Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to learn to cook. Not to any great standard, I should add (I watched the first ten minutes of Masterchef the other day and understood roughly none of it), but enough so that I don’t have to live solely off pasta for my last two years at St Andrews just like I had to for my first two. It’s actually gone quite well, since you ask. I can make soups, stews, stir-fries and a halfway-decent lasagne, and so far have not died from food poisoning, so that’s a plus.
Anyway, this is not a cookery, or (god forbid) a lifestyle column, so you’re probably wondering what the purpose of that introduction was. To understand the relevance to what this column is meant to be about, you need to understand the life-long, near-pathological aversion to cooking I held for the years leading up to this. Aside from my older brother, I’m the only person in my family who isn’t a foodie. Actually, that’s not a strong enough descriptor- my younger brother has been practically devouring (if that’s not too on-the-nose as a metaphor) cookbooks since about the age of ten, whereas I think beans on toast is a culinary masterpiece. As a result, until very recently I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that cooking just wasn’t for me, that my brother, and other relatives, and literally anyone else in the world who was handy with a spatula had access to some kind of special knowledge that was completely beyond me. As a result, I avoided cooking anything more complex than pot noodle like the plague- why wouldn’t I? Cooking was for other people, not me. Also as a result, I would finish up every semester having lost five or six pounds, and possessing the kind of dull-eyed, greasy skinned pallor that can only come from a steady diet of reheated pasta. I’m not sure that I ever enjoyed living like this, but I never really thought I had any other options.
The last couple of weeks have proved otherwise to me. I’m not saying that I’m going to turn into a Michelin starred chef next semester, but at least if I slip back into my old habits, I’ll know it’ll be out of choice, rather than helplessness.
Again, you’re probably struggling to see the relevance of this to anything to do with Populus, but, if you’ve ready any of this blog series, you’re probably expecting me to crowbar in a heavy-handed metaphor based on what I’ve just discussed. And you’d be right.
Let me try to explain. My anxieties about cooking are not the oldest, and certainly not the most bothersome set I’ve ever had. For a very, very long time, I, like a lot of my fellow introverts, was terrified of speaking to people. Like cooking, I felt like I’d been born without- or failed to properly develop- the necessary skillset to make people like me. One of my most vivid memories of school was seeing someone I was keen on befriending from down the corridor, and running (yes, literally running) to hide in the toilets before they could see me. (I’m not going to tell you how old I was when this happens, but it was probably older than you’re thinking.)
This is the bit in the article when I tell you why I had these fears, but, honestly I can’t remember. Sometime between sixth year and going to university, I forced myself to start talking to people. And found out it was- like cooking- actually fairly easy. Now, I’m no more a skilled conversationalist than I am a good cook, but at least I’ve stopped shrinking away from doing either. And that’s the first step to success.
As FDR says “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Well, that and burning the sauce.
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