08/17/2011 02:16 EDT | Updated 10/17/2011 05:12 EDT

A Failed Woman Out of the Kitchen: Why I Don't Cook

I'm not a bad cook or anything, I'm just not a cook. I don't make pies, cupcakes, pickles, jams, banana bread or even cookies from a mix. If you make me a pie, I will not make you one in return and we will never, ever exchange recipes for anything.


I'm a failed woman. I'm not a cook. I'm not a bad cook or anything, I'm just not a cook. I don't make pies, cupcakes, pickles, jams, banana bread or even cookies from a mix. If you make me a pie, I will not make you one in return and we will never, ever exchange recipes for anything. There will be no cake, almond bark or lasagna if you get sick and I come over unless, of course, I buy it somewhere -- no love wasted on fussing around the stove. My motto is: no pies! This is not because I like to stay thin, or because of my feminist beliefs or because I'm clueless when it comes to domestic arts. It's because I'm self-interested (not selfish -- there is a difference). Or, in other words, because I like to do what I like to do: take photos, write a lot, and occasionally paint something that I may actually give you in a fit of generosity that is not in any way consistent. I prefer reading to cooking and, frankly, I think a very nice jar of beets has nothing on Jennifer Egan. I know the two (reading and pickling) aren't exclusive but why waste time trying to fit them in when I can just do the one I really enjoy? At the same time, for all my defiance, I sometimes feel inadequate as a woman when I take this stance -- I'm a minority among my female friends, even a minority among the ones with busy careers and chaotic family lives. I'm a minority because I believe that some (stress on some) of those cooking women do it out of feelings of obligation to fulfill their traditional role in the household, not because they love it (but others do genuinely love it). I refuse to do it simply because I'm a woman. Still, would it hurt me so much to make one little pie to fit in?

Yes it would.

Personally, I consider cooking to be not necessarily less important than some other activity, but rather too fleeting to derive real satisfaction from. All that work for one experience? Please. Perhaps if I were to videotape it, it would be better. But don't listen to me -- I've got my logic upside down (If you look at Psychology 101's Maslow's hierarchy of needs you'll see that physiological needs -- breathing, food and water -- are on the bottom, where self-actualization and creativity are right at the top).

As far as being a useful domestic partner, I find cooking and baking and pickling too dull to bother with and I prefer to do almost anything else around the house -- paint the walls, mop the floors, do 17 loads of laundry. Sure, I'm capable of making simple meals (and I do, sometimes), but I make them to get it over with it, only to feed myself and my boys; I don't experiment, don't open the cooking book, don't find any pleasure in discovering new spices or combinations of flavor.

Does my pooh-poohing of culinary "arts" make me a better, cooler person? Not in the least. At least not in the current times. As I mentioned, a lot of my female friends -- young, modern women, artists, daughters of feminists (and themselves often second-wave feminists), etc. -- actually revel in domestic arts and become experts in pie crusts and jams. They are liberated, educated women and they can make a killer pie! I suspect that my inability and refusal to cook is actually the opposite of rebellion -- I'm like some rrriot girl throwback from the 90s who claims to prefer working on a car over pickles, except that I've zero political agendas. My only agenda is my own self-satisfaction, a fulfillment of my creative needs, and I suppose another problem lies in the fact that I prefer to have something tangible (scarves and sweaters excluded -- I also don't knit or craft) to show for, a higher form of art such as a painting or a photograph. At the same time, I know that some consider a sweet memory of a rhubarb-strawberry pie as valuable as a photograph of the same pie. And, unlike a photograph of the pie, the real thing will nourish someone.

So I'm also not much of a nourisher. In my life I've made the following: 30 sandwiches for my toddler's party, one chłodnik -- a Polish beet soup whose proportions I miscalculated and ended up with enough soup to fill a bathtub, no more than four simple cakes, a cheesecake for my mother's 37th birthday, and countless salmon-in-foil, rice-from-a-package & boiled asparagus dinners. Because of the said toddler, I've also dabbled in smoothies and pasta as well as home-made pizzas but overall my cooking record is pretty slim. This causes some tension at home as my partner grew up in a traditional household with a mother who was an amazing cook and he has dated women who were kitchen geniuses (many of them were artists as well -- their cooking didn't impede on their ability to create). I can't help but compare myself sometimes, especially when he waxes poetic about fabulous dinner parties hosted with an ex, or his mother's meringue pie. But then if you ask him if he'd rather read a good short story or bake some cookies, he'll err on my side of the preference. Still, he's an amazing cook, which some my female friends find shocking and delightful -- lucky you, they say. Lucky me, indeed. Because for all of our feminism lessons, in a male-female household cooking (and baking and pickling and so on) remains a domain of women, at least at home. I know, I know that a lot of men cook (my man included) but when they do we still see it as a bonus. When a woman doesn't cook, it means that she's failed in some way as a perfect female who should be able to juggle this and that and a tray of freshly baked cupcakes.

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