The XX Factor

Cooking Is a Great Hobby, But It’s Just a Hobby

Amanda , I agree with you that cooking can be a great pleasure. It’s messy, it’s creative, and there are few things more empowering than the realization that, if the can opener has disappeared, you can get into a can of tomato sauce with an ice pick and a hammer.

But like Margaret , I’m fed up with the legions of foodies who don’t just enjoy their time in the kitchen but feel the need to order everyone else to get in there with them. There’s a sense among some urbanites that it’s virtually impossible to live the good life if your body isn’t fueled at all times by organic food carefully selected at the local farmers’ market and lovingly prepared in a kitchen stocked with only the best extra-virgin olive oil Whole Foods has to offer.

Thanks to the abundance of cheap, easy-to-prepare food, cooking-at least the kind that requires kneading or julienning or salting eggplant -is a hobby, not a prerequisite for survivial. And it’s a great hobby for those who enjoy it. But its practitioners hold forth about its inherent goodness in a way that few other hobbyists do. When was the last time you heard a scrapbooker earnestly telling a colleague that if she didn’t get herself to the local scrapbook-supply store right away, she was condemning herself and her progeny to a lifetime of ill health, low energy, and inusfficient appreciation for the finer things in life? How many comic book fans work to turn nonreaders into disciples of their favorite series? They don’t. They hang out with other people who share their passions, but they don’t lay claim to the moral high ground just by virtue of their preferred leisure activities.

I don’t think there’s a moral difference between spending a free hour curled up with a good book and a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich and spending that hour slicing and dicing your way through dinner preparations. Yet, thanks to Michael Pollan , Morgan Spurlock , and Jonathan Safran Foer , food choices have become freighted with so much judgmentalism, self-righteousness, and guilt-tripping that what to have for lunch can feel less like a culinary dilemma than an ethical one. But the purpose of food is to fuel our bodies, not save our souls, and I think a stop at Five Guys should be followed by a long walk or a light dinner, not confession and absolution.

Photograph of Mark Bittman by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment.