Dicing Onion, photo by Donna

Dicing Onion, photo by Donna

I posted yesterday on twitter that I began cooking because I was hungry but continued to cook because I loved to eat, and it got me thinking.  There are so many different reasons to cook, as a number of twitters pointed out.  Self-defense was a good one!  And with the state of our processed food, one that every cook can claim!  Can I encourage other bloggers to post about why you cook?  Spell it out.  Writing it down forces you to know what you think.  When I was nine, I cooked because I was hungry and making things was fun.  Today, age 46 and devoted to family, I cook because:

—I want my family to have great food all the time that’s tasty and good for their body and brains.

—I cook because it relaxes me after long motionless hours at the computer.

—I cook because I love to eat.

—I cook to make my family and friends happy.

—I cook so Donna doesn’t have to.

—I cook because life better is when I do.

Are there any good reasons not to cook?   Let’s see.

—I don’t have time.  (Or, put another way, I’d rather do something else.)

—It’s too hard.

—I’m too tired.

Others?

All of these are perfectly adequate reasons not to cook.  I sometime use them myself.  But they’re not reasons to never cook.  The only good reasons never to cook are these:

Cooking gives me no pleasure, and eating doesn’t either.  (This is genuinely the case for some people, and I’ll lay odds they’re not reading this post)

Fast food is cheaper than fresh food and, as I am at the poverty level, I have little choice.  (The saddest reason of all, and yet another reason for those who can cook, to cook.  The more people who buy good food help to lower the price of that food through demand.)

It’s almost the weekend!  Time for cooking the fun stuff!   I’m making wine-braised short ribs and butter-filled short bread!

Update: Loving all the comments, but this one I found fascinating: comment by danielle.  And don’t miss this from White On Rice, Diane, whose family in Vietnamese: “cooking was expected of me.” I think it should be expected of more people.

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206 Wonderful responses to “Why I Cook”

  • Bradley

    I will ponder this myself. This weekend I am making the French Laundry braised breast of veal dish (wish me luck). Also, been rolling through Ratio, I swear I’m gonna make one hundred loaves of bread this weekend and force feed them to whomever I see, though I don’t think it will be necessary.

  • Dana N.

    Ham and navy beans. Maybe some deviled eggs – no one makes them any more, and we love them. Definitely corn bread.
    Cooking is my creative outlet, and I can cook better food than we get in restaurants.(except maybe for Thai) If someone would just clean up!!!!!

  • David Dadekian

    All those reasons, and I’m sure more, but your reasons do resonate best. Seriously, I would list those six reasons as my own 99% of the time (except substitute “Brenda” for “Donna”).

    I’ve already got things laid out for elk and pinto bean chili tonight. It’s time and energy but so much better than any alternatives. Thanks as always for your great writing, Michael.

  • melissa

    I cook because…

    …since I’ve spent time getting better at it, most of the time my food is better than a restaurant’s.
    …it makes me feel like I’m doing science experiments.
    …it gives me such a sense of pride when I do something well.
    …I can get other people to be guinea pigs.
    …food makes such a handy gift.
    …it gives my mind and hands a way to unwind after a long day of sitting at a desk.
    …it’s a small, low-risk sort of adventure, but still deeply satisfying.
    …it indulges so many senses at once. The deep green of kale, watching meat turn from deep red to brown…the smell of onions and garlic as they sauté in a pan…the crackle of a loaf of bread as it cools fresh out of the oven…the feel of a silky custard or the crunch of pork crackling between my teeth…the rush of euphoria I get from tasting vanilla bean or cardamom, that perfectly roasted chicken, the wholesome green of fresh cabbage, or the perfect synergy of hot apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

    Oh, yes.

  • Jill A Cunningham

    I cook to keep my roots close to me and remember those before me, so that I can teach and pass the past to the future.

  • Kim Baxter

    As a stay-at-home mom to five one reason I cook is to enjoy finishing something. Sitting down to a good dinner that I have created gives me a feeling of accomplishment. No one in my house is excited by folded laundry or an empty dishwasher. My kids successes belong to them not me. But homemade pita bread or a pot of short ribs makes everyone happy and is something I can claim as mine.

  • PJ Mullen

    I started cooking to get women 🙂 Now that I’m married I do it because my wife doesn’t like to cook and she is a willing and enthusiastic test audience. I also do it so my son develops good eating habits. Being a stay at home dad we limit out eating out to maybe once a week not only because I’m home and have the time, but because it is more feasible financially. I can’t wait for the day when he and I can cook together. Lastly, I also love to cook because it entertains the three or four people that read my blog.

    This weekend I’m going to try to make Michael Symon’s chocolate pasta and pork ragout (couldn’t find boar shoulder in my area) that he made in his chocolate and chili pepper battle with Duff on Iron Chef. No recipes to guide me, obviously, but I’m going to see what I can come up with on my own.

  • Mark B.

    I cook because it forces me to be in the moment. To concentrate on one thing, the dish in front of me, the pile of onions which need dicing, the lime to zest. With hot oil popping you can’t worry or wonder about other things, you have to get to the next step in your dish.

    I cook because it takes me to new places, discoveries about ingredients, and it gets me talking to the farmers and sellers at my local farmer’s market.

    I cook because it is cheaper and better than eating out all the time. It is comforting to have containers full of food ready to reheat and eat.

