Can’t cook? Or won’t cook?
“I can’t cook.” I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard this phrase over the last few years. It is uttered by both men and women, old and young, married and single people. Lacking the ability to cook is, apparently, an equal opportunity offence.
Yes, you read that right. I did use the word ‘offence’. And that’s because, as far as I am concerned, not being able to cook is to lack a vital life skill – you know the kind that keeps you alive. And for the life of me I cannot fathom why people take such pride in announcing that they don’t possess it.
Before you all write in irately, I am well aware that in our modern age those who don’t know how to fry an egg will not go to bed hungry. That our world is heaving with restaurants that will keep them well fed (and perhaps better fed) if they don’t know how to cook. That if these non-cooks don’t choose to venture out they can order in everything from Hakka noodles to sushi rolls to channa bhaturas. And that most middle-class folk in India can afford to hire a part-time cook who comes by once a day and stocks their fridge with food that they can reheat for lunch and dinner.
So, I accept that in this day and age, it is often not necessary to cook at all.
I can also get on board with the fact that many people simply don’t want to cook. That they have demanding jobs that leave them drained at the end of the day and they don’t want to come home and spend a couple of hours in a hot kitchen sweating in front of the gas range. Some of them may just not enjoy cooking even though they have all the time in the world to rustle up delicious meals. And then there are those who are simply not good at this cooking malarkey and don’t wish to show themselves up every time they step up to the stove.
There are as many reasons to not cook as there are cuisines in this world. But there really is no reason why anyone should take pride in the fact that they can’t cook at all.
I can understand where this pride comes from though. At the most basic level, it is an announcement of privilege. Other people may need to feed themselves but not me. I have a wife/cook/expense account to keep me in three course meals complete with dessert. For women this pronouncement comes imbued with the whiff of feminism as well. After centuries of being stuck in the kitchen while the men went off and conquered the world it feels empowering to announce that you have no use for the kitchen.
But that, if you ask me, is not the same as announcing that you have no use in the kitchen. That is an entirely different matter. And one that I don’t believe anybody – man or woman – should take pride in.
I am by no means suggesting that everyone needs to sign up for Cordon Bleu lessons or even invest in a full set of Nigella Lawson cookbooks. No, you don’t need to go the full Domestic Goddess by any means.
What you should be able to do is to feed yourself more than Maggi noodles or chocolate biscuits if you are left to your own devices.
This is the point when most people will point out that there is something joyless about cooking for yourself. Why go to all that bother when the only person at the table is you?
Well, you should go to all that bother precisely because the only person at the table is you.
You deserve better than a hastily slapped together sandwich with mayonnaise and cold meat. Or a packet of crisps and a Diet Coke. Or even a wedge of cheese and some crackers. You deserve a meal that some time and effort has gone into. Because you are worth that time and effort.
Trust me on this because I speak from experience. When I was growing up I didn’t so much as venture into the kitchen because that was my mother’s domain and she didn’t welcome any interlopers. So, my first experience of cooking for myself came when I moved to Delhi into a tiny little barsati with an even tinier kitchen. That’s where my cooking adventures began – with a humble dish of scrambled eggs that I ate on the terrace while breathing in the fumes of traffic. And nothing I had eaten up to that point matched that taste of freedom, independence and yes, self-care.
Since then I have graduated to rustling up Italian risottos, Thai curries and Chinese stir-fries. And yes, there are still days when I don’t want to cook. But I will never ever say again that I can’t cook. And I do take pride in that.
(Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004. Her new book Race Course Road is currently topping the charts.)
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From HT Brunch, September 9 , 2018
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