When I ask people what stops them from cooking more healthy meals from scratch at home, I often hear some version of the following: “I hate cooking!” “Cooking feels like a waste of my time.” “I’m sick of making dinner.” “Why is it always me who’s expected to know what’s for dinner and somehow make it appear?” I can relate because I, too, sometimes feel resentful about having to cook dinner. Why is it that we hate cooking so much? I have some explanations to volunteer for that, along with suggested practices you can experiment with in order to find joy in cooking.
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This is a simplified and provocative view, almost a caricature, not a sociology dissertation. I hope it gets your gears turning and makes you look at cooking through a different lens.
Why you hate cooking? Blame capitalism.
What gets valued most in our contemporary capitalist culture is what makes the most money and boosts the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Let’s call that “production.” On the flip side, we can call “reproduction” the love and effort that we put into nurturing the circle of life, from bringing and raising children into the world to caring for our elders. That work isn’t measured and thus isn’t valued within the capitalist system. It’s just taken for granted that it happens.
From that perspective, home cooking is only valued in as much as it helps sell cookbooks and magazines, kitchen appliances, microwave dinners, and other convenience ingredients and gizmos you’ll want to buy because you think they’ll make cooking easier.
There’s one way cooking becomes economically valuable: it’s when it is no longer done at home with love (by mom, for example) but instead outsourced to someone who is paid to do it. When that happens, reproductive work moves into the sphere of “production” and starts to “count.” That’s why restaurant food, meal kits, and all manners of “value added foods” (foods that have been prepared and processed to make them ready-to-eat or at least easier-to-prepare, as opposed to whole foods) are growing so steadily as a sector of the economy. (The unfortunate coincidence is that they also steadily increase our waistline.)
When we say “I hate cooking,” we reflect how we have internalized this devaluation of cooking as an act of service and love. When we eat industrially prepared meals, we give those economic forces further power to shape our bodies and minds.
Potatoes or value-added foods?
Think about potatoes. A farmer buys some seed potatoes, plants them, tends them, harvests them, and brings them to the farmers’ market where you buy them in order to make mashed potatoes at home. That’s a short economic chain with few opportunities for money to change hands along the way.
Now imagine adding “value” to the potatoes by combining them with other ingredients to create a packaged microwaveable dinner sold at a big box store. Those “convenient” products create many more opportunities for jobs, transactions, profit, and taxation. Bonus: whoever was cooking the potatoes previously (mom) can now work longer hours and earn a higher income.
In short, the most influential forces of our society benefit more when we don’t eat healthy home-cooked meals. (Incidentally, medical care for those suffering from diet-induced diseases also contributes to the GDP.)
We like to believe in ourselves as independent thinkers, but the truth is that it’s very hard to detach ourselves completely from those powerful undercurrents. Economic powers directly and indirectly shape our view through advertising and cultural products representing “normalcy.” There are some counter-forces in society, but they are not as powerful.
We have reduced food to a transaction
Hence food becomes the subject of just another transaction in our every day life, a commodity to be sold and bought. Buyers and sellers are only remotely concerned with food’s nourishing qualities. We lose sight of the miracle that food is: nourishment born from a simple seed nurtured by sun, soil, and water.
Making matters worse, we have come to see food as the sum of a very limited range of individual, discrete nutrients. We weigh protein, carbohydrates, and fat, and add our “macros,” comparing ratios. We compute values for the few nutrients that we think we understand, most notably iron and calcium. Some believe that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.”
Such a simplistic view of food leads us to believe that we know what we are eating when we read the label slapped on commercially available food. That’s a profound delusion.
Our quantitative simplifications do not even start to reflect the complexity of food and nutrition. As highlighted in the books Whole and The Future of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell (lead author of The China Study), each and every plant is an assemblage of thousands of different organic and inorganic chemicals, only a fraction of which we pay attention to. We have barely scratched the surface of an understanding of the interactions between them, of their transformation from seed to harvest to fork, and of their metabolism within the human body.
When we say “I hate cooking” and expedite meals by filling ourselves with whatever calories we find most convenient to procure (and perhaps tasty to eat), we smugly ignore the complexity of nature. We fail to honor the miracle of life.
Mind the spiritual gap
Beyond the forces of biology, we also ignore the metaphysical dimensions of food. Hinduism in particular sees food as imbued with the spiritual energy that was put in it at all stages of its preparation.
Regardless of our confession (or lack thereof), we can appreciate the truly added value of preparing food as an act of love and service. For the cook, crafting a meal is an opportunity to be thankful for our lives, for the abundance of ingredients we get to choose from, and for the other beings we get to share the meal with. If nothing else, gratitude boosts our mood.
When we say “I hate cooking,” we deny ourselves this deeply soothing practice. When we cook with resentment and bitterness, we infuse the food with those negative feelings. When we put people who don’t love us in charge of our meals, we put our bodies and souls at risk.
When not cooking is not a choice
The powerful economic forces that devalue food also devalue humans in general by casting us first as accessories for profit. Some of us have the resources and privilege to resist those forces and fight back with home cooked plant-based soup. Others, lacking secure housing with adequate cooking facilities, or exhausted from working multiple jobs to try and make ends meet, doubly suffer. They experience the indignity of being unable to cook their own food and share it with loved ones. Sooner or later, they also hurt from the painful consequences of malnourishment on their physical and mental health.
If we can easily access the resources to cook, but still say “I hate cooking,” we are wasting the gifts bestowed upon us. What if embracing a more nourishing way to live gave us the energy to share those gifts with those who need them, and fight for everyone’s humanity?
Practices to flip your mindset on cooking
In an upcoming blog post, I will propose different approaches and tricks to help those who think they hate cooking embrace the practice. But for today, if you have made it to this point, and still think you hate cooking, here is something you can do.
Instead of “I hate cooking,” try saying: “I used to hate cooking,” or “Part of me hates cooking.” “Hating cooking” is not who your are, it’s not your identity.
Next, you can try saying: “I am learning to love cooking.”
Think of it this way: instead of having to cook, you get to cook.
Observe what happens when you start to liberate yourself from the forces that want you to turn away from wholesome nourishment. Don’t expect instant and perpetual success, but if you practice regularly, you will soon find yourself with a growing appreciation for this great act of love.
Conveniently, you get at least three opportunities to practice daily, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Get cooking and share the love.