  • Jennifer Mathis

    I cook because I want to know *exactly* what’s in at least *some* of my food.

    I cook because I like the feeling of accomplishing something I didn’t think I could (making fresh bread or roasting a whole chicken for the first time).

  • Huey P

    “The more people who buy good food help to lower the price of that food through demand.”

    I’m no economist, but I’m not sure that this statement is correct.

  • Connie

    Actually, that onion photo perfectly represents what I associate with cooking and why I love it. There’s nothing more basic to the food arsenal than an onion, and nothing more I love than the smell and sound of an onion sizzling in a sauté pan. Talk about awakening all your senses at once. Its also a social ritual, and by that I don’t mean just eating with other people, but cooking with them to make a meal. I love that camaraderie.

  • Elliott Papineau

    <– or make the price rise due to short supply if supply remains unchanged. If more good food is produced that is driven by demand, then prices will become lower. I see the later coming to fruition just as energy efficiency has become a social point in many other (non-food) industries.

  • Bob

    I cook:

    – because I enjoy it. The process of creating something that has an immediate and beneficial value is both grounding and restorative, something I’ve found more essential with a career in television news. (Delving into Ratio during my Christmas vacation was a sanity-restoring – and delicious – respite.)

    – because my grandfather used to cook for the family. Most of the men in our family learned to cook, and one of my cousins is a line cook.

    – because I learned some of the basics when my mother had a broken wrist. That gave me the skills which helped me court my wife. (For some bizarre reason, neither of my sisters lay claim to being able to cook.)

  • viviane bauquet farre / food & style

    Michael, thank you for engaging your readers in such a thoughtful and important excersice. If everyone cooked everyday with fresh foods, certainly our wolrd would be quite different.

    As for me, I started cooking at the age of 6 because I was very interested in what my grandmother was doing in the kitchen and loved all the food that would come out of her kitchen. On the other hand, the meals my mother made were quite horrible and always ended up being a tearful affair. So by the age of 8, I decided that the only solution was to take the cooking in my own hands… I simply took over my mother’s kitchen and she was happy to let me do it – cooking simply wasn’t her thing. Everyday, after school, I would rush to my grandmother’s and cook with her… Then I’d come home and cook a meal for my family.

    Now I cook for the love of it. I love everything that goes on in the kitchen, including washing the dishes!

  • Lisa Maulhardt

    I cook to relax. I cook to please. I cook to feel closer to my female relatives, and my ancestry (commercial bakers and fishermen on one side of the family, farmers on the other). I cook to create more than I consume in this world.

  • Jen

    I cook because if I don’t, who will? I’ve been single my whole life, and now live on the opposite coast from my family (for work, not really by choice). It really is cheaper and easier to prepare enough food on the weekend so I can eat well during the week, especially after a long day of work. I find that a lot of my cooking and baking is an attempt to re-create the flavors of my childhood. For example, I’ve been trying to get my grandmother’s pork-chop recipe just right, and keep falling short. I wonder if part of it is because I have no one to share my meals with. I’ve invited friends and co-workers over for dinner, but they have families of their own, and just don’t have the time. Food doesn’t seem to taste as good when eaten alone.

    For what it’s worth, this weekend I will try out my brand-new cast iron dutch oven by making a beef stew, using a nice roast I picked up at the market.

  • Bob

    Since I usually break from blogging on weekends, this will be Monday’s entry. Let’s have those of us who blog spread the meme by writing it up, and not just respond within the comments!

  • Jeremy Hulley

    It’s a nice way to calm down after a rough day.
    Doing the leftover dishes..putting on some music..getting out the cutting board..pulling out food…steeling my kinfe…maybe a glass of wine or bourbon rocks to sip while I’m cooking..

    I love those moments when things come out even better than I expected..

  • Dave

    I cook because there is no more nurturing act that I can perform for my daughter than to provide to her the model of a man that is at once both masculine and nurturing.

  • Mimi

    I grew up in a household that was at the poverty level. We ate our share of processed foods (i.e. whatever could be bought with a coupon like velveeta and crackers). But my Mom would cook and it kept our costs down. A pot of beans served with tortillas is very cheap to make. Soup bones are mega cheap, make a great soup, you get to enjoy the marrow (fancy!) and the dog gets a treat when you are done.

    I began to cook myself in that situation to be able to have my own food to my own liking. My first things to cook were glazed carrots and peanut butter cookies. (I was just a kid).

    Later, I became a vegetarian. Back in the 80’s you had to cook if this is what you were eating or else you would starve.

    After that faze was over, money was still tight for me so I started cooking out of fancy cookbooks and gourmet magazine because I found out I could eat like a king for very little money. As a matter of fact, I found I could afford really expensive ingredients and still cook within a budget (fancy cheese and farmers market veggies can be stretched a long way).

    So for me, it is enjoyment, frugality, better quality than some restaurants, knowing what is in my food because I can pick the ingredients, caring for those I love and showing off. The downside is the cleanup.

  • hortron

    I cook because it’s a technical activity. I have always liked to perform acts of science and engineering that require fine-motor-skills; building models, tweaking circuitry, repairing gizmos and other devices. Cooking scratches the same itch.

    What’s funny is that I don’t love to eat.

