Some months ago, I was setting up for one of my corporate Lunch & Learns. A staff member poked her head in “to see what smelled so good!” When I explained that I was there to teach a class on healthy cooking at home, I could literally see her shut down. “I don’t cook,” she said emphatically – derisively, in my (perhaps biased) opinion. I interpreted her comment to mean that no sane person would waste their time cooking when they didn’t have to.
And it’s true – no one, at least in the U.S., actually has to cook ever again. Between traditional restaurants, fast-casual, delivery, $8 green juices and four million different meal replacement energy bars, why would anyone cook at home? You could use that time to catch a Pokemon or update your status or watch Game of Thrones.
And yet, I believe that learning to cook is a necessary life skill, like writing a resume, or sewing a button, or changing a tire. Except that we’re no longer passing this skill on – cooking is now something done for us, rather than by us. We are now in an unprecedented era – one in which today’s children are expected to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. This has never before occurred in an industrialized nation, and I’d be the first to argue that our movement towards eating the majority of our food in restaurants plays a huge role. But despite our looming health crisis, somehow cooking at home has lost its luster and I cannot understand why. Maybe that’s easy for a professional chef to say, but cooking at home is so much easier than most people think it is.
We live in an age of instant gratification, where food or booze or cheap Chinese-made goods are available within minutes. Cooking – and cooking well – isn’t. People who attend my classes often ask how they can learn to cook better. My answer, while boring, is invariably the same: in order to cook well, you have to cook regularly. You have to get it wrong in order to know when you’ve gotten it right. Needless to say, no one likes this answer.
While there might be a million cooking apps, there is no app to teach you how to season properly. How to cook meat to your preferred doneness. How to roast vegetables until they have those delicious caramelized crackly edges. How to know when a cake is done. These are things that can only be learned with practice. Repeated practice. Tasting, tasting and more tasting. And yes, you will make mistakes. And some of the things you cook won’t be amazing. But the learning curve isn’t steep, and you’ll improve quickly. Soon, your food will be better than most restaurants. Trust me on that, but mostly trust yourself and trust your palate.
Here we are, at the beginning of the new year – a time when many of us resolve to get healthy. If you’ve made a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle this year and beyond, and if you don’t cook, I ask you politely – please try. There is simply no one thing you can do that is better for your physical health, your financial health and the planet’s health than cooking at home. Start small; commit to cooking one or two meals at home each week. Plan your meals. Devote a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to preparing batches of food for the week ahead. Pack repurposed leftovers for your work lunches. Minimize your food waste by making delicious soups and stir-fries and frittatas. And please, if I can be of more assistance in encouraging you to cook at home, contact me – I have a wealth of helpful tips that I’ll gladly share.
I leave you with this manifesto from Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52, a site that passionately encourages home cooks.
Because, if you cook:
Your family will eat dinner together.
You will naturally have a more sustainable household.
You’ll set a lifelong example for your children.
You’ll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
You’ll make your home an important place in your life.
You’ll make others happy.
People will remember you.
Wishing you the joy of learning to cook in 2017!