Among the people I envy most are those who hate to cook (and don’t) along with others who care about food only as a necessity for life and health. Many such are perplexed by the current flood of temptations constantly beckoning in publications, blogs, websites, books and TV ads, and cooking shows. Inurred to food mania, these lucky souls get meals over with simply, quickly, and responsibly before moving on to whatever interests them more.
There was a time when the upwardly mobile felt they had to be ready to talk about art; to at least know the names Rembrandt and Picasso and be able to name one or two works by each. These days would-be climbers are advised to be able to discuss the latest trends in restaurants and the whereabouts of big name chefs as well as their philosophies. (Think Redzepi, Chang, Adria, Achatz and learn to pronounce Myhrvold.) They also should know the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan, where to buy the best black garlic and fennel pollen, and, above all, they must shun gluten even without any symptoms of Crone’s or celiac disease. (After all, you never know.)
Much of the appeals to care about food from culinary activists are messianic in tone and imply that not to join in is immoral. Of course we all respect the value of family dinners. Such meals are of upmost importance to parents and children but what is most valuable about them is that all are gathered around a table at the end of the day sharing experiences and trading solutions. Parents are responsible for providing delicious and nourishing food but that does not mean they have to prepare it. A mother or father just home from the office might be better able to pay attention to the childrens’ conversations if they do not exhaust their last spurt of energy rushing around to get the meal on the table. Assuming the budget can take it (home cooked food is usually less expensive than comparable store-bought versions), there are many sources of high quality prepared food in markets, restaurants, and home delivery services. I understand and cherish the warm and nurturing experience of cooking in progress at home, but that’s because all in my family understand and enjoy the process.
All of that said, for self-preservation one should give cooking a shot before abandoning it. At the very least it seems wise to develop just enough basic skills to be self-sufficient in an emergency. That does not mean mastering anything more elaborate then fried, scrambled, or boiled eggs (no need fussing with poaching or folding omelets), and a slice of toast to go along with them. It would also be useful to know how to boil up some DeCecco (or even Ronzoni) spaghetti (don’t forget to salt the water) then toss it with Rao’s marinara sauce (don’t forget to heat the sauce before folding it into the pasta.) Or, for slightly more ambitious efforts, buy a copy of the I Hate To Cookbook a collection of so-called easy recipes that has been in print for 56 years and is said to have sold 3 million copies.
One of the first inklings I had of the anti-cooking philosophy came somewhat as a negative epiphany many years ago when my brother married and both he and his bride were fresh out of law school, starting a home from scratch. I volunteered to advise on outfitting the kitchen and as a starter, handed my new sister-in-law a copy of The Joy of Cooking. That is a classic I consider essential for beginners as well as anyone who sometimes needs to check basic instructions on method, if not on seasoning. She took one look and before even saying “thank you” said, ”What a euphemism!” And try though she did, she always hated to cook and so, like all reluctant others, did very poorly at it. (As I recall, all of her efforts tasted somewhat grudging.) A brilliant lawyer, she had plenty of time to tend her huge glorious garden, meet with a sewing club regularly, listen to jazz, and become involved in local politics as a district captain.
(Fortunately for their eventual family, my brother evolved into a gifted and experimental cook.) Lois never changed her mind and if left to herself would have lived on cheddar cheese, apples, and large amounts of chocolate candy.
There are days when I seriously consider doing the same.