    I remember once I made my first quiche from scratch, crust included. When it was done I cut it up on the cutting board and basically devoured it standing up. 2 hours of work and mess for a quick 2 minute chow-down.

    Because we have to eat I can justify the cost of food, where I can’t really justify the cost of putting together some grand project where the result will end up sitting on the shelf.

  • Rhonda

    For me, cooking is a way to express love and learn about myself. It is a creative outlet. Feeding people and making them happy through food is immensely satisfying.

    I asked a co-worker this question and his response was that he learned to cook to impress Girls. He said that now he cooks to impress himself as well as girls.

    In a twisted way, I think my co-worker and I both are saying the same thing, it is just that we have different target audiences. 🙂

  • SallyBR

    I cook because the entire process appeals to me: planning the meal (it can be a simple dinner for me alone, or dinner for 8), choosing the recipes, shopping for the ingredients, making the dish, and enjoying it…

    Cooking for a partner, for friends, for family, makes it even better!

  • John Bailey

    Michael

    I was a bachelor cook who could do a steak on a grill and warm up hash browns from a package…and sometimes make a doctored pasta sauce and spaghetti when a date came over. Then I bought a home with a restaurant scale kitchen. Be careful of the kitchen you acquire because eventually someone will ask what you cook in such a well appointed kitchen. I learned to cook so as not to look foolish or waste a grand opportunity to to use the equipment to its full potential and create interesting meals for myself and others. Fortunately, I was able to begin growing and learning when the Food Network was starting and all the rock star chefs of today had shows that taught how to prepare dishes. Also, it was at a time when useful cookbooks and even opulent ones were beginning to appear with frequency.

    As for your weekend meal, will you do your braise of the short ribs traditionally or perhaps in your Sous Vide Supreme? My sous vide lamb chop experiments have given me terrific results and what I appreciate most is the equal doneness thorughout the meat. Also, after I take out the chops from the bags, I finally learned that by patting them dry before putting them into a very hot skillet results in a better maillard reaction. The more I play with sous vide, the more I sincerely believe this is a trend that will only become wider spread and more common in the future.

  • Amber

    I’m no food blogger, just a regular person that likes food. Here’s why I cook:

    -It’s cheaper than going to a restaurant/fast food or microwaving some prepared business.
    -I know what’s going into what I eat.
    -It’s healthier in almost every situation. Even if what I’m making is not that healthy, I can exercise portion control or substitute. At least I know for sure I’m using three sticks of butter – it’s more honest!
    -I cook for the beautiful moment when everything is plated and I plunk it down at the table. Two beautiful plates with amazing food and I did that.
    -I cook for my husband. I feel immense pride when he likes what I’ve made. This never gets tired – I can make his favorite chicken caesar burritos every night and if he still raves about how good they are, I still feel great.
    -Experimentation and entertainment
    -Spending time at home, creating a healthy and centered environment for my family.
    -I have to make use of all those cookbooks I buy!
    -My coworkers are always jealous the next day when I bring leftovers for lunch – they are particularly wooed by homemade pizza.
    -Many homemade goods reflect well on the cook and carry a certain amount of prestige – the aforementioned pizza but also certain baked goods, exotic dishes, etc.
    -Gadgets! What room of the house could possibly compete with the kitchen for most gadgets?
    -I love food and I love eating. And I love eating *a lot*. Cooking my own food allows me to overindulge on something that won’t do much harm. You can never be sure if you didn’t make it yourself.

    My husband and I have compartmentalized, so that if we’re having steak, he’s cooking it. If we’re having beans or any baked goods, that’s my department. So I can’t say it’s true for me but it’s true for our household:
    -My husband can make a steak (with the right meat – hello Costco!) that is as good as any steak it is possible to buy at the fanciest restaurant. There are many, many things that can be made better with better technique. Steak, in my opinion, is steak. We’re working on the sauces but for now, throw a hunk of blue cheese on top of mine and I’m in heaven. Fancy steakhouse dinner at home: $15 for two.

    There are probably so many other reasons. We cook almost every night and WE LOVE IT. Cooking is awesome!

  • Clay

    I cook because it’s the most time consuming hobby I have. I write for a living and for fun, and there’s always watching basketball this time of year or reading. But cooking is something I enjoy immensely and it keeps me from getting bored!

    I also love good food, so I learned how to make it.

    As far as not cooking – too tired or, simply, I don’t feel like it. This happens once a week. I also love the sights, sounds and smells of restaurants and bars, so I won’t cook a few nights a month so I can enjoy going out.

  • Dan, hobby cook

    Michael, I learned from you what to call what I do – “hobby cook” is a great fit – thank you.

    If I’m honest with myself, I think my cooking is ego-driven: I like to impress. But lately I think it’s taken on a life of its own, and I do it just because there’s no place I’d rather be than the kitchen.

    I’m cooking a 6-item tasing menu for a wine tasting tomorrow, so I’ll be in the kitchen for 12 hours or more. Thai, Greek, Italian, Korean, Cajun (Paul Pruhomme’s spiced peach gravy on grilled pork tenderloin – yum!).

  • Andrew

    I cook because I get better food for less money. I will never understand anyone who says fast food is cheaper.

  • Kate @Savour Fare

    I cook because it’s creative and incredibly satisfying — the process is directly tied to the result.

