The Joy of Cooking

I’m used to people finding me a bit odd, and being generally surprised about my experiences and abilities, but one thing I’m always baffled by is when folks are shocked that I can cook. When 18 year olds find cooking a decent meal to be a note worthy task I can vaguely understand. When 58 year olds find cooking a meal to be impressive I come away a bit bemused. I can’t tell you how many times 50+ year olds have earnestly asked me “How/ Why did you learn to cook?” And every time I’ll take the moment to go full aspie and look them in the eyes as I say, “Starving did not sound like a fun experience.”

Now I know I’ve had an odd life, and I have a laundry list of experiences that take a few minutes to explain the circumstances of, but cooking is not something I put into the column of being impressive. When I was growing up the adults around me cooked. To be clear some adults cooked better than others. Some adults cooked more healthy meals than others. Frankly some adults really needed to learn what an expiration date meant, but from grandparents to parents to a-sundry the adults around me cooked. Learning to cook was like riding a bike. I was expected to do it regardless of how good I became.

I think this is one of the random life skills that I picked up that has had an outsized impact on my life. What for me is normal, to many others is beyond their capabilities. As with many things in life tiny benefits compound over the years and decades so that my learning how to cook scrambled eggs at 5 ends up meaning at 40 I’m in an enviably position in life.

When thinking about why cooking is important there are a number of benefits. The first is basic cost of living. Right now I hear a huge number of people complain about the cost of living and how they cannot survive on their paychecks. So many of these folks then eat out numerous times a week, and buy prepared meals for home. Basic math shows that if you do not earn enough money a significant way to make your life better is to be able to spend less. Cooking your own meals is dirt cheap, and is tastier than dollar menu crap.

By example last night I made a nice corn chowder with dinner rolls. There were 3 meals worth of chowder, and 12 rolls for my effort. This cost me around 50 cents for the rolls, and around $5 for the chowder. To be clear these were not Kroger ingredients, but Whole Foods Organic ingredients that cost a premium. So for $5.50 I made 3 hearty meals from top quality foods which comes to let’s say $2.00 a meal. If I had purchased non organic ingredients at a regular supermarket I have no doubt the cost would be around $4 for everything which would come to around $1.33 a meal. Now for my chowder I was using fresh red bell peppers which are expensive, and coconut milk so if I was more price selective about the recipe I chose I could easily have a hearty soup and rolls for $3 which would come to $1 a meal.

You look at these kinds of cost savings and on a per meal basis it seems cute, but to think that this is life changing may feel a stretch. The thing is to think about how those one, two and five dollars of savings per day can add up. If you grab a coffee every day, and get carry out the way many professionals do you can burn through $10 of extra spending a day easily. A Chipotle burrito here, a Whopper there, maybe a pizza if you’re in the mood… $10 a day ends up being $300 a month. $300 a month ends up being $3600 a year… … $3600 is around what the community college I earned my Associates Degree charges per year. $3600 can pay for that new computer, and marketing material you need to launch you consulting company. On far less than $3600 I’ve had amazing adventures. It’s not about whether a Chipotle burrito is worth $8. The question is is a Chipotle burrito worth more than an education, or starting a company, or diving into the unknown?

Beyond the monetary benefits you get the health benefits. Take out and processed food is made to be tasty, not necessarily good for you. Whether processed food is loaded with oil, salt or sugar I don’t think anyone imagines you’re getting the most healthy food. Past the standard health concerns is also basic things like digestive issues. I personally have bad problems with onions and garlic. If I eat any I get indigestion and if I eat what most people would in a meal I’ll be in pain for 24 hours. I love Blooming Onions, but they do not love me…. If you eat prepared food possibly some of the health issues you are having are from ingredients that could be easily eliminated if you cooked for yourself. Would you rather eat a bottle of Tums every few days, or just stop eating the things that give you problems? Larry the Cable Guy has a commercial where he talks about all of his problems digesting food, and then happily says that’s why he pops a Prilosec. Do you want to pop a pill that has real side effects, or just stop eating crappy food? When I cook I simply leave out the garlic and onions and am happy for it.

Past money and health benefits cooking also is a good way to pass the time. So many folks are selling their souls to save time just so they can go home and play video games. They don’t want to “waste” their time on extra work when they could be doing something serious like killing aliens. Cooking can be enjoyable, and is just a good a way to waste time as watching Netflix or playing Fortnite.

Then there is social prestige. To be clear I find this to be down right odd, but the fact is that modern adults are impressed with people that can cook. Cooking is the 2018 equivalent of having a black belt in 1998. People put you a few steps higher in their esteem simply for the fact that they find it impressive. When you think about the stupid ways that social interactions can help or hinder your career growth I’m telling you a nice hot pan of Lasagna, or warm chocolate chip cookies out of the oven offered to friends and coworkers might be worth an A+ certification for your promotion.

The final significant and always overlooked benefit to cooking your own meals is that it gives you an easy win. Self esteem and self worth matter more to your professional success than anything else. If you feel like a winner, if you feel like you can get jobs done, if you know that you can produce something impressive then other people will pick up on that. So many people now don’t have any accomplishments they can point to with pride. People don’t fix their own cars anymore. Few people can’t do much work to their houses now. Participating in sports isn’t a priority for many folks. I find it crushing when I’ve sat down and talked with young adults who literary have nothing they can point to with pride and say, “I did that!”

I tell you this. You cook a big old lasagna, with some fresh bread on side and invite a few friends. That… That is a win to be proud of! The whole point of being a tech professional is to solve peoples problems and make their lives better. You think it’s a joke but I’m telling you 90% of whats required to be a good tech professional is required to make a batch of cookies. You figure out what flavor people prefer. You look at your budget. Maybe you get some folks to chip in a few dollars. Then you buy the resources. Combine the resources. Cook the resources. Serve the cookies. Bask in the glow… (When you start to level up you’ll get to the point you have 3 dishes cooking at the same time and learn how to time manage and troubleshoot while making sure nothing burns.)

If you like my arguments and want to start cooking the best advice is just like with technology you need to just jump in. You don’t even need to buy a cookbook anymore you can just Google for recipes. See what recipes look good to you. Determine whether you have the pans and such you need, and then dive in. Frankly you will burn things. You will eat a few meals where the crust is black, but the core is frozen. You’ll think to yourself that the rolls seems smaller than what the picture shows. You’ll shrug your shoulders and then with pride eat half a dozen relishing what you created with your own hands. Then 3 days later when you find yourself finally getting past the constipation that people get when they eat a lot of bread that failed to rise you’ll do some research and learn that if the water you add to the yeast is too hot the yeast will die and you’ll end up with stomach cement. But this is what professionals do. We find goals. Try to achieve goals. Then we assess what we did right, and wrong and then try again.

Cooking is a skill I personally think of as a tiny requirement to be an adult. When I see how many people cannot and will not cook, then I hear complaints ranging from money to health to lack of self esteem it’s made me realize how important it is to be able to make a Manicotti.

1 Comment

  1. As a child our mother wanted to start her own shop so on Saturdays when we were coming
    home from school early and she was still working, she prepared a list of ‘things for us to
    do’ in the kitchen. First we just had to prepare some soup or some salsa. Slowly,
    slowly we children learned how to cook. I cannot agree more: being able to cook,
    to wash, to clean, etc. is a basic skill set for an adult. It’s just sad to see young
    educated (mostly) men still carrying their dirty socks home for “laundring chez maman”,
    only stopping when they have their girlfriend/wife taking over the job. I would have been
    so embarassed.. 🙂

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