Last March, quarantine cooking made everyone a food influencer. Less than a week into lockdown, friends pivoted from posting their outfits on Instagram to smugly posting their home-cooked breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. Celebrities live-streamed experiments in focaccia. Every other day a new food trend reared its viral head, some far less terrifying than others. “Getting into baking” became the ultimate quarantine cliche. For even the slightly culinarily-inclined, cooking—and more so documenting—became a full-on obsession. Some might say it only got more unhinged as time went on.
Remember those first weeks? When those of us privileged enough to be working from home stress-baked cute banana bread between Zoom calls and evening breaks to cheer on essential workers? Kid stuff. In April, sourdough starters became shorthand for just how much time we had in our hands; a concerted effort to kill time in our kitchens.
By the fall, the entire internet was desperate and, apparently, still hungry. We threw our hands up and embraced the most deranged food trend of all time: the “Gotcha” cake. Only a quarantine addled-mind would think, “you know what would be really great this Thanksgiving? A cake that so closely resembles a turkey, everyone involved will be scared for their lives when they cut into it and realize it’s made of funfetti.” Dark times indeed.
A year into the pandemic, I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of Dalgona coffee, pancake cereal, and picturesque “charcuterie” boards using hot chocolate instead of cured meats. To avoid the viral and, evidently, “life-changing” tortilla hack taking up valuable space in my brain, I had to actively avoid TikTok for the entire month of January. This internet obsession with cooking shows no signs of letting up (I see you, feta pasta). So where does that leave those of us that have zero interest in cooking? The former restaurant-goers, the bodega-snackers, the frozen food enthusiasts? I can’t speak for us all, but despite endless free time, social media pressure, and lack of alternatives I still can’t really feed myself.
I tried for awhile. I bought the lentils, rice, pasta, and pantry ingredients necessary for an impending shelter-in-place order. I did my best to learn how to brown onions (spoiler alert: it’s way more labor intensive than expected). Turns out, it’s just not for me. The emotional cycle of what it feels like to realize you’re a terrible cook, even in the most ideal circumstances, is real
Stage 1: This looks fun!
“I can cook,” I told myself in March 2020. “I just have never wanted to.” Wrong. So wrong. I feel the same way about cooking as I do driving—it’s somehow boring and stressful, leaving me a nervous puddle by the end. In fact, one of the reasons I moved to New York City is that it seemed like the best possible place to avoid doing both those things. But somewhere, during those first days of lockdown, I convinced myself otherwise. Maybe I’d never tried hard enough, or maybe the circumstances weren’t ideal. Maybe if I applied myself, I’d discover a hidden talent. Let’s do this!
Stage 2: Okay, I’m bad at this
During the spring, grocery stores were hell on earth. Lines snaked around the block, walking down the aisle in the wrong direction left you racked with guilt, and people had no idea whether their rubber gloves were doing more harm than good. But, after stocking up on pantry essentials, I spent a few weeks trying and failing to learn the basics. My pasta was flabby, my rice hard, and my chicken depressing (you had to be there). The kitchen became the most miserable space in my apartment. Why is this easy for everybody else? I’m hangry.
Stage 3: But, maybe I’m great at baking things?
By June, I stopped cooking and started baking. My thinking was such that if I focused on just one recipe and perfected it, I could fool people into thinking I knew what I was doing. The results were mediocre at best. After four tries, my homemade shortbread cookies were only slightly worse than the packaged baked goods I usually buy at my local deli.
Stage 4: At least I have my sad couch salads
By the time September rolled around, I was in a full-on food rut. I continued to cook sporadically with lackluster results, opting often for Seamless or thrown-together salads eaten on my couch between Zoom calls. Bolstered by the dread of an impending election, I stopped trying at pretty much everything, cooking included. My only memory of this time is scrolling through Instagram and saving elaborate retro dessert confections, desperate for even the smallest serotonin boost.
Stage 5: Acceptance—and Seamless
It’s official: a year in, I’ve come to terms with my lack of skill in the kitchen. I have other talents, right? It’s hard to admit you’re bad at something—like, really bad—when everyone else seems to just get it. But, after a year of trying to learn to cook, I’m left with nothing to prove. I just don’t have it in me.
What I lost in self-respect, I gained in appreciation for the people around me who found a new love for food and joy at home. If social media is any indication, cooking was how millions of us held it together in scary, uncertain times. What’s more, my addiction to takeout may have, in a small way, supported some of the wonderful restaurants and brave workers in my neighborhood. To 2021: A year I hope is full of vaccines and empty of anyone trying to make sugar pasta in the microwave because we have nothing else to do. M
Madeline Hirsch is Glamour’s former social media manager. Follow her on Instagram at @lady_hadeline.