I Hate to Cook, and I’m Not Ashamed to Say It

When Peg Bracken wrote The I Hate to Cook Book, she was a working mom who lacked sufficient time in the day to do everything.

That was half a century ago.

While Bracken’s situation may not have been novel, what set her apart from her generation was that she was no wallflower when it came to voicing her complaints. And she was a hoot. There was a bold bloggeriness to her writing that transcended her era. Rather than accept her disinclination to cook as a personal failing, she took it as an excuse to mock the status quo while embracing it, concocting easy, arguably obscene combinations of canned convenience food—and giving other housewives in her situation permission to do the same.

Since then, countless reluctant home cooks have found solace in her good-natured if resigned realism and her accompanying solutions. Her book sold more than three million copies after it was originally published and has seen several reprints, including a new 50th anniversary edition released today.

Were she still with us, she’d be stiff competition for those who’ve taken up blogging and consider themselves the culinary ranters and commentators of the day. Witness the introduction to the various versions:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.

Bracken goes on to recount plenty of scenarios in which cooks might find themselves unwilling to cook but needing to eat. Yet there are as many different reasons not to cook as there are persons who don’t care to step into the kitchen, so we’ve solicited thoughts from some of Bracken’s contemporary soul mates. Those of you for whom not wanting to cook is a strange concept to behold, read on. You’ll gain tremendous insight into this unfamiliar way of seeing the world—and, by extension, this way of seeing supper. Those of you for whom this lifestyle is all too familiar, well, you know what they say about misery loving company… —Renee Schettler Rossi

.

I don’t even butter my bread. I consider that cooking.
—Katherine Cebrian, writer

.

I hate to cook.  My mom is a terrible cook and my dad is actually a decent cook, so my female role model growing up wasn’t a great cook. I just figured cooking was men’s work.
—Melissa Broder, author of When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother

.

I figure there’s two kinds of people in the world, those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I definitely eat to live. And I’m lazy. Good food is fine, but to spend a lot of time on a meal is just pretty much a waste of time to me. My mom would spend entire holidays in the kitchen and, as a consequence, she would miss all the fun. I’m not willing to do that. I suppose if I had a family that all loved to cook, things would be different. But we all love to watch football.
—Lori Maloney, a 50-something, culinarily challenged Seattle woman who likes to make her mom’s lasagna recipe—but only on the holidays, as it stirs up lovely memories

.

I don’t hate to cook, but cooking hates me. Does that count? My parents couldn’t really cook.  All their stuff was straight out of a can, and they just boiled it or put it in the oven and overcooked it. I never had a well-made meal other than when I went to my grandparents. So food never really enticed me. There was never really any opportunity to cook. Now, on top of working full-time and having two kids and having to get everything done, cooking is just a chore. My husband is a very good cook, so fortunately I don’t have to go into the kitchen very much. That doesn’t work when he’s deployed. Then I do have to cook. And I detest it.
—Katie Cockerill, a civilian employee for the Air Force

.

I have five daughters with different schedules and a husband who travels frequently, so I’m constantly waiting for him to retrieve his luggage while dinner dries out and begins to look as though it died of natural causes. I think those of us who cook for family and friends want to at least appear to be good cooks, to at least be able to present something so it looks like there is some slight possibility that it was homemade. Yet it’s discouraging when life hands you lemons and you make lemonade and everyone goes “Ugh, what is THIS?”

I actually resent cooking and eating at times. It’s so redundant.

Cooking also makes me miss my mother, who would feed me, and my great-uncle Van, who fed me apples off the blade of his knife, much to everyone’s horror. Being a feeder is really nice, because you can get calories of love that way. But being FED is best. I miss having someone cook for me. How sweet is was.

Those are but a few of the reasons why I hate cooking. The other reasons are dark and deep and explain why I need therapy.
—Jude E. Baland, who finds that summers in Texas are far easier to tolerate if you can get Hubby to cook on the grill

.

