Non-cooks are welcome here, too

Image from Picky Grouchy Non-Cook.

I found myself having lunch this week with my boss.

Not just my immediate boss or her boss, but the boss’s boss’s boss. Turns out, she’s a nice woman who is doing her best to lead the company in trying times.

I can’t remember what made me mention The Feminist Kitchen, but as soon as I did, she offered up that she doesn’t cook. Period. She even told a story about screwing up cheese toast for her daughter. She didn’t sound apologetic, but certainly confessional, and I went out of my way to try not to make her feel badly for not enjoying or knowing much about cooking.

And then I read this New York Times story by Jennifer Steinhaur complaining about the lack of homecooked foods at potlucks and bake sales. You lazy, misguided women, she seemed to be saying. You must not love your children or the women who cooked before you enough to prepare food from scratch when it matters most: When other people can judge you for what you do (or don’t) make.

Emily Matchar has written a much more thorough post about the ridiculousness of the article (what’s next? Complaints about moms who don’t sew their kids’ clothes?) on her wonderful New Domesticity blog, but for the purposes of this space, the article reminded me of all the times I’ve been trying to make non-cooks around me not feel badly for being non-cooks. Maybe it’s the holidays or the fact that I called this blog The Feminist Kitchen and not The Feminist Eater, but it seems like I’ve had a dozen exchanges recently like the one this week with powerful, enlightened women who throw down the guises and say — in the face of this growing food movement that includes too much shaming of people who either don’t cook or don’t know much about, say, sushi — “I don’t cook.”

Last month, another proud non-cook, Evan Harris, emailed me about her site, Picky Grouchy Non-Cook, which is part blog, part resource for other non-cooks. She has a series of profiles of non-cooks to help prove that “just because you are lame in the kitchen does not mean you are lame in life,” and an FAQ and manifesto that dig deeper into the psychology of what it’s like being a non-cook today. (Harris hints that non-cooks are as ostracized as smokers.)

The longer I’m in this food writing business, the more I see how snobbish even the well-meaning food world can be. There are lots of ways to keep yourself challenged and engaged with the world around you. Food is just one of them, but if it’s not at the top of your priority list, that doesn’t make you any less of a feminist in this kitchen.

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8 responses to “Non-cooks are welcome here, too

  1. I am always so annoyed by our work potluck. First, the 4 male managers all chip in so the female secretary can buy a great quantity of meat and she also does the decorations. Then we are all supposed to bring other dishes. Most people (including me!) bring store bought stuff. Some of the men have their wives make dishes which I always find shocking. It is the one time of the year that I feel like I am in a different pre-feminist era.

    On the other hand, I would never go to a potluck with friends without a homemade dish since since that is kind of the whole point of the party. And you really don’t need to know how to cook to make fruit salad but bringing cocktails or wine works too.

    I also don’t mind store bought baked goods at baked sale, because there the whole point is to raise money for charity. Some people really like to buy stuff in store bought packaging, others like things that are really pretty, and then still others like the really homemade looking items so it is good to have them all.

  2. As a non-cook I love this post! I do feel like an outsider sometimes, but I deal with it by joking that I’m allergic to cooking.

    Pot-lucks are not a big thing in Australia (I think I’ve been to one in my life, as a kid) thank goodness, but the expectation is still there a lot of the time – to ‘bring a plate’ for morning or afternoon tea.

    The thing is, I find cooking stressful. I don’t enjoy it at all. So buying something is not only quicker, but it means I haven’t spent an afternoon swearing/crying/burning things and feeling frustrated.

  3. I’m not much of an auto mechanic, but I can drive just fine…. is that akin to not knowing one’s way around a kitchen but appreciating and enjoying good food? I’ll cook for you if you fix my car… ;-) We *all* have skills – and I’m glad we don’t all have the same ones (who *would* fix the cars ( or cook!!) then??)!

  4. Tucked into one of my many cookbooks is a a newspaper clipping quoting Mary Englebreit: “If I had to do the cooking for this family we’d all starve to death in a really cute room.”
    No body is good at everything.

  5. I love that this topic is getting some attention because even though I’m definitely a cook, I’m really bad at so many other things (crafting, scrapbooking, and decorating just to name a few) and yet somehow that’s okay. I suppose that because food plays such a central role in health and family connectedness those who aren’t as comfortable with it get a bad rap. But the thing is, it’s not about the act of _cooking_, it’s about the act of _providing_. I’d rather have my family together around a meal from prepared foods in the grocery store than not at all. And when it comes to potlucks and family gatherings, it’s all about the gathering. If the cookies are store bought who cares? It’s not like homemade cookies make conversations and connections stronger.

  6. I definitely don’t think there is a correlation between love for one’s children and an ability to cook for them! I grew up well-loved in a Hamburger Helper household, and learned to cook and eat well nonetheless.

    I feel like we in the foodie/drinkie scene do run the risk of our enthusiasm turning into snobbishness, which is really unfortunate. I have made thousands of drinks for people. Some were loved, many were appreciated, some merely tolerated. It is not important that people drink the way I do, but that I share my excitement with people who are also excited about drinks, or that my enthusiasm may rub off and be a catalyst for someone else to get into drinks. If our enthusiasm makes someone else feel inadequate or intimidated, then we have been counterproductive, and done a disservice to the thing we purport to promote.

  7. Pingback: Are you a bad human if you hate to cook? « New Domesticity·

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