I was having a conversation with some friends about a year ago when one of them said he believed cooking would ultimately become an obsolete thing people do as a hobby rather than out of necessity. He said this would be the result of 1) services like Blue Apron becoming more affordable and ubiquitous and 2) automation and AI getting cheaper and more intelligent and thus capable of just preparing our food for us.
I more or less agree and the numbers certainly back it up. Cooking is on the decline; people are eating out more than ever before. But while this is certainly the national trend, my own cooking journey has taken a slightly different path.
I personally started cooking for myself during my last year of college when I moved off-campus and no longer had the luxury of dorm food. In other words, I mostly cooked out of necessity rather than for pleasure. Now that’s not to say I hated cooking, but I most certainly did not count it as something I enjoyed doing in my spare time.
As of late, however, I’ve developed a love affair of sorts with cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I still have nights where I can’t be bothered and just order a pizza from Domino’s. But those dinners are becoming far less frequent now. Instead, I often find myself looking forward to when I can go home so I can spend an hour or so in the kitchen just prepping and cooking my meal. I’ve been reflecting on why that’s the case for me now and I’ve found a few reasons that have shifted how I view the process of making my own food.
Cooking as Meditation. Before, I used to think of cooking as a hurdle between the food in my kitchen and my stomach. It was a chore. But now, I try to be more mindful when I cook. I no longer am trying to finish the process as fast as possible to get it over with. For example, if I have cilantro leaves I need to take off the stem, I take them off carefully one by one instead of just ripping and tearing off as many as I can get. If I have to cut vegetables for a salad, I take my time to make sure the pieces are being cut evenly. Basically, I really try to immerse myself in the process as opposed to just doing the bare minimum to get the food into an edible form and in my mouth.
Cooking like an Engineer. I’m a software engineer by trade and one of the skills I’ve had to get really good at is learning how to learn. In a field where there’s a new framework, language, and tool coming out every other day, you have to get really good at learning. What has really helped me over the past few years is that I no longer start out learning a new language or technology thinking I’ll master it in one go. On the contrary, I go in expecting to fail.
This is helpful in that it takes off a lot of the pressure of learning something new. If I go in already knowing that I’m not going to get it perfect on first try, it makes me far less stressed and upset when I mess up because I was already expecting that to be a part of the process! This ultimately makes cooking more fun since it’s an experiment now and no longer something that I have to “do right or else”.
This mindset also makes me far more perceptive to how I can improve things for the next time. For example, if I messed up on how I kneaded the dough for a certain dish and it came out too chewy, next time I can knead it a little less so it has more a fluffy texture. I can keep doing this incrementally until I am satisfied with the state of the dish and can make it comfortably. It’s a really gratifying feeling when I can finally say “I have perfected this dish!”
I can probably keep going on and on about all the merits of cooking your own meals — it’s cheaper, it’s a fun activity to do with others, it builds a tangible skill set, it’s a caring gesture to cook for others, it gives you more control over what you eat, etc. But this is one of those things that you can’t just read about and absorb its effects through osmosis. So, with that, if you’re interested in this cooking philosophy, I invite you to go google your favorite recipe and make a home-cooked meal for dinner tonight 🙂