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“Can’t cook. Won’t cook. Will eat”: Lucy Mangan explains why cooking isn’t for her

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The one part of Christmas I dread (which I otherwise love beyond the telling of it), is the food part. Cooking, like sex and watching The X Factor, fills me with a mixture of boredom, fear and dread. And, as with sex and watching The X Factor, I will go through the basic motions in order to maintain a semblance of connection with humanity, but it has not and will never be My Thing.

Christmas is just a more freighted, pressurised version of the daily need to feed ourselves and others. Christmas food is not merely fuel to get us through the hours between waking and sleeping but an expression of love, of excitement, of delicious anticipation. It needs to be special, it needs to be beautiful. It needs to enshrine family traditions, evoke memories and create new ones.  

That’s a big ask from someone who basically wishes Heinz tomato soup came ready-poured. 

Of the unholy trinity of boredom, fear and dread, I have gradually come to realise that it is boredom that is the key to the whole problem. When something just doesn’t speak to us, just fails to engage our interest, we don’t generally pursue it. There are enough things in life that do spark an initial enthusiasm to follow up on. 

Soon it becomes a thing you Don’t Do, that people know you Don’t Do and it evolves from a matter of uninterest to one of almost active ignorance. And that’s when the fear and dread set in. Suddenly cooking – or technology, or reading, or sport, or having children or whatever your field of non-endeavour is – is not something you can take or leave and prefer to leave, but an ever-widening area of skills you don’t have, things you will never be able to do, a baffling set of equipment, jargon, concoctions brought together in ever more mysterious and alienating ways by more and more people around you. They bend software to their will, work their way effortlessly through the Booker longlist, become Iron Men or Toughmudders or mudders of four while you boggle quietly in the background. And sometimes, as with cooking, the whole culture gets in on the act and conspires to leave you even further behind. Inspired and educated by Nigella, Jamie, Nigel, Gizzi, Yotam, Mary and the rest, even your daftest friend now knows what to do with pomegranate syrup, can lay her hand on toasted pine nuts and whip up a four-course meal that makes you cry with delight in the time it takes Netflix to load.

And soon you are angry about all this stuff going on around you, without you and then they stop inviting you round even to eat any of it, which is terrible because it is all increasingly delicious.

If I had my time again, I would beware of boredom. I would fight against my lack of interest in things. I would demand of myself that I acquire a basic competence in everything because it’s only really then that you know whether it could be for you or not. Worst case scenario – you don’t end up eating toast three meals out of four and snarling at your child as he begs for something with flavour “as a treat today”. Best case scenario – you could discover unknown talents, from which always flow happiness. 

But it’s too late for me. The bar is set too high now for a beginner. 

I shall look through the rest of Stylist and everything from Waitrose magazine, not to mention the amazing preparations and creations already filling my Instagram account, with an awe more religious people reserve for the baby Jesus himself. It all seems like a miracle to me. Enjoy.

Photography: Ellis Parrinder

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