I’ve never been much of a chef, and that’s always been fine with me. In fact, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve always sort of wondered about women who claim to love cooking. Sure, I would gladly partake of their baked goods and lasagnas, but I didn’t entirely understand their pride in those creations, the sense that a casserole was a work of art or a Bundt cake was somehow blessed or, worse, “made with love” — which invariably meant you had to feel guilty in eating it. It was all just food, a meal or item created by following a recipe, and as tasty as it might be, it was something that would likely be forgotten by the time the next delicious thing came around. And there was a darker subtext as well. It was by and large women who cooked, and choosing cooking as a preferred pastime seemed the most obvious way to get in line with the establishment, to cement one’s femininity and use for men, whom you might snag, 1950s-style and beyond, with your “engagement chicken.” As an adult woman, you were there not to be fed, but to feed others. I hated that idea. If the person I dated wasn’t impressed by my Seamless ordering ability, he could go find someone who actually turned on her oven — be my guest. Cooking was messy, my kitchen wasn’t big enough, shopping for ingredients was a bore, and why should I spend so much time doing something that wasn’t going to further my career or relationships in any observable way anyway? To say nothing of washing dishes. I was a modern woman. Modern women did not spend time toiling over the stovetop or the sink. (No offense to my mother, who is also a modern woman, is probably the best cook I know, and has a dishwasher.)
I didn’t have to cook, so I didn’t. I went out to dinner, ordered takeout, occasionally threw some pasta in a pot and dumped jarred marinara and pre-shredded Parmesan cheese over it. I even let boyfriends cook for me. I could bring the wine. Then Donald Trump was elected, narrowly defeating the woman who might just be my non-cooking role model. Does Hillary cook? Just as with Yvonne Brill, the rocket scientist with a “mean beef stroganoff,” the answer should be: Who cares? We do know she did about a million things more important than cooking, though apparently Hillary is good at scrambled eggs. (Even I was okay at scrambled eggs.) The day after the election, I subsisted on the remains of a pizza that had been ordered the night before. I barely had the wherewithal to heat it up, and as I gnawed on the lukewarm crust in despair, I suspected I might never have an appetite again. The next few days saw me continuing down that path: I had little appetite to write, to think creatively, or to do anything more than blearily read Twitter and text my friends about what we might do to combat the latest aggressive threat to the lives we knew. But hunger has a way of reminding you it’s there. I finally gave in to the desire to eat, but this time I didn’t load up Seamless. I didn’t go to the pub down the street. I didn’t just munch on almonds and cheese. Instead I scanned my refrigerator, and I started pulling things out. Kale. Turkey bacon. Eggs. Parmesan cheese. (I tend to keep supplies around in an attempt to seem like a reasonable adult, but rare is it that I do more than simply eat these items individually while standing over the sink.) I felt a strange pride upon seeing it all out on the counter. This wasn’t just a snack plate. I was going to MAKE SOMETHING REAL.
I realized how wrong I’d been: Cooking wasn’t necessarily about women taking care of others at all! This was about me, caring for myself.
I cracked eggs in a bowl and whisked while sautéeing kale and turkey bacon on the stove, and the result was an extremely good frittata that I photographed and shared, both on Instagram and in real life. Not only did it make me feel better to eat, it made me feel better to make. Even washing the dishes made me feel better. These regular tasks, inserted into life turned upside down, restored a small semblance of peace, and in between calling my congresspeople and (still) reading Twitter and donating to organizations I believe in, I cooked. I realized how wrong I’d been: Cooking wasn’t necessarily about women taking care of others at all! This was about me, caring for myself. Not to mention, what could be more anarchic than cooking? No longer would I depend on the institutions that I was supposed to simply accept — no, I would do it myself. I would stock a pantry! I would feed from the land! (Well, after the land provided food to Fresh Direct, which would then deliver the food to my apartment, but, look, baby steps.)
The process itself was a balm: Buy the right ingredients, follow instructions, and voilà, an edible creation (so much better than an edible arrangement) would appear. One of the things I’d always disliked about cooking were the rules, but I came to see the rules as a kind of security blanket, and once I became more comfortable, I realized that the only true rules were the ones you made for yourself — you could go as gonzo as you wanted, though you might be stuck eating the results. There was also an odd kind of prepper appeal to cooking. Sometimes I pride myself in squeezing out every last little bit of toothpaste; similarly, actually using the groceries I had on hand made me feel like the next Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not only was it economical, it was empowering. In a world that had gone mad, I could depend on this. I made a pumpkin pie. Everyone wanted more. I cooked eggplant Parmesan for my boyfriend, who went back for seconds. “I really like that you’re cooking more,” he told me. “Don’t get used to it,” I said, but grinned, thinking to myself that I was already getting used to it. I roasted delicata squash, then made a quiche with the leftovers. At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I’d pore over recipes, screen-grabbing ingredient lists that I could refer to when I did my grocery shopping. On a cooking high, I said something I never imagined would come out of my mouth: “Should I cook Thanksgiving dinner?” It didn’t even sound like a terrible idea. Yes, others would eat, but at the heart of it, all of this cooking was for myself, a way to make my heartache and anxiety and fear into something worthy and good. And that made it a feminist act, one that Hillary with her scrambled eggs and Yvonne Brill with her beef stroganoff would, I think, have related to. It wasn’t that we cooked, it was that we cooked along with everything else. And it wasn’t cooking, but the power to feed ourselves, literally but also metaphorically, which is something we need now more than ever. Of course, my apartment is way too small to host a large party, so the idea was promptly quashed. But sometimes just knowing you can is what matters. There’s always next year for Thanksgiving, but first: chocolate pie.