It’s hard to admit this, but I’m a Latina who doesn’t cook. Now, I understand that not all women can cook, or need to cook, but I have a looming cloud over me that makes me feel guilty about it. Unfortunately GrubHub hasn’t made it any easier to try to learn, either.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a home-cooked meal every single day. My stay-at-home mom made delicious Mexican food and some delectable Albanian food, too. My sister and I didn’t realize how good we had it, and we complained about eating arroz con pollo again. As my mom would spend hours in the kitchen with novelas blasting in the background, she begged and pleaded for us to watch over her shoulder so that one day we could re-create the same meals; I was too immersed in books to care and was also slightly insecure about messing up, so I opted out of trying altogether.
As I grew up and went to college, I didn’t even think about cooking. I imagined late-night pizza deliveries and unlimited dorm food. This was all true, until I moved into an apartment my sophomore year and realized all my roommates cooked, and I’m not talking about heating up frozen food, here. I immediately started to feel really self-conscious about not knowing how to do something that came so naturally to everyone else. I kept spending more and more money, while everyone around me was having fun, eating nutritiously, and sharing recipes with each other. I started calling my mom my junior year so that she could give me her food secrets.
Every phone conversation with my mom started with her rambling on and on about how she told me that I should have payed closer attention to her when I was younger. She was right, and I felt the pressure that I wasn’t going to ever be as good as her. She’d reluctantly share some of her homey recipes with me and I attempted relentlessly to re-create them — I failed time after time and it made me push away from wanting to keep trying. I was disappointing my mom — and myself.
After I graduated from school, I made more of an effort to try to start cooking. In the words of Aaliyah, “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try it again.” I kept overcooking things, undercooking others, and having a hard time with what spices to use. I’d read food blogs and buy recipe books, but it always felt so unauthentic. How did my mom just know what to throw together? Luckily, my girlfriend at the time made drool-worthy meals — this made me stop trying, yet again, and made me feel uncomfortable about my weak skills in the kitchen.
After my breakup, I moved into my humble little one-bedroom and made it my mission to learn how to cook — for real this time. I wanted to find something to calm my anxiety, and I thought, What better way to calm my anxiety than to tackle something else that makes me anxious? I put my pride aside and called my mother yet again to share more of her recipes and paid attention. I started enjoying grocery shopping and asking my friends for their favorite food recipes. I started to think about my future family and wanting to be a mom, like mine, where my kids crave a certain dish that I make. I was feeling inspired and ready to learn. My head was in a different space because I wasn’t trying to cook for other people, I was trying to cook for myself. It was a mini-mission that I wanted to accomplish at a pace I was comfortable with.
After all this time, I was feeling like I was embarrassing my mom, and her Latina roots, for not being able to make some tamales or whip up enchiladas. Every Latina woman I knew had mastered the kitchen, and I just felt like I couldn’t relate to them. However, I realized it was beyond a “Latina thing.” It came down to my general insecurities of trying to be perfect the way I idolized my mom to be. I’m not the best and still spend more money on take-out than I should, but going at my own pace without feeling pressure feels nice. And one thing’s for sure: Just because I don’t really cook doesn’t make me any less of a Latina than someone who does.