I’ve never cared to cook, ever since I can remember. I call myself a subsistence cook—I make sure I don’t starve. There’s no depth and creativity to my cooking. It’s assembling ingredients into a form that I can manage to eat. Trader Joe’s is my favorite thing!

I tried to like cooking. I listened to everyone who said I would find flowers and meditation and passion in cooking. I tried it. I don’t feel it. It’s chopping up vegetables. It doesn’t move me. I never get to that zen place.

Ironically, my entire career, even back in my twenties, has been going out to eat. I just managed to stay around people and places where somebody who really does know how to cook was doing it for me. I’ve worked for a master chef for the past nine years. At this point my palate so far exceeds my abilities that I don’t even try to cook anything beyond a basic dinner for myself. My boss, Michel, gives me a hard time because I don’t know my way around a kitchen. Although in some ways, it’s better this way. When we write recipes for a cookbook, I sit there and I ask questions that sound so dumb to him but are helpful to those readers who are more like me.
—Mel Davis, a Washington, DC, based subsistence cook who does public relations for Michel Richard and his restaurants, including Citronelle, Central, and the soon-to-open Michel

.

It’s a time thing. With deadlines and everything else, I’d rather just grab a banana and call it a meal than take the time to make something and deal with all the cleanup. I have a teenage daughter and a soon-to-be-12-year-old son. I could be with them or I could cook a meal.
—Melissa Marr, former English teacher, mom, and author of the best-selling Radiant Shadows, wherein the only knife that’s mentioned isn’t wielded in the kitchen

.

I hate to cook, big time. Nothing I have ever tried to make comes out right. So I just don’t cook. The worst is when I do try to cook and there is always some kind of term in the directions that I don’t have a clue as to what it is or what it means. My favorite meal in the world is Colored Butter Beans and Rice. I don’t know how to fix the colored butter bean, but I can make boiling-bag rice! That said, I would rather let someone else do the cooking.
—Jennifer La France,  a secretary from the South

.

I hate to cook. No matter where I was, it always played out that someone else did the cooking. In the ’60s and ’70s when I lived on a commune I didn’t have to cook, and now my husband cooks. I have always been very fortunate. I feel sorry for women who have families and have to come up with meals three times a day. I always felt blessed that I didn’t fall into that category. It would have been a nightmare for me.

In the end, if I had to cook, I would have cooked. It’s a wonderful creative act, as creative as anything else. I play the violin, and I love to write. Cooking is just as creative as all of that, and should be looked at in that way. If I have to cook in the future, I will consider it as an art form that I pursue with great passion. But I really don’t like to cook.
—Kate, who blogs about many things, including her disinclination to cook, at I Hate to Cook

.

I always saw cooking as a chore. I grew up in a family that loves food and that loves eating, but we love eating out. I lived in a co-op my last year of college where I had to cook for 50 people and that was okay. I’m used to thinking big, on a project scale. I like to go to the greenmarket and see what’s coming into season, but only because I’m working out how many flats of strawberries I’ll need. I work with industrial equipment, so we’re talking gallons and gallons of things and not fidgeting around with a couple of carrots and that sort of thing.
—Caroline M., co-founder of Brooklyn Soda Works, makers of artisanal sodas and fruit juices with flavors as fetching as rhubarb and Thai basil as well as the slightly more tame apple and ginger

.

In my novel, there’s a character who unexpectedly finds herself a widow at 34. Readers will discover early on in the book that her husband would hide presents for her in the oven, because he knew that was the one place she’d never look. She finds herself drawn back to the kitchen as a way of self-nurturing and a way to bring a little sweetness back into her life. And then she befriends a nine-year-old neighbor girl whose mother is not really in her life and they start to bake. I think it makes sense that together they find a little sweetness in their lives.

Me? I love to cook, but I hate to bake. I have a crazy sweet tooth. I could eat brownies all day long. Happily. I don’t bake because I don’t want the temptation.
—Alicia Bessette, pianist and author whose novel, Simply from Scratch, debuts in early August

.

