I was lucky enough to grow up with a family that ate dinner together most nights. Both of my parents cooked. They didn’t always cook from scratch, and did rely on some convenience products, but they worked hard to introduce us to a variety of foods and we were encouraged to try new things. The reason I enjoy cooking so much now stems from the examples of my parents and even my grandparents. I remember learning to sauté mushrooms at the ripe age of eight, standing on a stool in the kitchen, or helping make homemade chocolate chip cookies. Being involved in cooking in our household as a child built a great foundation for what I needed as an adult to cook for myself.
Having the privilege to grow up with such a health-conscious, cooking oriented family, I realized that not everyone learned to sauté at such a young age or even knew how to cook a simple weeknight dinner.
Once I finished my dietetic internship, I took the first job I could get at a heart hospital here in Dallas doing outpatient counseling. I was a bright eyed, fresh faced, newbie dietitian who thought that everyone’s number one priority should be eating five servings of vegetables daily and switching completely to whole grains. Clean eating was my jam and I definitely pushed it onto my patients. While I was pushing whole wheat spaghetti and kale (gross) onto my patients, I noticed another pattern.
“I don’t cook.” they’d say.
Wait. You don’t cook?
This was my reaction the first few times. How can you not cook? With my intense love of cooking, it was hard to relate to those who wouldn’t even listen to my nutrition advice because they immediately shut down any suggestions from me that they start to eat more at home instead of eating out at restaurants all the time.
“We’re just two people, no kids“.
“I’m a single guy.”
“I don’t have the time.”
It didn’t occur to me at the time that these people hadn’t grown up around cooking like I had. They didn’t share the same passion. Not everyone gets warm fuzzy feelings about whisking together a cheesy roux — and that’s okay.
Cooking can be very overwhelming for some. Our society turns cooking into this fancy, unattainable task. Shows like Chopped or Top Chef, while entertaining, are creating these works of food art while the clocks tick down, and Americans think this is the way cooking should be. Restaurant quality every time. But not every meal needs to be a gourmet experience, as my friend Kylie says it so well.
I’ve found the best way to encourage people to cook is to remind them what a beautiful and simple work it can be, and that it takes practice. We’ve been brainwashed by marketing to think of cooking as a nuisance, something we don’t have the time or skills for. But we all have the capacity to learn!
The act of preparing food for ourselves is a form of self-care, and a form of self-respect. Self-respect is such a fundamental part of being a human and when we don’t treat our body well, it’s usually a sign of an underlying issue such as an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or other serious issues like being overworked, fatigued, and drained by modern society. Being depressed or anxious is NOT your fault and should never be considered as such.
You have a right to be happy and healthy, and cooking can help take you there. We can learn to deal with potential roadblocks such as low income, skills, and busyness. These are not excuses, nor the fault of those having to deal with them, but should be looked at as an area of opportunity to educate, learn and grow.
Cooking connects each and every one of us. There is a dense web of relationships with humans, plants, animals, the soil, farmers. I get so passionate about this subject, and the benefits the world could reap if we all just cooked at home more often, that it makes me emotional just thinking about it. We can save money, reduce waste, connect with nature, have fun, show love, eat more yummy fruits and veggies, and enjoy the foods we love.
When people tell me bluntly: “I don’t cook.” It genuinely makes me very sad. They are missing out on such a joy, an art, an act of mindfulness, a way of nourishing their bodies and their family’s bodies. A tradition. An act of self-care. An expression of gratitude for the body we have for the short time on this earth!
If you’re new to cooking, start simple. Try designating one night a week to cook dinner for yourself. Choose recipes that are easy without too many ingredients (try this, this or this!). If you don’t want to use a recipe, cooking for yourself at home can also mean throwing a bag of steamable veggies in the microwave, boiling some pasta, and topping it with jarred marinara sauce. Plan ahead and make sure you have all the ingredients and tools you’ll need. Turn on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get cooking.