After years of struggling, I’ve realized — and I’m not ashamed to admit it — I really, REALLY hate cooking. This includes baking, assembling, chopping, plating, or decorating any variety of food (or drink). Call me lazy; I really don’t care because I suck at cooking anyway. In fact, I’ve invented a cute little motto I’m quite proud to repeat:
“If it takes longer to make it than to eat it, I don’t make it.”
When you were a kid, the prospect of cooking was a lot more exciting: playing with fire, cutting things with huge knives, breaking eggs, getting to lick a spoonful of precious frosting, making a big mess, and so on. Now it’s just…confusing, annoying, time-sapping, costly, and tiresome.
Have you ever tried to make a common salad? It’s a fucking pain in the ass and you know it. First you have to decide what kind of salad you want. There are about a million ways you can do it with nuts, meats, oils, dressings, fruit, and that white stringy shit — I still don’t know what it’s called. If more than you or your dog are deciding what to make, then be prepared to fight with someone who has a weird allergy, or doesn’t like something for some stupid reason, or can’t palate certain textures without inducing their gag reflex. It’s ten times worse than ordering a pizza.
After you decide what kind of salad you want, you have to fetch all the ingredients, which takes at least two hours of driving and bullshitting around the grocery store with a silly scrap of paper in your hand. And bring lots of cash because you’re going to end up spending at least thirty dollars for crap you don’t even want in the first place. If you don’t eat it all, it’ll go rotten it three days…so, now you have to worry about that, too.
You fight traffic and arrive at the store’s confusing angled-parking lot with random shopping carts, abandoned by society’s laziest, most inconsiderate assholes, floating between the isles. Then, enjoy careening around “slow people” — these oblivious laggard idiots, walking by threes and fours in your driving path — while you’re hunting for a close-enough place to park. You’re lucky if you find a space less than 200 feet from the entrance.
Inside the grocery store, you immediately hear some radio-friendly pop song that’ll be stuck in your head for the next few days. (My previous torture was “Drift Away” by Uncle Kracker.) At the mismanaged, perplexing produce section, you manhandle all these pungent, cold, dripping vegetables, jostling among all these other hungry people reaching and clawing to find the ripest and freshest selections. After finding your first ingredient, you’re scrambling for these thin plastic bags that fly off the roller three and a time. Did I mention they are impossible to open?
So now, what if I just wanted some carrot slices for my little healthy salad? You can’t just buy one carrot, you have to buy 20 in a big crusty bunch. I guess I’m not going to invest in a full bag unless I stand here like all the other slowpokes, pondering all the ways I could eat carrots over the next two weeks.
With my slimy mushrooms, bitter endive, hard tomatoes, and phallic cucumber, the ONLY thing which will make this salad worth consuming is sweet Western-style dressing and a jar of Bac-Os (with the iconic blue top). Lots and lots salty, crunchy, bacon-y Ba-cos.
After you have all your little bags and shit, you have to wait in a sweaty line or use the cumbersome automated check-outs. Regardless, it’s going to take forever because most everything you bought has to be weighed under some secret code number, and everyone in front of you has decided to buy salad fixings today, too.
See how much bullshit this is already? And we haven’t even started the salad-making process. This is why I usually avoid all this trouble and just pick up plasticized gas station salads when I fill up. Is that so wrong? We haven’t even begun to explore all the issues surrounding meal planning, where to put all this shit, nutrition, etc.
For whatever you are making, you better have all of the necessary pots, pans, trays, rolling pins, cutlery, plates, bowls, measuring cups, spoons, forks, cutting boards, blenders, beaters, processors, peelers, colanders, spatulas, thermometers, hot pads — just to name a few essentials. All this heavy, bulky shit is expensive, and it’s stuffed and stacked in every drawer and kitchen orifice available. Good luck finding what you need when you need it.
Thankfully, making salad usually just requires some knife work, but I’ve been known to fuck that up here and there. I still hate chopping things. One time I accidentally used a thirty-dollar “cheese wedge serving board” as a mushroom-slicing surface. Hey, it was wood and it had a handle. How was I to know? Thankfully, only one side was ruined. Other than that, chopping, cutting, or slicing of any kind has usually resulted in cutting myself, creating a huge mess, or permanently marring a surface.