    I cook because my family has to eat, and we can’t afford (from a money perspective or a health perspective) to eat out all the time.

    I cook because I have more practice than my husband, and therefore I’m more efficient than he is.

    I cook because I’m damn good at it, and some of my favorite food to eat is food that I’ve cooked.

    Sometimes I don’t cook because I just can’t face doing the dishes.

  • Genevieve

    I cook so I can be with people I with people I will never see again; I cook because there is no form of entertainment more engaging or exciting.

  • Kate

    I cook, because I moved from the NYC area to a culturally challenged area. If I want something more top-shelf or different – I have to special order the ingredients and cook it myself.

  • sheiladd

    I started to cook very young because my darling mother was a terrible cook. It really was self-defense; I could not eat what she put on the table and neither could my younger sibs. By ten I took over the kitchen, and planned and prepared all the meals until I left for college. I had an excellent teacher in my elderly great-aunt, who was a terrific plain cook with the ability to make everyday food special and delicious.

    I cook now for all sorts of mundane reasons – to control what I am eating, to please and nourish my friends and family, to save money. But mostly, because cooking is part of living well, as a whole and mindful person consciously enjoying the world.

  • Liz

    I started cooking “ethnic” foods (Mexican, Indian, Thai) because I either lived in places where I couldn’t get those cuisines or I really couldn’t afford to go out for them, so where else was I to get them. Now I say that my Indian food tastes better than what you can get in most restaurants!

    I also cook from scratch because I believe that we are being told how hard it is to cook as a way to get us to buy more and more processed forms of food we don’t need. I refuse to let any corporation tell me that I am too dumb to cook. If I choose to take a shortcut because I am busy or a company makes a really good product, so be it, but never tell me I am too inept to do it myself!

  • David Gray

    It’s the only way in rural SC to get food made with freshly milled wheat.

  • The Single Gourmet

    I grew up in the restaurant business and have always been fascinated with food, the business and the overall culture of the restaurant. To this day, the kitchen is the one place I love being more than any other. It’s a great source of comfort and relaxation for me, and a place that always brings me a lot of happiness.

  • Katie

    I cook because it combines my two favorite things, food and science. An edible experiment is the best kind!

  • Guy

    I wish I could remember the author’s name, but she started an essay on food with the statement “I come from food the way some people come from money.”

    That describes why I started to cook. All of you have pretty much captured why I continue to cook.

  • Donna

    Cooking is s a creative act, it’s meditative, and the results are often beautiful, delicious, and deeply satisfying.

  • Elizabeth@obcookie

    I cook because as a medical student, I had to give up a lot of my old creative activities like composing music, and it is a tangible, edible source of creative inspiration. There’s also no better excuse to have friends over, make you clean your house and spend the free Saturday over the stove instead of on the couch. I cook because you get to eat what you make (instead of for example, a quilt…that would not be very yummy). I cook because it’s fun and more than two meals of eating out makes me feel sick.

  • Diane Cu , WORC

    I cook because, culturally, it was expected of me. I’m Female, I’m obedient and my place was in the kitchen alongside my mother. Growing up, cooking was a loathing chore, a cultural prerequisite that kept me constantly in the kitchen when I would have much rather played soccer.

    As I evolved into a young homecook in my family’s kitchen, I discovered that there was a deeper meaning and significance to every stage of preparing a meal. Grocery shopping, ingredient selection, preparations, the technical importance of timing stocks, stews, braises and other dishes were all lessons in science, food history, cultural bonding and patience.

    Now, in the context of what I do now as an adult, the act of cooking (what used to be a chore) is much more compelling to me because I now experience the gratifications of feeding. Feeding is the other wonderful half of cooking, the community part, the experience of bonding with everyone that wasn’t in the kitchen with me.

    To me, to feed someone allows me to bring people together, to connect and to give back. Feeding fosters friendships, patience, understanding, tolerance and keeps my mind open to everything and everyone.

    I cook, I feed and I love it all.

    Thank you Michael for stimulating discussions, as always.
    -diane

    • marcella

      Diane, I am totally with you on the meaningfulness and the sheer delight of feeding the ones you love. My blog carries an epigraph that reads, more or less: “I love you, therefore I feed you” (where the Italian word for “feeding” comes closer to “nurturing”). And I love the joke that goes, The best love line is not, “I love you”, but, “Have you had your dinner?”
      But then again, I’m from Italy and thought it was such a very Italian-mom thing to feel 🙂
      Sharing this with you really made my day.

      Thanks so much Michael for such an inspiring question.

  • Christine @ Fresh Local and Best

    I live in a city that makes it hard for me to cook, a place where my 4×9 kitchen is considered spacious, where there is good competition at every corner, where I have to wait in line for 20 minutes in the grocery store’s check out stand, and where I need to battle ten to twenty blocks of dense oncoming pedestrian traffic when I am schlepping bags loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Nonetheless, I am fulfilled by creating my own dishes, knowing that every ingredient has been carefully selected and added with care. More than nutrition, home cooking has made me garner a deeper appreciation for other cultures, useful cooking techniques and talented individuals who never cease to come up with intriguing ideas in the kitchen.

  • Ron

    I cook because it relaxes me.
    I cook because I love to eat.
    I cook because I am a natural experimenter.
    I cook because it exercises a different part of my brain.
    I cook because I love to see my wife and friends happy when they eat.
    I cook because it is the only thing in life that I have complete control over how it turns out.

