Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Food & Drink
12 June 2012updated 30 Jun 2021 11:49am

My diet of “hot items”: why I pity people who have learned to cook

By Kate Mossman

The thing is, I know I need to learn to cook, and will, but really, I don’t know when that day will come. It’s not fear that stops me. It’s because cooking is so deeply boring. It makes me want to cry. When an amateur chef tells me what I’m missing – how easy it is, how creative, how relaxing – I look at them as if down the wrong end of a telescope. I feel pity, because unlike me they are denied the pleasure of getting very hungry in the middle of some late afternoon activity, imagining what they want (the creative part), instantly buying that thing and eating it on the train, or in the road, and satisfying their needs within seconds.

There are various commonly repeated phrases cooks like, which also make me pity them. One is: “I love doing it to unwind when I get home from work, with a glass of wine.” When I get home from work, I need to eat straightaway. Why would I want to look at the broken down components of the meal I crave, and push them around in a pan while listening to Front Row, feeling my hunger wane as I watch the fibres sinking, the sauces coagulating, all the mystery gone, for one hour, before eating the meal in a tenth of the time it took me to make it?

Another thing cooks say is: “It’s really great, you can make it and keep it in the fridge all week in a Tupperware box and have it every night and every day at work too if you want.” That one speaks for itself.

Perhaps I should clarify my skill level. When I say I don’t know how to cook, I mean I don’t know how to warm things up either. I keep light bulbs in my oven. I can put beans in a microwave but I don’t know, say, how to cook a piece of bacon; I wouldn’t know how long to keep it in the pan for, to make it safe to eat, and not grey. Likewise an omelette (“so easy”): I would get salmonella.

And how do you stop it sticking to the pan? Butter? Oil? I have watched it being done so many times but, like a kind of dyspraxia, I cannot take it in. My mind goes dark. Many years ago, I decided to boil an egg for my breakfast, so I looked up the instructions on the computer. By chance, the recipe that I alighted on was a ten-step recipe, which I assumed was normal. The egg took a long time and was hard, confirming to me that cooking was complicated, and that the process strips all the pleasure out of the end product.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Not being able to cook does not mean I dine out in restaurants. I have no money for that. I dine on what I’d broadly call “hot items”, individual morsels which satisfy the instant hunger that seems, mysteriously, to be such a part of my life. Wraps. Falafels. Hot dogs. Samosas. Bits of hot meat. Greggs vegan sausage rolls. Buttermilk fried chicken cutlets from the branches of Sainsbury’s that have a hot oven.

I conscientiously counterbalance the saturated fat elements of these items with small amounts of fruit – and in the evening I regularly enjoy a tin of peas covered in soy sauce, eaten cold with a teaspoon from the can, while standing in the kitchen. And rather than going for volume – which would be unhealthy – I like to substitute flavour in my food, adding Tabasco and chilli seeds to most things, including a sandwich I recently had in America, which was listed on the menu as the Elvis, and featured banana, peanut butter and bacon within deep-fried bread.

When I go to America, I get the sense of how I could live. Apart from corndogs (the ultimate hot item, the longer left turning on the rollers the better) my favourite American snack is Slim Jims, a brand of cured meat and “cheese food product” manufactured in Illinois, packaged as two separate, foot-long strands. You tear off the top and bite a mouthful of meat and cheese together: the salt and fat are an instant pick-me-up, perfect for breakfast. I get them in gas stations, and return to the UK with my holdall laden – only to find them slightly less appealing on the other side of the Atlantic, when they’ve sweated on the journey, and lost a bit of their structure.

Yes, I recommend my diet to you – it keeps me relatively slim, and it saves my evenings for things other than stirring a pot, relaxing and sipping a glass of wine. 

This article appears in the 24 Jul 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Shame of the nation