I’ve never fully embraced cooking, because I never took the time to learn. During high school and college I was very intent on a journalism career, and that was the focus of much of what I did. When I was on my own the first few years after I graduated from college, I went out and bought the requisite pots and pans. And then I never used them. I would work long hours and go out with my colleagues rather than go home to cook.

And then when I was married an interesting thing happened. My husband loved to cook. I didn’t have any problem just sort of handing it over to him. There would be frequent comments from family or friends, mostly baby boomers and grandparents, joking about how he had to fill my role, a sort of play on traditional gender roles.

But then after I had children, I really felt like I had to be the perfect mom. There was so much written in all the books I read, and the moms I met at Gymboree [went on about] how they were going to only serve their children organic food and cook everything from scratch, and oh my god you’re a horrible mother if you ever serve anything processed or not homemade. I thought at the time, “Okay, I have to learn to cook.” I developed this relationship with cooking that wasn’t about the joy of cooking but was more about filling this mythical role. I learned to cook, but it was really very rooted in something that I thought I had to do in order to be the right kind of mom. It was a chore, and I never grew to love it.

That’s a big theme for a lot of women in our generation who grew up with the belief that we would have it all and do it all. It’s interesting to hear women talk about their cooking, because it becomes less about the cooking and more about gender roles and defining how they should be the right kind of mom and live the right kind of life. We found that women who got over these perceptions of what other people expected and defined their own successes and their own expectations were much happier and much more successful in all different ways.
—Becky Gillespie, a Chicago-based journalist, mom, wife, and reluctant home cook. She’s also the voice behind the Becky portion of BeckyandHollee.com, which delves into the journey to a balanced life. She and Hollee Schwartz Temple also co-authored Good Enough is the New Perfect, due out next spring, for which they interviewed more than 100 working moms. The one dish Gillespie really likes to make is risotto.

.

I don’t like to cook at all. I’ve cooked for 35 years. That’s enough.
—Judith Marcus, who was happy to stand in line one recent summer evening at the quite crowded Chirping Chicken on Manhattan’s Upper West Side rather than resign herself to her kitchen

.

Cooking makes me weep. I find it to be such a waste of time. I really hate it.

I love to clean. I’ll clean all day. But there are days when I just can’t deal with cooking. Those are what I call Fend for Yourself Nights.

I know that I have to cook. I have a family. I have kids and my daughter is gluten- and lactose-intolerant and my husband is lactose intolerant. I want them to eat healthy. But okay, there’s a healthy menu at McDonald’s.

Every once in a while I’ll get struck by a nesting type of thing. It will be fall and all the apples are out and I might make a nice thick stew or something. Then I’ll say, “Okay, you guys are on your own for the next month or so.”

And there’s no instant gratification at all with cooking. I expect to have a ticker tape parade after I spend 30 minutes on a meal. I want my family to do the wave for me. I spend all this time on dinner and then within minutes it’s gone and they’re all sitting in front of the TV. And I think, “That was a total waste. An hour of my life is now gone.”

My size 16 jeans will tell you that I like food. I just don’t want to be the one who has to cook it. I appreciate people who can cook. I think they’re sick in the head, but I appreciate them.
—Jenna Taylor,  who blogs at Cooking Bites and tweets at nefariouscupcake

.

I’m an artist. I make movies and crafts and sculpture and fiber art. Those things last forever. But a meal is just gone. Back in the day when I was expected to cook, it just didn’t seem like it was worth all that time and preparation. If there was a party, I felt isolated. And if there weren’t guests, I still felt trapped—like a prisoner in the kitchen. Now I realize that meals can be memorable, and I’ve begun to see the beauty in slicing and chopping. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like to cook. I’m not an everyday kind of cook. I can summon some enthusiasm on certain occasions, such as when my grown kids are home together. But I really don’t like to cook.
—Lyn Ribisi, a 58-year-old writer who loves life, computers, family history, and photography, among countless other things, but not cooking. She is currently writing her memoir.