  • Diala

    I cook because cooking gives me peace, makes me happy and with it I make the people that I care about the most my family and great friends, happy as well.Researching recipes for inspiration, is truly time well spent, I proudly think of myself than more of a foodie-which is overused by now, I am a food geek:-).

    I love the feeling of seeing the whole set up of amazing food , happy faces, the taste of a new recipe, but mostly, I love the process of getting there.
    I love that my daughters ( 5 and 11) love to help out- and have to own the paddle attachment after we ‘ve mixed cake or cheesecake batter.
    Cooking = happiness for me, and everyone knows it.

  • Maria

    I cook because it makes me happy and it makes my family happy to eat. Even when I fail and it turns out to be a flop, I still learn from it and can think of something positive about the experience. When a dish is perfect and everyone enjoys it I get a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get from my regular paying job.

  • joyciel

    Well I first started cooking because I thought it sounded fun and I had a craving for cookies but didn’t want to go out and buy it. Those were like gateway food or something because then I wanted to try baking cakes which lead to another thing and so forth.

    Now I cook because it’s something that I enjoy more than anything. Like it’s something I was born to do, I’ve never been good at much things (not that I was incompetent or anything but just didn’t excel) but cooking just felt right and it comes so easily to me. I’ll be crushed if I don’t make it as a chef!

  • Hali

    I’m a student, and while I have always loved to eat, I have just recently discovered that I also love to cook. And I think that one of the reasons that I love to cook is that the results of cooking are so much more concrete than the results of reading, an activity that I currently spend most of my time doing. Obviously reading books gives you knowledge (which is awesome), but you can’t really touch the knowledge, or smell the knowledge, or really even see it.

    And reading cookbooks is like the best of both worlds: I gain knowledge from reading them, and then I can execute that knowledge in a tangible way that can be enjoyed by both me and my friends.

  • Dot

    I cook because I love to share that talent with friends and family. I love all aspects that have to do with the culinary arts, every since i can remember I LOVED going to the grocery store with my parents. As a child all my drawings were of me behind some counter of a bakery or diner, I always knew I wanted to be a Chef. I begged my Mom for a Easy bake oven but since she was an ER nurse she said no because it was too dangerous. My first job at 16 was in a pizza shop, i’d save up money for pastry cookbooks. After high school I went to culinary school and worked in a professional kitchen for 10 years. Now as an adult I love the weekends where I can go to the farmers market. My husband and I have this thing where each weekend we take turns trying new recipes from all the food magazines we get. For Superbowl food we each had one slab of pork ribs, do whatever you want with it-Who would make the better ribs?? I swear I was born to cook 🙂

  • Natalie Sztern

    You half lose your bet:: I love to cook, I don’t like to eat what I cook.

    The family and friends love to eat my cooking

    I actually get no pleasure from eating what I make.

    Most of the time and I can mention one two hands what I both enjoy making and eating; most recently one of the meals was Michael Symon’s Mac and Cheese.

    Just in case the women who read your blog whose husband’s all cook for them I want to leave them with this thought:

    For the 32 years I have been married I have had one continuous request to my husband and that is to create a meal from beginning to end and cook it for me; just him and me…no dishes to do, just the shopping, the research and the cooking.

    He has spoiled me in the most lavish of ways for birthdays and anniversaries…but just once make me a meal, I say. I would forgo everything else.

    I am still waiting.

    I suspect I will die waiting.

    I envy a woman whose husband cooks. It is the most selfless act a man can do for his love. Donna, et al; I am a lucky woman but you are a notch luckier.

  • Sandy Netherton

    In addition to a previous post I will add to the minion and say that cooking connects me to my culture and my heritage. I keep a regiment of Portugese food going in my home so it’s not lost. (Azorean to be exact.) I am the only person I know in my entire family who keep this tradition alive so it’s crucial (in my mind) to have it as a part of my family. I no longer live in an area where there is Portuguese food around the corner, but by God you can get it at my home and you can get it done traditionally, and you can get it done well. Gratefully my grandmother taught me well. I am teaching my 15 year old son and hope against hope that he will use it and pass it on.

  • Danielle

    I cook in response to my childhood but not to recreate flavors or because anyone in my family was an excellent cook. I was raised on things like Lucky Charms, Oscar Mayer and McDonald’s, though not for reasons of poverty. Until as recently as my late 20s (I’m 35), I thought cooking was a waste of time. Looking back, I recognize the denial; I wanted to believe nobody cooked for me growing up because cooking really IS a waste of time, when the reality is simply that nobody cared enough about my brother and me to cook.

    Pardon the psychobabble, but late in life I discovered you can–you must–give yourself the things you feel you missed out on as a child. It eventually dawned on me, after nearly three decades of eating soup from a can and dinners from microwavable cardboard boxes, that maybe I could do better for myself. Maybe cooking just for me would be worth the time and effort…if I only knew how. So, I began learning everything I could, through cookbooks, DVDs, blogs like this one, participatory classes, etc., and started cooking like a maniac. I’ve certainly had my share of disasters, but today I make my own stock, bake my own bread, can’t IMAGINE buying salad dressing in a bottle, and cook one actual, set-table/sit-down meal every single day, without exception. And before the first bite passes my lips, I offer a silent expression of gratitude for the food I’m about to eat and appreciation for my ability to have cooked it.

