This is why I cook

Posted on May 30th, 2013

I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s latest book: Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation. I’m transfixed. I love it. I’m sure you would too.

Photo by Hong Yi

Photo by Hong Yi

I’m learning all kinds of wonderful cookery thingerys. Like, salt any meat that’s to be braised or stewed for hours, if not days, before you cook it. Why? Salt obviously draws water out of things, so this advice can seem counter intuitive. But as the salt draws the water out it forms a salty liquid that then, after a bit, gets drawn back into the meat in a kind of osmotic vacuum effect. Thus making said meat super tender.

But reading the book has got me thinking about why I cook. Pollan points out it’s not an efficient thing to do. We can outsource cooking so much more cheaply and efficiently. So why bother? For me:

* Cooking is creative. I get into a flow of making and building and playing. I can test and try things and take risks. I build without a plan. I just start, then I add sauces and herbs and I feel my way toward the endpoint. It’s like that wisdom: like a car with its headlights on, we don’t need to be able to see our final destination at the end of the road. We just need to be able to shine our attention to the bit in front of us, and steer from there. This is the thrill of creativity…trusting that the road will lead us there…even if we can’t see it all in one.

* It’s manual. It’s hands-on. I roll my sleeves up and get out of my head. Out. Of. My. Head.

* It takes me beyond rules. I almost become recalcitrant. I refuse to check on The Google if I have the right temperature for baking almond meal cupcakes. I avoid using measuring cups and spoons. In fact, I only just bought a set. This makes me feel liberated.

* It involves other senses. Not my logical brain (again, it gets me out of my bloody head). I have to smell, taste, listen, touch. I’m a very hands-on cook, fingery cookery person. My hands are always in the dish…feeling things.

* It puts me in control of my nutrition. I cook so I can bulk up on dense nutrition.

This is always my aim: to seek out the densest nutritional option in every meal I cook.

How do folk who don’t cook know what’s going in their guts? It baffles me that they wouldn’t care.

As Pollan says: not cooking breeds helplessness, dependence and ignorance.

I agree. Cooking is empowering. Pollan goes onto say that in a culture that allows our cooking to be outsourced to Big Food, taking back the cooking reigns turns us from mere consumers to producers again. Or at least swings the ratio back around.

* It saves time. I know, counter intuitive, right? But I think about all the time other people must spend organising their meals via takeaway outlets or restaurants, or by cobbling stuff together meal-by-meal.  I cook in bulk, I have food ready to go, I attend to my eating right when I need it. I’ve observed it many times in communal offices. We’ll all get up to deal with lunch. I have some veggies and a tin of tuna and some cheese and I heat it…while everyone else is still faffing about with which deli they’ll go to for their nutritionally absent foccacia.

* It stops me from snacking. Studies have shown that cultures that cook don’t have a snacking culture and are in check with their appetite (and are devoid of an obesity issue). Some studies suggest not cooking is the most direct obesity indicator in a society. It’s a perspective I hadn’t considered: when you cook from scratch you have to be hungry enough to be bothered. Plus, the time it takes to prepare things delays the gratification. There are many theories on the benefits of delayed gratification and how it makes us happier. I know when I’m out and hungry, I think first to what I’d like to cook. I’m in the habit of thinking this way and food on the run has become incredibly unappealing. By the time I get home, I’ve either lost my appetite or I’m very much primed to enjoy what I cook that much more.

* It makes me a mindful eater. I cook and I sit down to eat. I create and then I present, even if it’s just to myself. And so I just don’t eat on the run.

* It reminds me that food matters. I’m alive to my wastage and food going off and the seasons and which foods are best for me at different times of year because I can see what’s available and cheap and fresh at the shops.

What about you? Why do you cook? What stops you from cooking? What are you envious of in others who cook?

 

 

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  • Ms Jane

    Great article. I cook because I suck at art and craft. Seriously! I can’t even draw decipherable stick figures! But when I cook it’s a whole creative process. I know what spices and herbs work together (a bit like choosing complimentary colours); I can turn scraps and leftovers into a feast; I don’t need a recipe but I can manipulate one to suit my intolerances. And I love to bake – it’s a bit like sculpting I guess. I’m lucky my husband’s an artist and he deals with all the arty stuff with the kids. I cook :)

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  • Kat

    Great article again Sarah!

