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
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