    Ultimately, I cook because it’s a meaningful declaration of independent adulthood and a satisfying way of caring for myself (and now, for others) that had been absent from my life for far too long.

    • Elvia

      This was both heartbreaking and empowering. I almost cried; thank you for writing it.

    • Cheryl Katz

      I was raised on what I generously call “convenience foods” too! For me it was not because nobody cared, but because nobody knew better at the time. And I cook today half because I love to make things, and half because I want to give myself daughter the best, healthiest, tastiest and most WHOLE food there is to build a body with. I can really relate to what you wrote.

      It’s amazing and wonderful that you took that denial and turned it around into such a positive element of your life.

    • Jen

      No psychobabble in sight—I appreciate your honesty and celebrate your accomplishments. My mother was an excellent cook who didn’t encourage me to learn (it was her outlet). It took me a similarly long time to give myself permission to experiment and I have a lot to learn, but I feel I know what good food tastes like!

    • Patty Marguet

      . . . i always tell my husband, “you may want to trade me in someday for a younger wife, but just remember, she’ll never be able to cook like i can . . . at least not in the kitchen!”

  • Kate

    After 2 weeks of eating dorm food my freshman year, I got pretty sick and just felt rotten in general. Ever since then I’ve been cooking everything and anything in “self defense”, because I like to know what I’m putting in my body, it’s a stress relief, it’s cheaper, it tastes better, and I like to think that every time I buy a non-injected free range chicken that I am voting to sustain those values.

  • cory barrett

    I cook because:

    -Death is the closest we can come to living.
    -Single ingredient breakdowns thrill me.
    -Of the aromas
    -the sound
    -its an amazing way to take ideas from my head, and put it into my body.
    -I respect it.

  • allen

    I grew up with my dad who had zero interest in cooking so if you didn’t make it you didn’t eat it. I was better off buying my own food when I got a job. I remember having Oscar Meyer bologna and no bread, or it was bread and no Oscar Meyer bologna when he was shopping, peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches would suffice,

    Then my grandmother got me a skillet for xmas and a recipe of browned hamburger, cream of mushroom soup and tater tots on top, my dad liked it and I found pleasure in making him happy, that planted the seed and now I find pleasure in making family and friends happy with food, not that old recipe though, it’s a global exploration of recipes from all over the world.

    And you can’t be angry very long when your cooking, the anger melts away like butter in a hot skillet. Exercise would probably do the same thing – that’s just a hunch though, can’t actually attest to that as being fact.

  • Miriam Fogarty

    I like to look for just about all of the reasons listed but I am (temporily at least) kind of intrigued as to why people don’t cook, either at all or more than they could.
    My personal opinion is that many of the TV cookery shows (although very popular forms of entertainment) actually alienate viewers.
    It seems to me that the viewers strive for the perfection of the TV results but NOBODY tells them to chill a bit because LIFE STANDS STILL for the TV camera (the phone or doorbell never rings. guests are never late, children are never sick).
    When is anyone going to realise that most of us who live in THE REAL WORLD simply don’t have the luxury of 30-60 of uninterupted time in a cooking capsule to replicate the dishes and presentation of the TV celebrity chefs?

  • Matt Kopans

    I cook for all of the reasons above. Here’s why I don’t cook (when I don’t cook):
    – Sometimes I want something that I am unable to make given my limited kitchen resources. For example, my stovetop only gets so high – if I want a real stir-fry, I go out.
    – Sometimes I want to eat something that a restaurant will be able to get better quality products for (we’re going out for sushi tonight)
    – My wife and I want to eat very different things (I like spicy foods, she does not) so we go out.

    finally, I sometime do crave the artificial grossness that’s out there. I know, I was raised by wolves, but sometimes I really want a McDonald’s Cheeseburger (not often, but sometimes) and I cannot duplicate that flavor at home.

  • allen

    Oh yeah, my weekend meal is flattened chicken breast, dusted in seasoned whole wheat flour and a little polenta for crunch, seared in olive oil with minced rosemary, garlic and red pepper flakes until brown on one side flip, deglaze with lemon juice, sauvignon blanc and butter, a few capers and a side of broccoli blanched and shocked with a little butter, lemon juice and sea salt, served with garlic bread and white wine. Takes about 20 minutes, cost is less than 10 bucks, a nice healthy change from red meat and a wonderful pairing with white wine, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc: Niebelo Icon I found for 3.99 a bottle.
    The economics of prepared fast food doesn’t make sense, you’d spend more time and money driving out for a couple of value meals in the drive through or the pizza to show up.

  • Sarah

    I couldn’t agree with you more about loving to eat and therefore finding great enjoyment from cooking. As a mother, there have been times in recent years that cooking has become painfully laborious. Mostly because of catering to a toddler palette which includes some really bland meals. Yet for me, loving food has made me love cooking as well. I do look forward to the weekends to relax, have some wine and cook something that makes me and my stomach really happy. Those short ribs sound terrific!