    Cooking is such a joy…it brings my family together…helping each other out in the kitchen…sitting around the dining table talking, laughing, eating.
    To me is like a stress relief….go to the kitchen…put on some music….throw this and that together and create a meal. (always making sure I make extra to put in freezer and have leftovers for lunch)
    I loath eating on the run and prefer to go without and wait till I get home and then whip something up full of flavour & nutrition.
    The joy of cooking is also being passed onto my children as they grow older.
    The kitchen is such a relaxing place!

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  • http://www.teganwestra.com Tegan @ Happy Healthy Whole

    I cook because food excites me. The possibilities!
    And I like to know WHAT i’m eating
    And, i find it relaxing. Some people find it stressful, I do it to wind down.
    I like it when people eat my food and enjoy it.
    That makes me happy :)

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  • http://Www.kidssayyum.com.au Maddie Race

    Awesome article Sarah……every word rings so true to my ear!

    I am a very passionate home cook, to the point a few years ago I decided to take it further. I turned 40 & decided that I have to follow my passion, make a career change & back myself & this revolves all around cooking, teaching, sharing & passing on all my love & enthusiasm to kids…..teaching them how to cook, where food comes from & more importantly how easy it is to make a great meal, that tastes amazing & is unbelievably good for you! The skills we all achieve from spending time in the kitchen is un measurable….the kitchen is the heart of any home & like I say to my students….GOOD FOOD = GOOD MOOD

    when you become involved in cooking, planning a meal, picking ingredients, putting it all together, you are more than likely to enjoy the meal, knowing that you have created it…the kids are amazing at this!

    I cook & share because I care….it’s up to us as adults, parents & carers to teach kids healthy eating habits to combat this obesity problem we are currently faced with….and it’s only getting worse.
    Thanks for your post…I love following your journey on Facebook, you have inspired me to quit sugar…thankyou

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  • http://wordsbyaimee.com Aimee

    I started baking when I was a young girl because my mother was perpetually on a diet and would NEVER makes cakes and cupcakes unless it was a special occasion and I always really wanted to have them…so I learnt how to make them myself. Moving out on my own into my own unit I started cooking all my meals myself initially to save money on eating out but now I love it! I love slow-cooking a huge casserole on Sundays to have for lunch all week, it makes me feel so prepared. I always cook really nutritious food or if I decide to bake a specific treat the delayed gratification makes it so worthwhile. I also agree with the no-snacking point you make. Now I prepare wholesome nutrient dense meals I have no need for snacking between meals…it’s fantastic.

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  • Heather

    Some reasons our family cooks:

    To support local organic farmers who care about their land and their customers

    Because home-cooked is delicious

    For optimal nourishment — good health begins in the kitchen

    To know exactly what is in our food and where it comes from

    To eat exactly what it is that we fancy at any given meal

    Because cooking nourishing food for a child and teaching them to cook it themselves is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give

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  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com Jessica Nazarali

    I cook because it calms me. I find it’s the perfect way to transition from work to downtime. You also never REALLY know what you are eating when you eat out. I like to be in full control and know that what I’m putting in my body is good for me!

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  • toni

    Great Article Sarah. I cook because it gives me control over my family’s health and their future health…I can’t wait to have many exciting adventures with my husband when we are old and grey! Too many people are outsourcing their lives and consequently not taking responsibility for their own health. There are so many ways to knock together a quick meal that is healthy, affordable and nutritious. Make it a new hobby, your body and future health will thank you for it!

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  • Carolyn Turner

    I cook because I like to eat fresh tasting food. I cook because, as you say Sarah, it is cheaper and quicker than takeaway. Honestly, how long does it take to make an omelette with fresh herbs or pasta with tuna, oil, lemon, parsley and capers? And it is empowering. How good does it feel to sit down to a nutritionally sound meal you’ve prepared yourself. And we have an auto immine disease in our family – my son has Crohn’s – and whilst this doesn’t mean his diet needs to be restricted, I am conscious of making sure he gets a good dose of clean, nutritionally dense, anti inflammatory foods in his diet. If I can o that at home, then if he has the odd bit of rubbish outside the home, it’s not too bad for his system.

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  • http://lilapud.com lilapud

    I ordered this book last week after a friend recommended it – should be arriving any day now!! SO excited now especially after your share today!

    I LOVE food and everything to do with it – nutrition, cooking & baking, cook/food books and of course EATING it!

    When the world all gets too much for me, I feel so grateful for books, music and the ability to feed myself … the rest just falls away …

    I love the photo you guys have chosen for this post … meaningful … xo

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  • http://Www.designandnourish.com Diane

    Hi Sarah, the best advice I was given for cooking an amazing meal was ‘to cook with love’. I cook like you, so that I know what is in my meals and to add in as many good nutrients as possible. I also now cook not only with love, but to love – I am making sure my loved ones are eating the most nutritious meals without them even knowing it! Sneaky, but for a good cause.

