Do you ever feel like cooking is a lot of effort for very little reward?
You know as well as I do that cooking does offer rewards–ie, healthiness, thriftiness, it’s a great (and cheap!) therapy–but some days, it’s a hassle. You don’t have all the ingredients you need so you have to stop at the store for the umpteenth time that week. Something burns, or you time it all wrong and certain things are done cooking while others aren’t. Sometimes, new recipes just suck and you’re left with 5 servings of disgusting food and you have to come to terms with a) throwing it all away (precious food!) and b) your still-hungry belly.
And don’t even get me started on dishes. I live in a small apartment with a tiny kitchen and no dishwasher. I am WELL aware of the absolute pain in the ass dishes are. Especially when you’re lazy and you left that pot coated with remnants of that steel-cut oatmeal you made last night in the kitchen sink and didn’t even bother to soak it overnight…dried oatmeal is a bitch to scrape!
Cooking the right way (ie, fresh produce, everything from scratch), while can be fantastic and fun and tasty, is generally viewed as a pain. That’s why so much of this country stops at drive-thrus on the way home or heats up TV dinners. We’re busy! We work long hours in this country. We commute long hours to our jobs just to make ends meet. Many of us have busy schedules with children or volunteer work or second jobs or what-have-you. We’re always pressed for time in America. Even when we do have time, we want to spend it doing something other than hunched over a pot for 1 hour in a hotter-than-hell kitchen–like totally zombied-out on the couch watching reality TV so we feel better about our sucky lives. These are the reasons why I used to never cook. Convenience foods were easier. I love healthy food and always have (broccoli? yes please!) but the convenience of veggie burgers/fries/etc. outweighed any desire I had to eat whole foods. Total junkfood vegetarian. I was one of the worst of ’em!
I realized at the time that my eating habits were not sustainable for me. I was gaining weight rapidly in college. I was miserable. But I always told myself that I wasn’t a good cook, so why try? I was self-concious when I did attempt to cook as my boyfriend often eats with me and if he didn’t like it, I thought I was a big giant failure. I grew up eating delicious buttery fatty meaty meals that my mom made and I decided I would never be able to replicate the tastiness of that food. I obviously didn’t want to replicate the content of that food, but I wanted what I cooked to taste as good as what I ordered at restaurants or as good as what I remembered my mom’s home cooking to be. But I was clueless in the kitchen! So I just never tried. That’s a big character flaw of mine: if I perceive something as challenging and I decide it’s something I’ll suck at, I don’t try. I like challenges, don’t get me wrong, but only challenges that seem attainable to me. Running a marathon doesn’t seem attainable to me so I don’t run, ever. Is that smart? No. I could aim for something lower like a 5k but I’ve decided that since I don’t like to run and it’s something I’m bad at, I just shouldn’t try. This is bad! But it’s the way my mind works and I have a hunch that many people have that same mindset. So, the fast food game turns into a cycle and we’re eating processed garbage and wondering why obesity is an epidemic…something’s not right here.
Ever since moving out of my parents’, eating out has become a thing of the past. I can’t afford to pick up dinner every night. I have to be thrifty with my weekly budget and the only way to still eat is to cook. When I decided over a month ago to adopt a new veganish diet, that reality hit even harder: it’s hard to eat out as a vegan. So almost 100% of what I eat now, I cook myself. I never thought I’d ever cook as much as I have been lately. And I’m finding something quite strange–it’s something I’m good at! I mean, maybe restaurant critics wouldn’t agree, but I’m getting much better at chopping vegetables and timing all the burners in the kitchen so everything is done simultaneously. This is a skill that takes practice. You don’t just come out of the womb this way. But the best part of it is that it is fun. I enjoy trolling the interwebz for new recipes and picking all the ingredients up. I’m looking at grocery stores with an entirely new set of eyes. Do you know how much is out there that you’re probably not even seeing? If you’re pressed for time and you’ve made a list, what do you have vested in strolling down the organic aisle? But if you have some time and it’s a relatively slow grocery day (Wednesdays are great!), it’s amazing the treasures you’ll find. Even at non-health food stores, you come across lots of gems!
Today was one of those days where I wanted to come home and pop a vegan convenience food in the microwave and call it a day. But last night I watched Forks Over Knives and decided there was no chance in hell I was going to already succumb to the processed-foods game while that documentary’s knowledge is still fresh in my brain. So I came home and made a delicious bowl of basmati cilantro-lime rice, black beans, and homemade salsa. I sat at my dining room table alone, with no distractions, and ate mindfully. I did not overeat because I wasn’t vegging out in front of the TV. I ate a balanced, delicious, and rightly-proportioned meal. I’m now content and have two leftover servings to feed me for the remainder of the week’s work lunches. Eating healthy is rewarding! And easy! And if you haven’t watched Forks Over Knives, you need to. It’s not about the vegan crusade and there are no graphic slaughterhouse scenes: it’s a completely different perspective on why eating plant-based is good for the body and soul. It’s a must-watch for vegans and omnivores alike.
What prompted you to change the way you see, eat, or prepare food? Did you have to train yourself to love cooking?