  • charity dasenbrock

    oh now that I have read all the responses, I could go write a long addition to my blog post. So many interesting comments!! thank you Michael for asking the question and thanks to all who answered.

    here is mine..
    http://forlifepersonalchef.com

    ( and yes, I was the gimpy one at the PCN convention in Charleston and no, I am not gimpy anymore. I can handle a long full day in the kitchen, thank god)

  • Karen Downie Makley

    I second everything that Donna said. It is a beautiful, nourishing, creative pursuit. And during my worst financial moments, it has forced me to be more creative and improve my skills (“how can I make this $3.00 cut of beef taste as good as the $12.00 cut?”) Cooking allows me to learn something new (and useful) every single day.

  • ohiofarmgirl

    I don’t just make my food.. I MAKE my food. We raise 95% of our meat and a good portion of everything else food related (eggs, milk, etc… grains coming this year). With all this good stuff its criminal not to cook. Why pay for $20 plate of food that you can make at home? Fast for for us is opening up something we canned or froze…and that we grew ourselves. Tonight’s ‘fast food ‘ took me less than 7 minutes standing up and and cost of goods was about $1.

    Off topic – Ruhlman – I was never so surprised to see your Charcuterie book in Hoegger’s Goat Supply catalog. Humm.. chevon salami anyone? Can’t wait to use your techniques from this beautiful book.

  • Susan

    I cook for many of the reasons you stated, but also because it’s a creative outlet for me and a pleasure to do for my family. My husband is the main creative cook in our house and I am the creative baker. It’s one of the things we do that brings us together and it brings our family together with us in good health, adventurous appetites, and knowledge and awareness of how food is present in just about every aspect of living. And we do indulge in the occasional fast food grab once in while, but as a treat rather than a staple…as it should be!

  • Kelly

    I cook truly because I love to eat. If I get a sort of craving in my head, its wonderful to be able to create something satisfying to quench it. It doesn’t always turn out as planned, but that’s part of the fun and adventure. My husband likes everything I make — even the flops. This weekend, I plan on trying a recipe I just found on Smitten Kitchen (the Cauliflower and Carmelized Onion Tart) which I believe is adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe. Will provide just the right amount of creative license I may need for the pastry, and who doesn’t love a final product drenched in melted cheese!

  • S. Woody

    I cook because it relaxes me.

    I cook because what I cook generally tastes better than what I can buy already made (not always, I do have my failures),

    I cook because my partner recently had heart surgery, which is leading us to rethink what we are eating, and controlling what we eat is easier when I make it myself. I cook because I want him to live longer.

    Tonight: Tempura shrimp, rice flavored with lemon and sesame, and an experiment involving zucchini (can what I used to do in the frier for zucchini fritters be translated to the skillet as, what, a zucchini pancake?).

  • laura

    I cook because I like to. I cook to feed my family, to show off, to impress, to show someone that I love them. I cook because I can control the ingredients.
    This weekend i’m making two kinds of chili, cornbread and a citrus salad, can’t wait to have the crowd over and share.

  • Rhonda

    …And now that we all have the “Warm Fuzzies” out of our system — for your edification and pleasure, please refer yourselves to Chef Del Grosso’s Blog “A Hunger Artist”. Michael has a link attached.

    I love you Chef. I know that particular sentiment will never give me immunity to your potential scorn.

    I am learning every day.

    Damn, you are tough.

  • Andrew

    I cook because:

    1) I like to eat;

    2) It’s unbelievably relaxing after a long day at work (I’m a lawyer) and a long commute home;

    3) My 7-year-old likes cooking with me;

    4) It counts as doing chores around the house; and

    5) My family loves it.

  • Joe

    I cook, because …

    – it’s something from which there’s near instant gratification … at most it’s some hours after you start preparing a meal, you have the results

    – I love good food, but can’t afford to eat out as often as I’d like

    – no matter how good the food is, there’s always room for improvement, so I know that as much as I like what I cook now, what I cook next year will be better

    – it makes people happy

    – I can include my kids in something that they can do for their whole lives

  • Jacki

    Bottom line…I cook because my husband and daughter’s health depends on it. They both have Celiac Disease, and so 3 years ago when they were diagnosed with it, I had a choice. Either eat chicken and rice the rest of our lives, or learn to cook. I had never opened a cookbook before October 2007, and fortunately I found out very quickly that I simply love to cook. It relaxes me and gives me joy and peace.

  • Carri

    People ask me all the time if I ever get sick of cooking…I think that to not cook is a luxury, how do you eat, if you don’t cook? Ultimately, it’s been a survival thing for me. I grew up in a very violent household where the kitchen was thee only safe place to be…as long as I was in there cooking good things, the wrath would not fall on me. Through this I also learned that food can tame the most agitated of souls…and with that knowledge I made a life out of feeding people. The kitchen is a great equalizer, you may not have a degree, but if you work hard and apply yourself, you can succed. I love that.

  • Quynh

    Frankly, I did not start cooking until after giving birth to my daughters. I learned to cook because I did not want them to think that cookies came from Chip Ahoy!. I grew up in a family, where my Mom loved to cook, but not clean, and so I was her kitchen slave to clean that is. Though I’m Vietnamese, but I cook better Italian food than the Italians in Italy. Now I cook for my family, because just like you, I don’t want junk food! It’s so much less expensive to cook a nice meal at home and you can drink good wine without having to worry about breaking your budget! My daughter now is a good cook and, oh, she said that because of me, she loves to cook as well! Nothing makes a mother prouder than that!

