Rufus Wainwright has a song that’s featured in “Big Daddy” called “Instant Pleasure.” The lyrics start: “I don’t want somebody to love me / Just give me sex whenever I want it / ‘Cause all I ask for is instant pleasure / Instant pleasure, instant pleasure.”
This song came into my mind recently when talking to my mom. No, I don’t have an Oedipal Complex. We were at lunch a few weeks ago and at one point, talking about the website, she asked me in a hushed whisper: “Do you really like cooking?” As if beneath the surface of my enthusiasm was a crafty little schemer out to conquer the world by posing as a foodie.
I paused for a moment, pondered, and replied: “Yes, actually I do.”
“It’s so messy, though,” she said. “Is it really worth it?”
Though I couldn’t articulate it then, the lyrics to “Instant Pleasure” (or at least the tone) helps me to articulate it now. “Instant Pleasure” is the mantra of our era. At the push of a button you can instantly chat with friends, instantly read the news, instantly order a stereo from Amazon.com. Type a text message into your phone and it’s instantly delivered; take a picture on your camera and it’s instantly visible. There’s instant music (see iTunes, Napster, LimeWire); instant movies (HBO On Demand); and even instant sex, if you’re so inclined. We live in an instantaneous age and, consequently, most of us eat instantaneous food. Eating a quick burrito or slurping down a smoothie isn’t a crime once in a while, but it’s a shame when it becomes a lifestyle.
And that’s why I love to cook. It forces me to exercise my emotional intelligence, the part inside of me that can delay gratification. When I come home hungry, it’d be easy to nuke a frozen dinner or order a pizza. And sometimes I do, in fact, order a pizza. But more and more I make the effort to choose something that requires some effort; even if it’s boiling some pasta and coating it with butter, nutmeg and parmesan. That takes 20 minutes, at the most. And it’s pretty bad, nutrition-wise. But it’s completely gratifying because I took the time to make it.
Perhaps a good parallel might be reading. There are those who will see books as a chore for the rest of their lives, never escaping the threat of having to finish a novel the night before a class and scanning the internet for condensed summaries. It’s not that their lives will be bad or unhappy—hell, maybe they’ll be happier—but they won’t be as textured, they won’t be as rewarding.
Same with food. Once the passion ignites in you, it’s not a road to everlasting bliss. If you only knew how many hours I spend circling neighborhoods, settling on where (Jesus, make up your mind already) I’m finally going to settle down to lunch. Or the time I spend flipping through recipe books at 5 PM, desperate to find the perfect recipe to quench my particular desire for dinner. I’m embarrassed to say, I even spend time now tabbing my food magazines so I don’t lose a particular recipe that I’m destined to forget about later on.
My life isn’t happier because I cook, but it’s richer. I’m convinced that all the time I spend thinking about what I’m going to eat on a particular day, the time it takes to go food shopping and the time it takes to actually cook (and then clean) is time well spent. The rewards aren’t explicit, the rewards aren’t tangible, and the rewards certainly aren’t instant. And that’s what makes them wonderful.