Lessons Learned From Not Eating Out
Cathy Erway with Photos by Donny Tsang
Restaurants – from fine dining to food trucks – are a popular obsession in our modern culture. For anyone nurturing an interest in cooking, it’s easy to dream about taking that passion to the next step of a profit-making enterprise of sorts. Got a killer cake recipe? Maybe opening a bakery is not too far-fetched. Mastered the art of fresh pasta-making? Maybe it’s time to try that of a trattoria next. When cooking for friends and family, I often received the flattering question, “When’s the restaurant opening?” While appreciated, this all-too-common conclusion is far from the end-all be-all of making and sharing great food.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a career in the culinary arts, of earning those chef’s whites or opening that cafe. Yet when it comes to such a vital, everyday necessity as food, there can be no wrong in cooking for eating’s sake, too. Somehow, this essential truth was getting forgotten in modern society, I felt. Eating in was quickly being replaced by taking out, or heating up overly processed and preserved foods. Home cooking was going the way of sewing and knitting clothes, at least in large cities. And it was having effects on our health as a whole.
For two years, I declined eating prepared foods from restaurants, street carts, or delivery or catering businesses. I cooked my meals instead to see if it was as inconvenient as everybody was saying it would be. Even while working full-time and living in New York City, the routine became easier and easier to do as each day passed. It also proved advantageous in ways that I hadn’t even anticipated.
Because I was cooking often, I found it most convenient to bulk up on storable pantry goods like whole grains, beans and pasta, and to use fresh vegetables right away. This made for quicker meals on the fly without having to schlep loads of groceries all the time, and it also made for very healthy, simple eating. (I find healthy, simple food hard to come by with take-out, and resoundingly less expensive.) Also discovered was the fact that I had less packaging trash on my hands than ever cooking frequently. (I did a weigh-in of my garbage from one home-cooked dish compared to the disposable cartons, bags, packets, cups and cutlery of take-out.) It was less expensive to shop for local, seasonal, responsibly produced ingredients than seeking these from restaurants, so that one can support food causes with their spending dollars more easily when cooking. And when it came to an abundance of food to use up at home, I would have friends over, or potluck.
What’s your most unforgettable meal experience? Chances are, it’s not because of what was on the plate, but who was there, what you talked about, laughed about, and enjoyed eating together. The simple act of making and sharing food is not so simple after all. It can be the whole purpose of cooking. It’s the point of excelling in it, the reward for exercising it, and the bottom line. As long as there is a hungry and appreciative audience (and that could even just be oneself), a hobby for great home cooking is not only achievable, but beneficial in so many ways. So for anyone wondering if they’re missing out on greater goals by not starting a food business, think again. When everyone’s got to eat, why not do it well?