Welcome back, readers and good eaters! Today, I hope to inspire you to learn to cook — if you haven’t already — or to take your cooking and food literacy skills to the next level, if you already cook. Catch the first part of my argument on this subject in this Q&A column. And, without further ado, let’s dive into five reasons you should learn to cook.
1: Cooking is an essential skill.
I, being a naturally rebellious soul, chafed at this statement when I was younger. My parents told me all sorts of things were essential skills: swimming (OK, I could already swim), riding a bike (ditto), reading (took some time but I got there), cooking. Ugh. I didn’t mind watching cooking or cooking the occasional fried egg on mornings when I was the first one awake. But cooking?
I want to say I learned to cook more through watching than anything else, though this can’t be true. I really learned to cook by watching others’ cook and replicating what they did and by eating. Through lots of eating.
But back to the essential skill bit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I think a lot of people have realized that some of the things they take for granted — restaurants, grocery stores stocked to the brim, speedy delivery — aren’t givens. And it’s true, we don’t know what the future looks like. It’s possible that if you can’t cook, you’ll starve. So get snapping.
2: Eating home-cooked food increases life expectancy.
Need I say much more than this? If you care about living, it’s in your best interest to care about cooking. On average, restaurant meals contain higher levels of sodium, saturated fat, total fat, and a higher number of calories than home-cooked meals. All of these can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and all the other nasties plaguing Americans today.
3: Cooking and eating sustainably helps the environment.
When you cook your own food, you start caring about what goes into that food. Because it becomes that obvious. After a trip to the Farmer’s Market, you might realize that locally-grown tomatoes taste that much better. You might start supporting farmers who practice sustainable agriculture. Or, heck, you might make the big jump and start your own garden! I don’t garden myself, so I may have to drag my mother in to do a guest post on why everyone should learn to garden.
Having control over what you’re eating might also lead to lifestyle changes. If you’re a serious cook and serious about the environment, you might become a vegetarian. Now I’m not saying you have to! I’m a meat eater through and through and have real difficulty imagining a meatless life. But there’s no arguing against the environmental toll of the American meat-eating diet. And if you cook your own food, the power is in your hands…
4: Cooking helps you feel better about yourself.
I still remember the first time I cooked a really good meal. I was proud of myself — and I felt that much better about my capabilities, too.
If you’ve ever felt like you have no control over your life or your abilities, then try cooking. In cooking (much like in writing) you have control over your little microcosm. Is the food too salty? Well, it’s because you put too much salt in it. You better add more liquid. Not salty enough? Time to add more salt — a little at a time, because it’s much easier to add than to take away. Taste, taste, taste. Tell yourself you have control over the future of the dish in your hands. Relish in the power of wielding a really big knife! Just don’t cut yourself.
Now, not everyone’s a control freak like me, but most everyone will feel accomplished if they manage to cook themselves a decent meal. And I’m not talking frozen pizza here! I’m talking something like a fake panini sandwich or an easy-ish pasta dish. The more people you cook for, the more accomplished you’ll feel. You will also feel more independent and self-sufficient — like you can take on the world on your own.
5: Cooking keeps you connected to your culture.
And helps you connect to others’ cultures. And allows you to forge your own culture, even if your family were avid eaters-out when you were a child.
Everyone has a culture. You might have to go back two generations or even three, but it’s there. Everyone has roots, and it’s never too late to dig up and rediscover those roots and learn about them in a new way. When I think about culture, I think primarily about two things: language and food. To me, language and food are inextricably connected to culture. And I could be writing an article about why everyone should learn to speak a second language, but I’m not. Because I recognize that speaking a second language isn’t something inherently human.
Cooking is. Cooking is what allowed humans to become human. It doesn’t get any more primeval than that. You’re human, so cooking is in your blood and bone. Love it, hate it, hate it at first and grow to love it, but it lives in you and through you. If you’ve ever felt less than human, gather up some friends or family. Cook a meal. (Grill it if you can to get really in touch with those caveman roots!) And share it while talking and laughing. Then you’ll know.
That’s all: five reasons you should learn to cook. If I’ve inspired you to get cooking, do me a favor and start with the easy recipes first, okay? Don’t jump right into the deep-end and attempt that coq au vin you’ve always wanted to prepare for weeknight dinner. Work yourself up. If you’re looking for quick and easy recipes to try, there are a few on Good Eats here on the blog.
If you’d like to do a little more poking about the magic and mysteries of cooking before you begin, check out my guide to the Netflix series Chef’s Table, which is about cooking and eating. Again, just don’t start expecting to cook like one of the Chef’s Table maestros on your first try.
And if you’re already an avid cook and eater whose food and cooking literacy is off the charts, thank you. Thank you for being part of the continuation of this unique human experience. Share this article with someone you think could use it. Teach people to cook. Teach people to live. And, as always, eat well!
If you enjoyed “5 Reasons You Should Learn to Cook,” read some more articles!
Try “5 Reasons Cancel Culture Is Dangerous.” Or learn about the three most important things I learned about blogging in my first year and a half on the blog.
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