.

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
—Harriet van Horne, American newspaper columnist in the mid-1900s

Got a gripe about cooking? (You can’t love cooking all the time.) Tell us about it below.

Comments
Comments
  1. Jacqui says:

    It’s quite surreal hearing from people who hate to cook on LC!

    • David Leite says:

      Well, we’re democratic around here and didn’t want to be biased toward our non-cooking brethren!

      Since the book turned 50—and is such a best seller—we wanted to have a little fun with the notion that not everyone thinks like us. Plus even if you love to cook, there are times when you just plain don’t! I know for me, when January 1st rolls around, I don’t want to cook for weeks. Too many holiday meals, holiday parties, holiday food gifts, etc. If I could be fed intravenously for a while, I’d be happy! How about you? Ever think, “Ugh!” when it comes to cooking?

      • Jacqui says:

        Hmmmmm, so far, not really. I guess I am lucky in that I’ve only ever cooked by choice. No kids yet, so I’m yet to experience the drudgery.
        In fact, when it comes to my husband, it’s quite the opposite. Five years of living in NYC made his default perpetually “What are we ordering? Where are we going out?”… and I was always begging: “Noooooo, let’s cooooook!”

  2. Allison Parker says:

    Although I’m more of a baker than a cook, most of the time I really enjoy cooking. But I confess that I also hate it sometimes: when I am too pressed for time, when I am short on sleep because my son wakes me up WAY too early, times like that. In those moments, plopping that box of cold cereal down—definitely not cooking breakfast—is a life-saving proposition. Ditto with the box of mac ‘n’ cheese that I always have as backup for dinner, just in case.

    David, I also hear you on January 1st. Same goes for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving.

  3. Jeanne says:

    Unfathomable! But a good read, Renee. What’s the most tempting recipe in the book?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Honestly? That martini she mentions in the introduction. It’s more her whimsical way of approaching all things kitchen-related that I appreciate, like naming a recipe Hellzapoppin Cheese Rice. Her household hints are still relevant. And the Port Wine With Walnuts is a gimme. And perhaps it’s the farm girl in me, but the Old-Fashioned Farm Fry on page 163 of the 50th anniversary edition is probably going to be in our late-summer rotation…

  4. Brenda Carleton says:

    Difficult for me to imagine. But it is a good thing not everyone has the same passions. The only times I do not love to cook is when I am ill. Heck—I even love to cook whilst on vacation! Of course my husband and I eat out on vacation as well, but after a few days I really, really miss cooking. We pick up wonderful ingredients from local markets and do our own thing. In fact, sometimes I love cooking even more in different countries as there are often ingredients unobtainable at home so I feel the need to experiment with them there. (We try to find self-catering options—so we CAN cook if we want! Even better if the accommodation offers cooking classes and/or dinner.) Often our trips evolve around food. Food is one of the best ways to learn about the history of a culture. If not cooking I am reading about cooking and food. Renee, as Jeanne mentions, please let us know the top reads and recipes found in this book!

  5. Leanne says:

    My love for cooking has a proportionate relationship to the outside temperature. Once things hit the upper 80s (I’m a wimp, so what!), the last thing I want to do is create dinner in the kitchen. But, I’m not one to whine all the time, so I like to mix it up with one of two strategies. One, I will pull something out of the fridge that can be grilled. I’m not in charge of the grilling, so I don’t have to stand in front of a heat source. All I have to do is open the beer and dig out plates. If that’s not an option, I find collapsing on the couch looking tired and muggy, along with a delicious dining-out suggestion, never fails.

    • David Leite says:

      Leanne, I can be done in by the heat, too. I had to make a cake recently in the heat wave we had here. Ouch. I was grumpy from start to finish.

