West Side, the young woman wrote, and her mother excelled at takeout. She was a great mother! She didn’t have to cook!
Exactly! We are out here, I thought, nodding my head as I read. Yes, we are out here, the nameless millions who hate to cook. We have been shamed for too long by the Martha Stewarts, the Mark Bittmans, the hostess-with-the-mostess types. We can’t stand the heat, we’re thrilled to get out of the kitchen, and we’re not going back.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Here’s another non-cooking story