I used to joke that when I move into a new apartment, the first thing I do in scoping out a new neighborhood is getting familiar with all the local takeout places. Besides finding my supermarket, my Laundromat, and any other things in the area, the most important thing to me is to know who is going to feed me when I’m unable to feed myself. Unable to feed myself used to mean either being too sick, lazy, or hung-over to cook for myself. Those classifications are relevant from time to time, but unable to feed myself has also taken on a whole new meaning: being too exhausted from work to have any desire to cook.
I can’t tell you how many times I get home, and the thought of making dinner doesn’t even enter my mind. The question isn’t should I get take-out, the question is which take-out place am I calling? Don’t even get me started on how this game has changed with the advent of phone apps and online ordering services. You’re telling me I just click a few things and in 40 minutes I get a meal delivered to my door? I don’t even need to talk to anyone or make sure I have money in my wallet? Sign me up!
As soon as I started working a Real Adult Job, and by that I mean a job in which I frequently stay later than I’m supposed to and have to work from home when I finally get there, my reliance on take-out skyrocketed. After a while, I couldn’t sustain this habit anymore (see: costs too much money) so I started forcing myself to cook more of my evening meals, and here’s what I learned from it.
The obvious benefit to cooking my dinner more often is financial. If I’m ordering take-out, almost every place near me has a $10 minimum. So let’s say the thing I actually want is $8.50, so I tack on a $4.50 side dish to hit that minimum, plus a $2 tip, we’re looking at a $15 dinner! Sure, that’s not the end of the world in of itself, but when you do that 3-4 times a week, it adds up quickly. On the other hand, I can easily walk to the supermarket, take that same $15 and buy a pack of chicken, some sort of marinade (and most cases I’ll just whip up one with stuff I already have at home), and a pack of rice or some other side dish. Okay, so if the finances are a wash, where’s the benefit? It’s simple. That quick run to the supermarket is going to yield me usually enough food for 3-4 meals as long as I eat leftovers during the week.
But the financial benefit of cooking is easy to see, and actually less important to me than what I find to be the other benefit of cooking dinner as opposed to relying on takeout. I’m wiped out by the time I get home from work. My brain’s consistency is somewhere between mush and Jell-O and I usually can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag, no less cook dinner. It’s easy to indulge that feeling and not demand any more work of myself.
Cooking might be work to some, but it’s not to me. There are tons of things I enjoy about cooking. I enjoy that it’s part puzzle, part formula, and part improvisation. Then, when all is said and done, as long as I haven’t done anything horribly out of line, the result is delicious (or, at least, edible). I like having an idea of a thing to work with, but then being able to put my own spins and ideas on a recipe along the way.
But what I enjoy the most about cooking at the end of the day is that it’s something I’m doing for myself. I can’t really multi-task while I’m cooking. Hell, if a recipe calls for different components and something to be cooked in stages, I have to think that through so I know exactly what I’m doing when. Some people might be phased by needing to dedicate themselves to something after a full day of dedicating themselves to something else, but I find it therapeutic. While I’m cooking I’m not cleaning, I’m not playing video games, I’m not working from home. Usually, I have the television on or maybe some music. But for the most part, if I’m cooking, that’s all I’m doing.
When all is said and done, I enjoy cooking at the end of the day because it’s something I’m doing for myself. I’m deciding what I want to eat, what I want to make, and how I want to go about it. In a way, at work, responsibilities are given to you more than they’re created by you. It puts you in a position of receiving more than acting. In an odd sort of way, ordering takeout feels the same to me. Sure, I’m picking what I want to eat, but I feel so less in control of the process.
Of course, takeout hasn’t entirely been phased out of my life. There are tons of times when I just can’t bring myself to cook, for one reason or another. But this has become more of the exception and less of the norm, and that’s how I like it!