  6. Silke says:

    I second David and Allison. For me it’s the week after Thanksgiving. I don’t even want to have other people’s home-cooked meals anymore. I just want to go out and have an anonymous-people-watching no-talk-allowed restaurant dinner with my husband. We usually celebrate Thanksgiving at our vacation cabin, which means six houseguests for at least three days, neighbors, and friends over for The Meal, a big meal the next day at those same neighbors’, and then somebody else cooking in my kitchen on Saturday night. Sunday everybody leaves, and I just don’t want to empty another dishwasher or do ANYTHING near the kitchen.

    And any other time of the year I love to cook. Any time. For any number of people. And I love love love Thanksgiving, the best holiday anybody has invented, because it’s just about people getting together for food! It’s just the week after…

  7. Mary-Alice says:

    My mother loved this book. She hated to cook and therefore was very bad at it. This book actually had one recipe with an instruction to smoke a cigarette and sulk while stirring. My mother did that with all recipes. The upside…as soon as I could reach the top of stove, I took over the cooking and have become the cook I am today. My mother would come home from her job at lunch, reach into the freezer and pull out something and put it in the sink to defrost. When I got home from lunch I’d check the indexes of the cookbooks (Joy, Julia and Betty Crocker) and set to work. I NEVER looked in the Peg Bracken.

    • David Leite says:

      Mary-Alice, I love your comment. (I also love her suggestion to smoke and pout while stirring.) What’s so wonderful about it is it turned you into a cook. I wonder how many other people out there had moms or dads who worshipped Peg’s book and then raised kids who were slam-dunk cooks??!

      • Allison Parker says:

        Or, perhaps even stranger… what about those true foodies, wonderful and inventive cooks, whose kids have mortified them by turning out to be the least enthusiastic—if not downright picky—eaters and non-cooks. It happens sometimes; I know it does. (And here I’ll thank my stars to have a son who has a pretty open mind about food, who enjoys all the baked treats but also has a surprising affinity for green and orange vegetables!)

  8. Megan says:

    I loved discovering this book a couple of years ago when I was working on my master’s thesis about the food publishing industry. It was so interesting for a book like this to be published at the time it was. Who knew not all women wanted to be chained to the kitchen back then?! While I love to cook, I think I might need to get the 50th anniversary edition just to add to my collection… and to flip through when I’m seeking kitchen humor from time to time.

    • David Leite says:

      Megan, it’s so interesting to read everyone’s thoughts on the book. I come from a family where women got much of their identity and self-confessed pleasure from being at the stove. Even nowadays when I go to visit my parents, Momma Leite gets all fidgety if I don’t have a tall order of favorite dishes I want her to prepare. For my 50th birthday party last week, she and my dad came to CT with two dozen stuffed quahogs she made. They took two days to prepare, and although she’d roll her eyes, she did enjoy it.

  9. Joyce Amaral says:

    Hi again, David!

    I can’t think of going just a few days without cooking and/or baking! Alas… I don’t have a “Portuguese kitchen” in the basement to use in the summer, so if it’s too hot in my kitchen, I fire up the grill and set the pots atop the grating! Believe me, it works! Going home to F.R. this coming weekend for a clam boil… can’t wait!

    Joyce

  10. Susan says:

    I don’t love to cook, but I never hated it. I do love to bake breads and sweets, though. My husband loves to cook and make our meals. He’s not a baker but he does have a big sweet tooth. Through the years, we’ve found our niche in the kitchen. He cooks dinner, I gush and carry on about how good it tastes then clean up after. The cook doesn’t clean up after eating in our house. To make it fair, we do have to clean as we go, but the last remnants of cookware and dishes are left to the clean up person(s). It works for us. I plan and make all the breads and desserts. He cleans up the final remnants of the project and any dessert dishes for as many days as the dessert lasts. Hey, fair is fair! We do cross lines, occasionally. We each want certain things to come out a particular way, and will butt in if we have to in order to correct the method of the other of us..or take on the whole project ourselves. The thought of that is usually enough to help us compromise, but not always! Neither of us grew up where cooking was a joint venture at home. Our Mom’s cooked and baked and cleaned up after. We each felt sorry for our own Mom (not enough to help her!) and swore it would be different in our own home. Good thing we found each other, right?