  • amy

    I cook because

    It allows me to work with things I never have.
    And learn from them.
    I cook because I find something totally relaxing about it.
    I cook because I love good food
    I cook because I have a good idea of what’s in my food
    I cook because it is, in it’s own way, an art form
    I cook because no matter how much you think you know, there is always something you don’t know.
    I cook because I respect my food and the items (knives, gadgets)
    I cook because I love eating food
    I cook because I love good food
    I cook to learn my mom’s cooking
    I cook to learn about my culture
    I cook to learn about other cultures
    I just plain love cooking.

    I don’t always eat what I cook either.

  • michael bash

    Agree with your reasons up to Donna. Remember Marcella Hazan reacting to one who said s/he didn’t have time to cook, “What do you do? Starve?!” Also I’ve often said cooking produces the only art you can eat. High praise

  • Boonie

    Sometimes I have a hard time justifying cooking for just myself…Cooking for others is one of the great, simple pleasures in life…And, it’s not for the soliciting of praise and compliments by those I feed…It just feels, well…good…Nice post, Michael…Let’s see some pics of those short ribs, Donna!

  • Brian

    I originally started cooking because it was an creative outlet for me. I can’t draw or paint or otherwise make anything (I can barely put together those bookshelves you buy at Wal Mart LOL), but in the kitchen I could get the creative juices flowing and really make something.

    I still cook for those reasons but now it has expanded more along the lines of the self-defense Michael mentioned. Too much fast food was taking it’s toll on my waistline and leaving me generally unsatisfied throughout the day. Now I spend my days off, cooking my week’s worth of veggies and rice etc and it is the most relaxing and enjoyable time.

  • The Chef In My Head

    Hmmmmm…why I cook??

    I truly love the creativity of the whole thing, colors, textures, flavors
    I truly love my “Mikey” friends, they will eat anything and they love me enough to honestly critique my creations.
    I truly love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they really like what I have prepared.
    Mostly, it is one of the ways I enjoy most showing those around me how much I care for them. I want them to feel special because I took the time to prepare something for them. It all sounds a little mushy, but it is a passion afterall ~LeslieMichele

  • Diane

    I cook like just about everyone else, out of necessity. It’s also cost effective and can be a healthier choice than selecting from a restaurant menu. In addition, cooking can be a form of creativity and if you are not hungry when you are cooking, it can be quite relaxing!

  • Tags

    I can’t argue with putting this post in the “technique” category, but “rant”?

    I’d put this post in the “poetry” category before I put it under “rant.”

  • Tony

    I cook for just about every reason that has been already mentioned here. It is just a great question! I also think there is a companion question that I’d like to offer up. Why do we eat?

    I eat for all of the obvious reasons. It excite my senses; site, smell, touch and most importantly taste. There is another reason that is all too often forgotten, health.

    If it were not for eating we would starve to death and, well that’s not good for your health ;-). Also, if we don’t eat a combination of foods that give our bodies the nutrition that it needs it will cause harm and possible death too.

    My point here is not to just preach the virtues of eating nutritious food but to highlight the wonderful intersection of these two questions; why do I cook and why do I eat.

    It is through this understanding in how these questions intersect that I can enjoy cooking and eating the many foods that Michael explains in beautiful detail in his book “Ratio”.

  • Gary Allen

    I taught myself to cook because I became interested in Japanese food and there were no Japanese restaurants within 90 miles (and because I was a student, and could never afford to go to them anyway). That led to more experimenting with other cuisines — and while most of my friends were eating brown rice and seaweed (it WAS the sixties, after all), I was learning to bake my own croissants. Thank you, Julia Child!

    Forty-odd years later, I’m still (happily) learning.

  • Alison Ashton

    I wish I could say I was inspired by my mama’s cooking, but she wasn’t much of a cook (aside from making some killer tacos).

    I didn’t start cooking much until well into my adulthood, because my husband and I got bored with eating out too often. We still eat out, of course, but now what we eat out inspires what I cook at home.

    BTW, Michael–love your Ration iPhone app!

  • Melanie rovens

    I am an artist. When I could not paint, spices and ingredients became my canvas and paints.

  • Fran

    I cook because I can. I cook because it gives me and others pleasure — even if it’s only those catching the aromas of my cooking as they walk off the elevator to our floor on the way to their apartment. I cook because I’m inspired by what I see, hear, and smell throughout the day. And I cook because I am a slave to instant gratification. I like to finish what I start and cooking allows me to do that.

    Thanks for the great writer’s prompt!

    • marcella

      Fran, what a meaningful insight you gave me. “I like to finish what I start and cooking allows me to do that.” You see, I’m the queen of procrastination and I’m much too fickle for my own taste. However, in the kitchen I change into someone else, someone who actually loves to finish what she starts – and there’s nothing weird about that, it’s just the way it should be. Makes you think, uh? I’ll give it a good thought at the next coffee break. Thank you so much 🙂

  • msue

    I cook to feed my soul and to give love to my husband and friends. Cooking connects my inner world with the outer world, and teaches me about other cultures and experiences.

    I cook because it makes me feel in harmony with something bigger than myself, and I give thanks to those who eat what I offer.

    But sometimes i cook just because I’m hungry! 🙂

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