By the way, have you ever tried to peel a potato? I’ve only done it a couple times in my life, but it’s one of the most awkward and fucked-up things you can do! Half the thing gets wasted because you’re using a straight knife or peeler on this random asteroid-shaped object. Then, sometimes there are these little stubborn “eyes” that have to be surgically removed, and there’s sticky starch everywhere. That’s why I say “fuck potatoes” — they aren’t worth the trouble.
Maybe it’s time we as a human species take a serious look at what we’re defining as “food.” Some things like potatoes, onions, garlic, oranges, coconuts, and Brazil nuts just aren’t worth the energy, hassle, and mess unless some distant factory is dedicated to processing them. It’s not like corn which is perfectly designed to be eaten. You just break the top and pull down the peels — and it even has a little green holder-stem.
You can probably guess that I’m a huge proponent of the microwave for it’s simple and expedient nature, but it’s also for reasons of basic health and safety. In fact, I will barely touch any stove top, oven, toaster, or outdoor grill. I undercook, overcook, explode, burn to a husk, or somehow destroy almost everything. As well, I’ve melted spoons, serving trays, and packaging; I’ve cracked, chipped, or decimated both glass and plastic bowls, plates, cups, and mugs; I’ve permanently damaged non-stick surfaces, like this past New Year’s Eve when I accidentally baked some king crab legs on special cookie-only sheets. I’m so terrible, I’ve even broken several glasses and travel cups just by stuffing them with too much ice.
Even when following directions or recipes, bad things are bound to happen. I think my biggest problem is learning to control heat. I’m always freaking out that something is too hot, or, the next minute I’m getting impatient and I don’t think it’s hot enough. Then, I fiddle with the spices or flavorings because I don’t think I’ve added enough of something to really taste it. Then, I’m furiously stirring something again because I think the cover has been on too long. Or, I’m opening the oven for the fourth time to check if something might be burning.
So, that’s why I like to stick with pre-packaged, pre-cooked stuff. At least if I screw something up, I won’t get salmonella. But that’s also why I’m a big fan of condiments. I can usually repair any stale meal with a drizzling of soy sauce, a dollop of mayo, lots of ketchup, or a spread of tangy hoisin sauce when needed. Ramen noodles can be awesome noodles with a few squirts of Sriracha, a couple drops of liquid smoke, and some cuts of peppery beef jerky. Yes!
And when I have worked with real food like raw chicken or beef, I’m a complete basketcase. I’m so paranoid about everything it touches inside and outside the fridge. I end up washing my hands about ten times and using a roll of paper towels just during the prep stage. Then, I usually spill something, or realize I don’t have an essential ingredient, or get distracted with a YouTube video.
Speaking of ingredients: One time during a rare cooking expedition I had to buy allspice — did you know how expensive this shit is? It’s like eight bucks for a little bottle! What the hell is it, and where does it come from? Did it make a difference? Hell no, because the healthy muffins I tried to bake looked like vomit and tasted like Elmer’s® glue and saccharin.
So, yes, my frustrations and fears with cooking run deep. I will never learn, nor do I want to learn. I still don’t know how to properly make any form of “egg” for God’s sake. Even if I could manage cooking a few things, I also hate washing dishes and cleaning up after anything food-related. And the more you cook, the more things stink, rot, and fester in the sink, fridge, or freezer. I’d rather spend more money at restaurants than buying cookbooks and cookware, or wasting any more food, energy, or time.
My advice to all the born anti-chefs like me? If you’re single, and you’re perusing the ads out there, pay close attention to those people who list “cooking” (or especially the more-difficult “baking”) as a hobby. As a now-married man with a gastronomically-gifted wife, this strategy worked wonderfully for me. I’m definitively not going hungry or malnourished — thanks to her — even though I can barely boil water. But it doesn’t have to be from a sexist perspective; men and women of all ages like to cook.
If you happen to date one of these culinary-catches, don’t let them go. Start early. Encourage him or her in their hobby, and even if they fuck up a birthday cake once in a while, just grin and eat it. Buy them all sorts of gifts relating to cooking, baking, and grilling. Get them a subscription to America’s Test Kitchen. Surprise them with some choice meats and exotic ingredients every few months to spark their creativity. Perhaps procure a little saffron to spice up an anniversary?
Good luck, and try not to embarrass yourself. So remember: If it takes you longer to make it than to eat it, don’t make it. Leave cooking to the pros.