I hate cooking.

I don’t hate it in the way I dislike other household chores, like vacuuming or washing the dishes (for context, I don’t own a dishwasher, so the process is a bit more labor intensive). Those types of chores I can make myself do as they’re needed, even if I don’t particularly enjoy the process. But when it comes to cooking, it’s like there’s a giant wall in my brain that I run up against even contemplating it.

Have you ever had a dog that sits down in the middle of the road on a walk and won’t move forward, no matter how hard you’re pulling on the leash? That’s me in the kitchen.

Like a lot of autistic people, I have eating habits that can most generously be described as “idiosyncratic.” One of the first clues I had that my brain might not be standard factory-assembled was that I found myself able to eat the same foods every day without getting sick of them. It became a running gag at work that I always had the same thing for lunch, and it was always two peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread. (No jelly, I hate blending sweet and savory tastes. I now know this is a sensory aversion!)

When I was a kid, my mom did everything you’re supposed to do and fed me and my siblings a healthy, varied diet. When she introduced new foods, we always had to try at least one bite. She had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables around. At any given moment, there is usually a bowl of tangerines on her kitchen table. I’ve never been a picky eater when someone else is providing the food. It’s more about the work of cooking. The labor is not worth the payoff to me. Why spent 10 times as long making something as it does to eat it? I have so many other things I would rather do with that time and mental energy.

So I don’t cook. At best, I assemble. I’m also way too cheap to eat out. So when left to my own devices, my diet consists almost entirely of the following: Granny Smith apples, cucumbers dipped in Newman’s Own olive oil and vinegar dressing (and only that brand), Clif bars, the aforementioned peanut butter sandwiches, canned beets (no salt!), matzo and spaghetti. Yes, I’ve checked with doctors and nutritionists, and they all say I’m fine. Yes, if people ask me what I’m having for dinner, they’re always going to get the same answer.


The reason I’m admitting all this embarrassing stuff about my weird eating habits is because I want you to understand what a big deal it is that I’ve recently been making cornbread. Not from a mix, with actual cornmeal and flour. My girlfriend sent me an easy recipe that can be made in a cast-iron pan, which is one of the few kitchen basics that I actually own, and I’ve been off to the races. It’s cheap. It’s simple. I can make it quickly. Unlike regular bread, there’s no kneading of dough, which I hate doing because I hate getting foodstuffs all over my hands. It’s tasty. It’s probably not the healthiest thing; it’s also not the worst. I don’t feel braggadociously proud of myself very often but … I’m proud of myself.

Baking is becoming easier for me to think of doing. Baking – at least basic stuff, I’m not talking about soufflés or anything – is just assembling. It’s simple and predictable: If you blend X quantity of Y substances and bake in the oven at A temperature for B amount of time, you get a result that is basically the same every time. As opposed to cooking, where you get instructions like “sauté until crispy.” How crispy is crispy? What volume of crunch are we looking for? Is it supposed to be just a little stiff or entirely crumbly? What on God’s green earth is “season to taste” supposed to mean? I’ll spiral.

That’s not to say I don’t wander off on mental tangents while putting together cornbread, either. I find myself wondering what Paleolithic or Neolithic or whatever-lithic human ancestor looked at some wild wheat in a field and had the bright idea to crush it up and apply heat to it. Does anyone else ever think of that? It’s a multistep, fairly complicated process to make bread. Was it one person who came up with the concept, or multiple? Man or woman? Were they revered as a divine being or leader in their little nomadic hunter-gatherer community? My dogs certainly look up at me like I’m God whenever I pull a pan of cornbread out of the oven.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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