‘How I got over the idea that cooking for just myself was a waste of effort’

Realising that I wasn't cooking for myself because I didn't think of myself as important enough to cook for, triggered a change in me.

“I don’t cook. I don’t enjoy it,” I tell people. “I don’t enjoy the waste and monotony of eating the same meal day after day because when you’re single, if you buy ingredients, you have no choice but to buy far too much ingredients for one meal.”

But then what do you eat!? They cry. “I either eat cheap takeaways or make tiny, single ingredient meals like plain rice or broccoli or frozen dumplings then douse it in soy sauce and chilli,” which is depressing but not as depressing as what I don’t say; “Or I just go without and have a glass of wine for dinner.”

“But you’re a food writer!” And yes, I am and I love food. I love eating and I go out to restaurants and adore every bite. In Autumn, I often buy dozens and dozens of oysters and gorge myself and have an absolute ball.

But when I come home from waxing lyrical about what beautiful food professionals have made, the futility of trying to feed myself is insurmountable. On the ordinary, quiet week nights that I spend alone in my own flat, why would I bother putting effort into food for me? Why would I try to impress me when I’m the only one who can see it and taste it?

There’s a sad, pathetic quality to meals-for-one and the way they are advertised. The packets feature phrases like “low effort”, “easy and microwaveable” just contribute to the idea that a single human cooking for themselves doesn’t have to, doesn’t need to and shouldn’t put the effort into making a properly nice meal for themselves.

I think about the kind of meal that I would want to have for dinner and I think fresh clam vongole, Margherita pizza from scratch, mushroom and bacon risotto and spicy ramen with pork or salmon. They’re time intensive, flavourful and comforting; expensive on UberEats, high-difficulty and decadent to the point where it seems almost sacrilege to make them just for one person.

Then I read Supper Club by Lara Williams, a novel about a woman in her twenties who starts a club for women to eat for eating’s sake. They eat messily, as women are taught not to. They gorge themselves and grow fat and take up space in a world that would rather they ate a couple of leaves, pat their mouth with a napkin and say “thank you, I’m full”. And stay thin. The main character, Roberta, cooks for pleasure, eats for pleasure and revels in it.

Supper Club reframes and romanticises cooking for yourself and eating delicious, elaborate, home cooked meals just for yourself as a radical thing to do.

(Credit: Images by Alex Blackwood)

It made me realise that the reason I wasn’t cooking was because I didn’t think cooking for one person was worth the time. I’d eat plain rice and be like “this is neither yum nor nice to look at but it is sustenance.”

Or I’d just not even bother, not because I wanted to not eat, or because I wanted to be thin but because I didn’t think of myself as being important enough to cook for.

Even once I’d realised that, there was still the hurdle of effort to get over.

So when I finished the book, I started small. I went to the supermarket and bought eggs and bread. I made myself egg and soldiers and ate them alone and unobserved at my kitchen table. It isn’t a big meal, it isn’t a fancy meal. But it is the first meal I have put effort into for me and only me, in I don’t even remember how long.

That one meal triggered a shift; a reframing in how I think about cooking and my relationship to it. Suddenly, I feel more like a person I would make good food for. And in realising that, I see that maybe my inability to put the work into something just for me is symptomatic of a lack of self-love or even self-esteem. Either way, by deciding to make that effort,I feel much more ready to give more time and effort to myself.

It matters less that it won’t be perfect, and it matters more that the meals I make for myself should be decadent and enjoyable because my body and my enjoyment matter.

Suddenly it doesn’t feel so out of reach to write the ingredients to clam vongole-for-one on my shopping list.

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