Author’s Note: This article was originally scheduled to be posted on Friday 19th April 2019. However, due to a mistake on my part, the post wasn’t actually scheduled and was instead deleted from my Drafts page. Below is a hastily-rewritten version of the original post, so if you have any questions about details which I might not have explained correctly, feel free to drop a comment below. Thanks!
Cooking is one of those super important life skills that they don’t teach you in school, like voter registration and patience. Those ‘Food Tech’ lessons they give us are helpful if you want to prepare a recipe from a cookbook, but as a skill, cooking is something which really doesn’t get enough attention from the education system.
Most independent folk have some ability to cook already, but as I pointed out above, there is a distinction between ‘cooking’ and ‘preparing food’ (i.e. from a recipe). A whole bunch of day-to-day recipes are designed to be simple and easy-to-replicate; cooking, on the other hand, is the ability to go beyond following instructions and actually create meals from scratch. It takes a certain skill to use whatever you have in the fridge to build a well-rounded meal, as opposed to buying specific ingredients and following a set of instructions from a cookbook.
What with the comfort, availability and relative cheapness of eating out these days, it sometimes feels easier to just pick up a burger than, say, make one yourself. Maybe that’s why, according to The Independent, one in four British people only know three cooking recipes. Rather worryingly, a survey from BBC Good Food suggests that 1 in 10 British people can’t cook at all.
And yet, cooking is so much better for your health and happiness than just buying food from elsewhere. We can boil this down (pun intended) to a variety of reasons:
1. It’s cheaper.
I am a student saving up money for University. I’m also quite lazy. Both of these factors work in tandem to greatly limit the amount of money which I can spend on food. Thankfully, I’m still living at home, which may be the one barrier preventing me from dying of starvation.
My mother is a pretty good cook. As a result, we usually have fresh ingredients lying around, and a full salad drawer. Buying raw ingredients may sound like quite a lot, however even with my meager budget, I’m able to stock certain things every now and again: bell peppers, broccoli, rice, fresh fruit, and eggs are surprisingly inexpensive to restock often. As opposed to paying, for instance, £3 on a microwave meal, you can source the ingredients to make it for a little extra and then create multiple meals from them.
While eating out is a brilliant treat on occasion, doing so regularly (as a frequent alternative to home cooking) can be ludicrously expensive. Everything you eat at food stores, from Egg McMuffins to Starbucks Coffee, can be recreated at home with a little practice. Because you control every step of the cooking process, you can add and subtract ingredients freely to customise the outcome. More importantly, buying a container of eggs for £3 is cheaper and healthier than buying an Egg McMuffin for £2.50.
This leads us to our next point…
2. It’s healthier.
Two years ago I was living off microwave meals and oven chips. Since then, I’ve learnt to circumvent my trashy diet with healthier and cheaper cook-from-home meals. I’m hardly a gourmet, but a little time and TLC has helped me become a fairly decent cook, and I can really appreciate the improvements to my diet.
Serious diet-doers rely on cooking from home as the best way to regulate exactly what they are eating every day. Those considering going on a diet will probably need to learn how to cook sooner or later, as restaurant meals and the like are often non-specific with the amount of calories they contain.
Even if you’re not following a strict dietary regimen, you can still appreciate the benefits of cooking for yourself. As I’ve said before, cooking meals from scratch allows you to control the amount of unhealthy stuff that you’re eating: a restaurant which might serve a dish fried in butter can be cooked at home with olive oil for a similar effect, and a healthier outcome. Buying ingredients as opposed to prepackaged meals also introduces a new variety into your diet, as there is more to be made from combinations of raw ingredients than from the same old ready-to-eat meals.
It’s not just healthier for you; it’s also healthier for the environment, because you can control the amount of food and plastic waste you are producing.
Modern environmentalist movements and health trends increase the accessibility of healthier meals. Vegan foods are more widespread and accessible than ever in developed countries, where choosing to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is becoming easier and cheaper. Also, we put avocado on everything now, which means avocados are being stocked up at supermarkets. So that’s neat.
3. It’s fancier.
You know what else is neat? Showing off.
Dinner parties, or any friendly gathering really, turn cooking into a social activity. A home-cooked nacho bowl is a solid replacement for that bag of Doritos you usually leave out on the table. It’s also a talking topic, as you might get some interested folk asking you how you did it.
If you’re sharing a home with other apprentice chefs, then good meal co-ordination is ideal as you can taste and critique each other’s meals. Cooking as a group is also fun, as you can use the opportunity to take on bigger and more complicated projects. Ever wanted to bake a sixteen-layer chocolate cake, but you’re terrified of attempting it alone? Get some friends and try it out together.
Even if you’re the only cook in your friends circle, you can still show off with a few homemade recipes at your usual social gathering. Aim for a reaction of “Woah, how did you do that?” Sometimes it’s just great to receive praise for something that you know you’re damn good at.
On a more polite note, the ability to cook is quite well-respected: apparently, some people consider it an attractive character trait. If there’s somebody you want to impress, a nice dinner that you’ve prepared on your own accord is one of the finer ways to do so. And, last but not least, some studies suggest that cooking actually improves your sex life. (This article was written by The Daily Meal, so you should ask them, not me.)
And that’s that – three good reasons why you should learn how to cook, assuming you haven’t already.
The best thing about cooking is that anyone can get started with a few simple ingredients. Meals like stir fry and fried rice are simple, easy to master, and an excellent gateway to more complicated dishes. If you’re struggling to afford your daily meals or maintain a balanced diet, perhaps learning to cook simpler, healthier and less expensive dishes is the best way forward.
Or you can just use it to show off to your mates. You decide!