Is Cooking Necessary?*

No, it’s not.

That’s your immediate answer, isn’t it?

After all, you’ve got more important things to do, don’t you?

Or do you?

You can live your life without cooking. You can go to your nearest grocery store and bypass all the technology and knowledge that took your ancestors centuries to refine. You can buy all the ready-made food you could ever eat. You can eat plastic food. And you’d survive, too.

But, in spite of all that, well, and I hate to sound so blunt and ornery and stringent, you’d be wrong not to cook your own food.

You might be able to ignore it all and think it’s OK.

But I’d feel sorry for you if you choose that path. And your body might, too.

Just think what you’re missing by not cooking:

  • The ability to feed yourself. And control what you put in your mouth.
  • The thrill of creating recipes that you like.
  • The joy of connecting with the past, through the words in books dating back centuries.
  • An understanding of cultures far removed from your own.
  • Knowledge of what people ate when your ancestors lived in places separated by enormous oceans and land masses that took months, if not years, to cross.
  • Satisfaction in supporting local farmers in their efforts to grow fresh food.
  • Reveling in the creations of cooks long dead.
  • Excitement in preserving food in ways that meant the difference between life and death.
  • Grounding yourself in the present moment. The present moment is really all you’ve got. Really.
  • Least of all (or maybe not):  saving money for other things of importance in your now or future life.

  • Most of all, feeding those you love, and connecting with them on level not possible with stuff straight out of a can or cardboard box.  (Here’s where you need to remember Tita in Like Water for Chocolate … )

In cooking, you connect to life itself, to the earth that feeds you, to the people who love you, to the past that gave birth to you.

Is cooking necessary?



*With thanks to James Thurber and E. B. White.

This fried chicken ought to encourage you to open up the oven and stop using it as a free storage unit.

Oven-Fried Chicken Anybody Can Make (and Love)
Serves all your friends, OK, maybe just 6 (but you can increase or decrease the recipe as you see fit)

My mother cooked this chicken pretty often, a dish she learned from her mother, who was born in West Virginia. I loved coming home from school at 4 p.m. on a cold winter day in Washington state, smelling the crackling, greasy skin of chicken sizzling in the hot oven. With a cold hand resting on the front of the oven door, I’d sniff and try to open the door to swipe a piece of that crispiness before Mom caught me. I’m proud to say I succeeded more times than I failed.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. kosher salt or fine sea salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 t. paprika
1 t. ground cumin seed
1/2 t. hot curry powder
1/4 t. thyme leaves, crushed

2 T. shortening
3 pounds chickens parts, preferably legs and thighs.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Mix the flour and the spices together in a sturdy plastic or paper bag. Grease a heavy cookie sheet with shortening. Dump chicken pieces into the bag with the flour mixture. Coat well. Place chicken pieces skin side down on the cookie sheet. Bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 1 hour, turning pieces once, halfway through the baking time. Chicken should be crispy on the outside and so meltingly tender on the inside that the bones just slip right on off.

Serve with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.

© 2010 C. Bertelsen

15 thoughts on “Is Cooking Necessary?*

  1. Mae,

    Yes, sticking to just local foods brings us to the situation peculiar to many people before trade was widespread. (And the condition of people in isolated areas of Africa, today, and elsewhere, where minimal infrastructure like roads precludes continuous trade.) However, since people moved around a lot anyway, as you say, and eagerly (most of the time!) adapted and adopted selected new foods, well, I personally think the “Eat Local” movement in theory might create “food xenophobia.” Maybe that’s too harsh a term, but certainly eating local is what people did for centuries and they didn’t live all that long … nor were they very healthy … and they experienced growth-stunting malnutrition a lot of the time, as archaeological evidence proves. Funny how I keep thinking of some areas in developing countries, too, while I write this with “local foods” in mind.

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    I just wrote a blog post where I referred to one of the themes of this post: by cooking with ingredients from other cuisines, we get in touch with other cultures.

    best… mae at

  3. And don’t forget the sheer sensous pleasure of it all, from the moment you gather your fresh ingredients to the indulgence of licking the last drop of sauce off the plate! Great, thought provoking post!

  4. Oh remodeling, hard to live through. We just built a house and I tell you, what a process. I know one person who’s been remodeling her kitchen herself and three years on it’s still not done …

  5. I didn’t know how necessary cooking was, until I had my kitchen torn apart for remodeling. As a recipe developer, I worked in my kitchen everyday. As a food lover, I spent all the other moments of my day planning, anticipating, and mooning over what I cooked my family every night. For the first few weeks it was fun to go out and call in pizza. But something was amiss, a sort of “un-well” feeling. I’ve been out of sorts for weeks now, and I finally figured it out. It’s exactly what you said: “In cooking, you connect to life itself.” Yes! Thanks for the post.

  6. Cooking is most definitely necessary and not only to feed one’s family and friends but one’s soul. If we take the “d” word out of cooking (drudgery) preparing the food you are about to eat can be a great escape, it can be fun and most definitely healthier. Let’s not forget the “s” factor. Cooking even the simplest dish for someone you love is definitely sexy.

  7. Cooking IS necessary, especially if you hope to expand your horizon past the right now and what you already know. Cooking is a social skill, an historic adventure, a geographic experience, a time machine, and best of all, just plain fun. Reading cookbooks is as good as or better than reading comic books, trashy novellas, business/tech how-to’s, adventure thrillers, and mystery volumes. You get all of this plus an educated palate that will be delighted at your work at the stove. And the friends you will collect – what more could we ask??
    I also thank you for the great chicken recipe – it is getting cool here and my oven cries out for something with which to perfume the kitchen! This must be it – the curry and cumin will start us off just right!

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