In the 28 years I’ve been on this planet, I have cooked five honest meals, three if you only count the ones that were suitable for human consumption. I would love to tell you that those three meals came from some sporadic desire to acquire a basic life skill. But no. I didn’t slave away in the kitchen for myself, I did it for him.
My dysfunctional relationship with the kitchen developed mostly because of my strong-willed determination to do exactly the opposite of what is expected of me. And I’m especially defiant when those expectations come from some stupid man. You think I should clean? Nope, all my laundry is perfectly fine in a heap in the corner of my bedroom, thank you. Dress sexier? Sorry, my ripped up jeans with the broken zipper are far too comfortable for that shit.
And it doesn’t even matter if cleaning and not dressing like a hobo are things that I am legitimately interested in exploring. If the suggestion is made in an attempt to “womanify” me, it just isn’t happening. So you can imagine my disgust when the idea of me cooking was brought to the table
Cook?! Psh. Aren’t you the one that’s hungry? Is something wrong with your arms? I mean, there are certain circumstances where me sweating over an oven for a boyfriend might be acceptable. Maybe, because of our schedules, it makes more sense for me to cook dinner. Or, we evenly delegate chores and we mutually agree that meals will be my responsibility. Or hell, maybe if I just want to cook. Then OK, you got me. But that wasn’t the case. My boyfriends were asking me to cook exclusively based on the fact that I had a vagina, and they did not. And with the unfortunate exception of childbirth, that’s not reason enough to get me to do any damn thing.
It wasn’t just the men I dated. It was complete strangers, too. Men vying for my attention, somewhere between the standard questions of, “What’s your name?” and “What’s your sign?”, would routinely ask, “Can you cook?” This would generate the automatic reply of “Um…no. Can you fix shit?” Because if knowing her way around the kitchen is required for women, the ability to navigate Home Depot should be mandatory for men. I will gladly get in the kitchen if you build me one first.
I didn’t care how bad I was craving actual food. Instead, I went for years surviving mostly on Smart Ones, convenience store junk food, and Chinese takeout — health and personal well-being be damned. It’s called feminism, people.
Despite my determined contrariness, eventually I met a man.
And not just any man. I met a good one. One that loves me exactly the way I am and hasn’t tried to change even my most despicable qualities. But there’s one problem. The man loves food. A lot. He loves food and he loves me. I love him and I love food. Now I’m no mathematician, but all that seems to equal up to it being OK for me to cook for him at least occasionally.
After that epiphany, I decided I would attempt his favorite meal: lasagna. Just stack the layers up like Legos and the oven does the hard part. Easy enough. And I added some spinach on the side too, because I don’t just want to feed my man, I want to keep him healthy, too. I drizzled some olive oil over some minced garlic and thought, This might not be so bad.
In that moment, I can feel the ghost of my 22-year-old self looking over my shoulder. Of course, it’s the shoulder that I’ve draped my checkered kitchen towel over. I use it brush fresh basil off my hands, and she dies a little inside.
She stands behind me, smacking on her own dinner: a Pepperoni and Cheese Slim Jim, spicy pork rinds and something out of a Solo Cup. I don’t know what’s in it, but it smells like cognac and angst.
“All this for a penis?” she taunts. “You’ve changed.”
“Shut up, you hot mess!” I shout back. “You don’t know shit about love, and you don’t know shit about nutrient density either!”
I’m confident in what I tell her, but part of me knows that she’s right. I have changed and I haven’t decided yet if it’s for better or worse.
But then the over timer dings and I tug the lasagna out the oven. Not only is it not carbon black, but it actually tastes pretty OK to me. Success!
Of course, he loves it. Not just the meal, but the effort that I’ve put into stepping outside of myself. He knows I’ve cooked not because I was supposed to, or because he’s demanded me to, but simply because I care.
And before we even got to dessert, I realized that’s the reason I cooked, too.