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  • Jacqui

    I cook to feed. There are few gifts that you can give people that are better than something that took your time and attention. It’s easy to grab a gift off a shelf, but when you give someone some homemade jam or cookies, their eyes light up so much brighter!

    Cooking makes people happy and healthy – why wouldn’t you?

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  • RIzzo

    So funny how much we can change. Since I took on cooking as more than just a chore, I can now quite honestly say I will walk through an entire food court and none of it appeals to me. I want to go home and get my own !

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  • Petra

    This is a great post Sarah. I look forward to reading Michael Pollan’s book.

    To answer your question, “why do you cook?” I think the primary reason is that I have coeliac disease. When I eat at restaurants, I can’t be certain how gluten-free menu items really are. When I cook at home I can control the environment I cook in, and that the ingredients I use are 100 percent gluten-free.

    Gluten-free options are also quite limited when you’re craving a particular food item. I find it very liberating to jump on the Internet and look up a recipe for gluten-free Anzac biscuits and have them in my tummy within the hour!

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    Stormageddon Reply:

    That’s the reason I cook too – celiac disease!

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  • Maryann

    Cooking is basic life skills eveyone should have to look after yourself. I cook to eat good food within a budget. There I times I hate it & times I enjoy it.

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  • http://www.therogueginger.com Erin

    Such a great article. I have never thought about why I cook – I just do.

    I cook to save money and eat a lovely nutrient rich meal. Each Sunday I buy my vegies and meat then cook two lots of meals for the week – one lot is my lunch for the week and the other is on standby for dinner when I’m at home. I cook to give my body fuel.

    And lately I have become more passionate about cooking to save on packaging waste! All those takeaway containers and pre-packaged meal packaging add up.

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  • http://twitter.com/eskimojo eskimojo

    I cook because I’m good at it – the food I make is infinitely better than the food from a takeaway.

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  • Nicole

    Hey Sparkles, think of this an incentive to make you reconsider a cheap and nasty take away… http://www.smh.com.au/data-point/NSW_food_fines

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  • http://willowtreegirl.com Helen Pchelka

    I enjoy cooking from scratch and improvising the whole way as well. It’s so kick back and just plain old awesome. That’s what makes cooking so much fun. It’s like this adventure right in the kitchen. I love it. Using measuring cups and stuff always seamed kinda restricting to me. I think I only used them when I first started cooking/baking becuz I didn’t really have an eye for portion sizes, but now I scarcely even touch them. I’m a freestyle cook through and through.

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  • Cindy

    I began cooking as a form of rebellion. My mother grew up on a small farm where everything, food, clothing, draperies, were made from scratch. It was all they could “afford.” When my mom was able to buy things rather than make them, this, to her, was a symbol of success. She has always thought that cooking is a menial task. I began because it bugged her that I was well educated but cooked my own meals. Now, like u, I never measure, I use what is fresh, and everyone says I could run a restaurant as long as no diner expected the exact same meal twice! Food is SO psychological….more than people realize.

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  • Elle

    Perhaps the challenge of cooking one meal for yourself on a regular day each week, with a friend, would help? You could take it in turns, and whoever is not cooking nominates some kind of category for the other. That could be an ingredient (say, broccoli, potato, kidney beans) a type of cuisine (Italian, Mexican, Thai), or method (roast, stir fry). It can become a bit of a game, a fun challenge!

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  • Stormageddon

    I don’t really cook, I just prepare & assemble. Tonight I am having a salmon filet with a side of poached eggs, mushrooms and spinach. Sounds fancy but the spinach & mushrooms take just a minute to reduce in a saucepan. Eggs take 2 minutes in the microwave to poach. The fish is the most complicated part, steaming in the micro for 3 whole minutes. Much quicker than a Maccas run.

    Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. I mean it can be, and some people like it that way, and more power to ya if you want to spend an hour in the kitchen preparing a proper feast! But I am way too lazy for that shit.

    I’d recommend, if you are lazy like me, starting with the 4 Ingredients cook books. They are dead simple & you can add stuff to them if you are feeling fancy.

