This is why I cook

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s latest book: Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation. I’m transfixed. I love it. I’m sure you would too.

Photo by Hong Yi
Photo by Hong Yi

I’m learning all kinds of wonderful cookery thingerys. Like, salt any meat that’s to be braised or stewed for hours, if not days, before you cook it. Why? Salt obviously draws water out of things, so this advice can seem counter intuitive. But as the salt draws the water out it forms a salty liquid that then, after a bit, gets drawn back into the meat in a kind of osmotic vacuum effect. Thus making said meat super tender.

But reading the book has got me thinking about why I cook. Pollan points out it’s not an efficient thing to do. We can outsource cooking so much more cheaply and efficiently. So why bother? For me:

* Cooking is creative. I get into a flow of making and building and playing. I can test and try things and take risks. I build without a plan. I just start, then I add sauces and herbs and I feel my way toward the endpoint. It’s like that wisdom: like a car with its headlights on, we don’t need to be able to see our final destination at the end of the road. We just need to be able to shine our attention to the bit in front of us, and steer from there. This is the thrill of creativity…trusting that the road will lead us there…even if we can’t see it all in one.

* It’s manual. It’s hands-on. I roll my sleeves up and get out of my head. Out. Of. My. Head.

* It takes me beyond rules. I almost become recalcitrant. I refuse to check on The Google if I have the right temperature for baking almond meal cupcakes. I avoid using measuring cups and spoons. In fact, I only just bought a set. This makes me feel liberated.

* It involves other senses. Not my logical brain (again, it gets me out of my bloody head). I have to smell, taste, listen, touch. I’m a very hands-on cook, fingery cookery person. My hands are always in the dish…feeling things.

* It puts me in control of my nutrition. I cook so I can bulk up on dense nutrition.

This is always my aim: to seek out the densest nutritional option in every meal I cook.

How do folk who don’t cook know what’s going in their guts? It baffles me that they wouldn’t care.

As Pollan says: not cooking breeds helplessness, dependence and ignorance.

I agree. Cooking is empowering. Pollan goes onto say that in a culture that allows our cooking to be outsourced to Big Food, taking back the cooking reigns turns us from mere consumers to producers again. Or at least swings the ratio back around.

* It saves time. I know, counter intuitive, right? But I think about all the time other people must spend organising their meals via takeaway outlets or restaurants, or by cobbling stuff together meal-by-meal.  I cook in bulk, I have food ready to go, I attend to my eating right when I need it. I’ve observed it many times in communal offices. We’ll all get up to deal with lunch. I have some veggies and a tin of tuna and some cheese and I heat it…while everyone else is still faffing about with which deli they’ll go to for their nutritionally absent foccacia.

* It stops me from snacking. Studies have shown that cultures that cook don’t have a snacking culture and are in check with their appetite (and are devoid of an obesity issue). Some studies suggest not cooking is the most direct obesity indicator in a society. It’s a perspective I hadn’t considered: when you cook from scratch you have to be hungry enough to be bothered. Plus, the time it takes to prepare things delays the gratification. There are many theories on the benefits of delayed gratification and how it makes us happier. I know when I’m out and hungry, I think first to what I’d like to cook. I’m in the habit of thinking this way and food on the run has become incredibly unappealing. By the time I get home, I’ve either lost my appetite or I’m very much primed to enjoy what I cook that much more.

* It makes me a mindful eater. I cook and I sit down to eat. I create and then I present, even if it’s just to myself. And so I just don’t eat on the run.

* It reminds me that food matters. I’m alive to my wastage and food going off and the seasons and which foods are best for me at different times of year because I can see what’s available and cheap and fresh at the shops.

What about you? Why do you cook? What stops you from cooking? What are you envious of in others who cook?



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