Instant Pleasure

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.

13 comments

  1. Interesting. While I don’t necessarily agree that because you wait for or put effort into something, that gives the thing inherent worth, I do recognize that for you cooking seems to be a good exercise in discipline.

    And I love that song. My favorite line is, “Drinking coffee’s your idea of really cool.” That’s so me.

  2. It is interesting that you think about cooking as a way to delay gratification. Back when I was doing fundamental scientific research, even my most complicated all-day meal seemed like instant gratification compared to an experiment that took a few years from conception to publication of results. The relatively quick path to success (or the occasional failure) was a way for me to maintain balance in my life.

  3. For me it’s not about delayd gratification, although I agree cooking is an antidote to instant-everything.

    I just like the process of cooking, the tinkering with favourite recipes til you get them just right, the hanging out in the kitchen, drinking some wine, listening to some music. It’s all quite relaxing.

    And then, you get to eat something really good, prepared just how you like it. Or to be suprised when something new turned out to be amazing.

    Anyhow. It’s fun.

  4. That’s it. Bingo! You said it! That’s exactly how it is for me. I can’t stop myself from interfering with even the simplest meals because i want to make it my own. Put it in the manifesto, I’ll vote for it!

  5. The best way to explain my foodie madness is that I love the musical quality of food – you take these individual notes, or ingredients, and you can put them together however you want. The notes can create an infinite combination of textures and tastes. And something that seems silly can actually be more rewarding than a conventional meal/song. Like Thriller. MJ dance break, type at you later.

  6. I liked your comparison to reading books, especially the line where you say “they won’t be as textured”. I had never thought of using the word textured in this case, but it fits perfectly. Nice entry.

  7. Great point – I really like the “exercise my emotional intelligence” line. The reading a book comparison is accurate as well.

    Great read. Thanks.

    MM

  8. Great essay – thanks. I agree with Amateur…your reading analogy is a solid one.

    For me, having made the effort to plan and cook makes a successful and interesting meal that much more gratifying. And the planning is such a great part of it. I take the tabbing of magazine pages to a whole new level – I’ve created a spreadsheet to catalog all the recipes I want to make one day (but probably never will get to).

  9. Adam,

    I love you.

    Emily

    P.S. Not in the marry me sort of way, but in the “reading something I could have written — wow! there really are people with my interests out there” sort of way.

    :)

    I can’t wait for your book to be published!

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