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  • Ella

    Fabulous article! I’m definitely going to get my hands on the book. My flatmates are always baffled (& possibly slightly irritated) by the fact that I cook & eat nutritionally valuable food rather than buying pre-prepared options. I especially agree with the bit about people who don’t cook being helpless & dependent & also with Sarah’s comments about finding it so confusing that people don’t care what’s in their food. I have always cooked everything from scratch through my teens to now (mid twenties) & even as a child was fascinated with food – making it& eating it. People comment on how much I am able to eat without piling on the pounds & I truly attribute this to being in total control if what goes into what’s on my plate & as far as possible, cook everything myself.

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  • Rose

    That’s what I loved about Sarah’s lunch idea – veggies, tuna & cheese. Easy peasy!

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  • http://www.stylopath.com.au Stylopath

    I like to try new ingredients and make new things I have never had before. There has never been so many amazing new ingredients available to us, it’s so much fun just experimenting. Then I usually like to photograph it all, I just can’t help it.

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  • Valerie

    wow – what a great read after I just ate Thai take away. I have not had Thai take away for sooooooo long. I have changed my diet for nearly a year and in that year I have had home cooked meals 99.9% percent of the time( luckily I work from home). The Thai I ordered in my mind was fragrant, light, pack full of vegies and flavour, what i got instead was a mouth full of creamy, overly sweet, shitty veggies. You really don’t know what your getting with take out and for that reason I love the control of quality produce in my home for my family.

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  • http://littlelocalkitchen.wordpress.com littlelocalkitchen

    Food is my hobby. I love to eat, therefore I love to cook because that is the best way for me to get what I want when I want it. Nothing (and I actually mean nothing) makes me happier than a really amazing meal. The type that makes you do those embarrassing groans because its just so damn tasty.
    Obviously there are lots of people better than me, and I love going out for a REALLY great meal and enjoying what I cannot do myself (yet). But, then sometimes I’m inspired to learn how to make that meal for myself (or my own version of it to make it healther/better/cheaper).
    I’m by no means well off, so cooking my own food allows me to make amazing things that would cost me heaps to buy from a cafe or restaurant for a fraction of the price.

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  • sparkles

    Thanks so much for the tips everyone! Will give it a shot!

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  • http://www.notjustamummy.com Naomi @ Not Just A Mummy

    I find cooking almost meditative. I’m pretty atrocious at making time to meditate so being able to properly switch off and embrace the mindfulness that comes with focusing on the simple tasks needed to make a meal is almost akin to properly unwinding and relaxing.
    I envy people who are more intuitive than me with their cooking. I’m slowly getting there but still like to cross check with recipe books and good ol’ google. I can’t wait for the day when I can just ‘feel’ that I need x amount of this and y amount of that.

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    debs Reply:

    Me too! My mum has always added a bit of this and that, made meals from whatever she had in the fridge etc. Never measures the rice or the water. She truly wings it. It mostly bothers me, because I’m a fuss ass in the kitchen and I always follow recipes to the letter, and believe meals turn out better because of that.. At the same time, I can’t wait until I just know that ‘yep, that’s about half a cup’.

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    debs Reply:

    Me too! My mum has always added a bit of this and that, made meals from whatever she had in the fridge etc. Never measures the rice or the water. She truly wings it. It mostly bothers me, because I’m a fuss ass in the kitchen and I always follow recipes to the letter, and believe meals turn out better because of that.. At the same time, I can’t wait until I just know that ‘yep, that’s about half a cup’.

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  • http://www.easyph.com.au Larissa

    Great article, thanks Sarah. I just ordered the book from bookdepository.com .
    Amazon are expensive and apparently don’t ship to Australia…

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  • Amy

    I love this post Sarah! My mum was a chef and I learnt to cook from her. From the young age of 12 I would cook whole meals for the family because my mum changed career and was running her own finanace business and would often work long hours.
    We grew up on a property too with lots of our home grown produce.
    Cooking is my favourite creative thing to do when I get stuck. I’ve been reading a book on creativity and it talks about the creators block (like a writers block) and recommends the best thing to do when this happens is to do something like cooking.
    Aside from all the nutritional reasons and health benefits I get from cooking, I really love it because I’m a perfectionist and, this probably sounds wierd, but sometimes I get so scarred to create a new design out of fear I’ll “get if wrong”. (Logically I know this is not true and how could anyone get a creative idea “wrong”). BUT with cooking, for some reason (probably because it will be gone (eaten) soon and doesn’t take as long to create (comparatively)) I don’t care if it’s not “right”. This is soo liberating to just create and not think and not care! :)
    I’m probably rambling on here and not making sense but it feels so good to release these thoughts to like minded people. And for once in my life I don’t mind what anyone’s thinking :)

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