    • David Leite says:

      Susan, sounds like you have found a way to work in your kitchen that complements your likes and abilities. Maybe marriage counselors can take a page from your book!

  11. Candy says:

    If God meant us to cook every freakin’ day, why did He invent takeout? My neighbor puts it slightly differently. A busy teacher and an avid gardener, she had time to either cook or garden, but not both. Guess which won? Which is why when we get together every month or so to catch up, I bring takeout, she brings wine and flowers, and both of us are happy.

  12. Colleen P. says:

    I used to LOVE to cook. Not any more. Picky husband, picky child. Me, I don’t particularly care for peas all on their own. That’s pretty much the extent of my food preferences.

    No matter what I cook, someone at the dinner table will not like it, whether it is because of the texture, or the color, or some other mysterious feature of the food that only they would recognize. That’s the biggest frustration, as it means I end up making half a dozen different things for each and every meal. The other really frustrating part is that both husband and child want to eat ALL THE TIME. They really truly think that I will know exactly what they want and prepare it so it tastes exactly the way they imagine it ought to taste, though neither of them can convey to me what that is.

    I am sick unto death of cooking, and I am so desperately bored with what we eat because it consists of maybe a dozen foods, total. I can look through an entire cookbook and not find a single thing that everyone in the house will eat.

    So, to be honest-I ADORE Peg Bracken! I’ve gone through 3 of the “I Hate to Cook Book” (the first one) and as soon as I wear one completely out, I desperately search Amazon for another one. I don’t actually prepare much of the food because no one would eat it. I just like knowing that someone else has been just as fed up with kitchen bitchen as I am.

  13. Mary C. says:

    I formerly owned a copy of Peg Bracken’s book “I Hate To Cook” until I lost it during a move. I found that her recipes came out better for me than those from other cookbooks and were quite tasty. I thought it was because neither of us were trying to rebel against our desire to eat, only our desire to cook. I am particularly fond of her Saturday or Sunday Chicken, I forget which.

  14. Sbee says:

    Yes, I, too, hate cooking. For years I’d come home from a grueling day at work, only to spend 2 hours, plus clean-up, in the kitchen. After that it was a battle to get the kids to clean up. Husband was no help either. Finally, I got tired of being everyone’s maid and went back to school. Now they fend for themselves. I will make thanksgiving and xmas dinner, but beyond that we go out a lot. I wish there was some way to like cooking again. Standing for long hours, the mess, no appreciation, forget it. I’m done.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Sbee, I wish there was a way you could like cooking again, too. Although given your experience, it’s no surprise. Perhaps time and distance will help, as well as recipes that you want to make for yourself rather than recipes that will satisfy husband and children? At any rate, here’s hoping we can offer you recipes, whether for the holidays or for everyday, that make it less of a burden and more of a pleasure.

  15. vicki says:

    I am getting a copy of this!!
    I hate to cook, bake, BBQ, you name it the whole process turns me off.
    Going to the store for ingredients, hauling it home and putting it away. Let’s get out all the equipment to cook… make a big mess, set the table…eat… did I forget, CLEANING UP ? Fill the dishwasher, then empty it only to start all over tomorrow. How much time have I invested into dinner?
    I am not crazy about food period. No, I do not have an eating disorder. Lol
    Actually, when the family was all on the nest and kids growing up, I made everything from scratch. Made my own jams and jelly, fruit pies, fruit juice, went all put for holidays, get the picture!
    Now at 57, no one here, I did my duty, take me out!!! Lol

    • Beth Price says:

      As much as I love to cook, Vicki, I understand your point completely. Some days I can’t bear to look at my kitchen…

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail