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In Defense of Cooking

chicken broccoli skillet meal

At every full-time job I’ve ever had, I’ve noticed something: I am usually the only one in my workplace that brings lunch that I have cooked myself. At my last job (which was the first job I got after I was married), I quickly realized that due to financial reasons, I pretty much had to pack my own lunch every day. While all my coworkers went out daily to fast food joints and the gas station up the street (spending anywhere from $5-15 every day on lunch), I would pull out my leftover chicken and dumplings, beef and vegetable stew, or whatever else I had concocted the night before and enjoy a hearty meal that probably ended up costing me around $1.50, once everything was averaged out.

I didn’t think anything of this ritual, but as the days wore on, more and more of my coworkers started noticing my seemingly “strange” behavior

At first, the comments started out harmless enough:

“Mmm…that smells good. What is it?”

Then, a couple days later,

“Do you actually make all that yourself? Like in your own kitchen?”

“Why don’t you just grab a pizza? It would take less time.”

Then finally, after days of them eating hot dogs, greasy fries, and the latest special at the local Maverik,

“If I paid you $30 a week, would you make lunch for me every day?”

The last one made me laugh, but my coworkers were hardly in jest–they not only could see how much money that cooking my own lunch saved me, but more often than not, my lunch looked a lot more appealing than theirs, which brings me to a central question that’s been on my mind:

Why is cooking becoming a lost art?

At first, I just chalked it up to the job environments I was working at, which were largely filled with single men who worked long hours in industrial positions. But then I came here to the intermediate school. Expecting to find that most other teachers also brought home-cooked lunches, I was incredulous when I saw that almost everyone else brought Top Ramen, microwaveable canned soups, t.v. dinners, or yogurt and crackers to eat for lunch every day. A few teachers are brave enough to eat the school lunch regularly, but one thing is for sure: I am almost always the only one in the faculty room who has cooked my own meal.

And, not surprisingly (seeing as I was, once again, the odd (wo)man out), I started getting lots of questions from my coworkers:

“Mmm…that smells good. What is it?”

“You actually MADE that? Like, from scratch?”

“I don’t know how you find TIME to do that every night. I just take my kids through the drive-through almost every day because we’re just so busy all the time.”

Yes, these are actual comments that I have heard. My coworkers aren’t ignorant–they know the dangers of eating too much processed food (especially the kind you get from eating multiple days a week at a drive-through). They know from personal experience that microwave dinners and canned soups don’t fill you up for long, and that they definitely don’t leave you satisfied.

So why am I still the only one in the faculty room who’s making my own meals?

I get questions from other places too–questions like, “Is it really fair that you should be cooking every night when you’re the one in your house with a full-time job?” or “That’s nice that you can do that every night, Torrie, but as a working mom, I just don’t have the time.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be self-righteous or anything here. There are plenty of times when I also am too tired to cook, so I’ll have a bowl of cereal (like last night) or order a pizza. But by choice, that is not my “normal.”

And, in response to the seemingly endless stream of comments related to the fact that yes, I do cook most nights, and yes, I do make most things from scratch, and yes, I often am tired when I come home from work but I still cook, here it is:

My defense of cooking.

First off, some people have this notion that since the feminist movement, women shouldn’t have to be “slaving away” in the kitchen all day for their families. I would say that all the comments about me being a “working woman” would fit into this category. My question is this: who says that cooking is drudgery? Personally, I find something relaxing about measuring spices, chopping up vegetables, and stirring something bubbly over the stove. I find great satisfaction in producing meals that are pleasing to the eye, the stomach, AND the waistline. And it’s not like anyone (my husband included) has this “expectation” that I’m going to be in the kitchen day in and day out making everyone’s meals all the time anyway (obviously, the comments I’ve received show that that expectation has apparently almost disappeared).

Also, I think a lot of people are trying to imply with their questions that my husband should take on more of the cooking since he’s only working part-time (although he’s going to school full-time, which in my book, makes him busier than I am), and I’m our main breadwinner. A couple points: first, Matt DOES help me with the cooking. All the time, really. Sometimes he’ll even take on the entire task of dinner all by his lonesome, and even though those nights usually mean mac ‘n cheese with hot dogs, I still appreciate the fact that he’s willing to put forth that effort whenever necessary. Second, I resent the implication that just because I’m working, I shouldn’t have to take on my fair share of household responsibilities. Just as I’ll expect Matt to still help me with the cooking when he’s the main breadwinner, I have those same expectations for myself. (Besides, if I’m being honest–I’m just flat-out the better cook of us two because I’ve had way more practice, so I usually prefer to do the cooking myself anyway. Especially because when I cook, there are actually vegetables involved.)

Another point I’d like to bring up is that a lot of people try to say that they go for more “convenience” foods to save time (and that therefore, I should as well), but if I’m being honest with myself, all that time that I “saved” by picking up a pizza instead of cooking would probably just land me an extra half hour in front of a computer or t.v. screen. I’ve actually found that doing “real” cooking motivates me MORE to do worthwhile activities such as reading, writing, cleaning, and developing talents because it means that I’m not sluggish due to the consumption of greasy, highly-processed pseudo-foods.

My recent reading habits (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and a smattering of different texts on modern food by Michal Pollan) have also encouraged me to be proud of the fact that I am among the Americans who still care about what goes into my body and whether or not I am truly being as healthy as I can be. I think it’s beyond sad that because we’ve convinced ourselves we’re “too busy,” we’ve lost the ability to feed ourselves with the kind of nourishment that would actually help us to get more things done.

And finally, it all really comes down to this: cooking my own meals is not only more tasty, frugal, and healthy, but it also gives me precious nuggets of time to discuss my day with my husband, reflect on what’s happened, and to take a moment to be grateful for all the abundance I enjoy daily as we chop onions, trim the fat off of the chicken, or grate cheese together in our own kitchen. I imagine that gratitude will only get more pronounced as I strive later this year to start growing more of my own food and to buy what I can’t grow/produce from local members of my community–you tend to appreciate something a lot more when you realize all the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to bring it to your table.

So, although I’m sure the comments in the faculty room and in my future workspaces about my “strange” cooking habits will probably never stop, I will forever by a defendant of the virtues and value of home cooking.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Note: I originally wrote this in March 2013, but when I slightly updated it now in 2023, over ten years later, I still stand by everything and practice these things I wrote about all those years ago. And even though I no longer work outside the home, my husband is now “the odd man out” at his work, as he’s usually the only one who brings in home cooked lunches. I estimate that this has literally saved us thousands over the years, not to mention helped us to stay much healthier.


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