I’ve always hated cooking. Everything about it.
The selection of a meal. There are so many options, it’s overwhelming… and do I have those ingredients and those special pans and and and …
Going to the store to get the necessary ingredients. Will I be able to find them? Will they be the right brand? Am I getting the right amount? Will they be fresh enough or good enough or whatever enough? Will I forget something? Will it be freezing in there? And why does it always take me two hours?
Then making everything. Did I measure it right? Am I cutting it correctly? Recipes being hard to follow. Not fully understanding the directions. Do I have the right size pot? Not knowing how to make it fit to the peculiarities to my own kitchen - like an oven that gets hotter than it says. Then there’s also the sensory issues… I don’t like water on my hands. I don’t like the splattering of oil. I hate setting off the smoke detector.
And then the pressure of it all turning out ok. If it’s just me eating it, fine, whatever, I’m proud I made it and that is good enough. The idea of then having no idea how it will go for other people… that’s just overwhelming.
I’ve always known I disliked these things. I’ve voiced them throughout my childhood and was chided for being “dramatic” or “overly sensitive.” As an undiagnosed autistic kid in a neurotypical world, my preferences and peculiarities did not make sense.
Fast forward to adulthood, I’ve largely been able to manage on my own. I make salads. I eat a lot of snacks. I keep it minimal and easy. Others sometimes hear I seldom cook and make jokes about me being “bougie” or this or that. They have no idea what is going on underneath my decision.
I’ve tried to learn. I’ve even had lessons. However, the the lessons were overwhelming and I could barely remember what even happened (which is common for autistics when under high stress).
So I just kept to my simple ways. Then I heard about recipe boxes.
It was like stepping out of a neurotypical world into one designed for me: You give me a limited selection of recipes and I pick a few based on visuals? You send me the food in the exact amount I need? You keep it basic so I don’t need any fancy equipment or skills? I can schedule the day it arrives? You make the steps clear with a visual cue card? What is this heaven you speak of?
It took me a few tries with different companies to find the right one for me. I eventually went with EveryPlate. They provided a box in the box, so I could take the box of food right out of the box and place it in my fridge in an organized manner.
Each recipe had pictures of what food items were used, as well as the quantity. It allowed me to easily take them out of the box and line them up in a happy row. They even said what extra things I’ll need from my own kitchen (like olive oil, salt, pan, etc.) and I lined those right up too.
And then I just went step by step. It was glorious. They even designed their recipes to make less mess. The food was delicious, and there’s a wide enough selection of recipes that I didn’t get bored. The selection also wasn’t so many that I got overwhelmed by options.
As I tried more recipes, I also trusted them enough to know the food would taste good. I developed the confidence that I can cook something and have it taste yummy.
For the first time in my adult life, I invited a friend over to make food for her. I was a little worried given it was my first time, but it went well. She liked the food. I then upped my game and invited my dad over to cook for him. He was floored.
The experience of learning to cook showed me the value of honoring and accommodating our needs as autistic people. If I had this approach to cooking in my teens or 20s, I would have learned to cook far earlier. Instead, I just beat myself up that there was something wrong with me. There isn’t, I just needed a different way.
It’s made me wonder what it would be like to have grown up in a world designed by neurodivergents? How many things would have been easier? How many unknown solutions would have been presented, like a wonderful recipe box? May I have felt more normal and less like an alien?
Probably. But for now, I’ll settle with the happiness I experience knowing that I can cook.
Fun afternote: I originally wrote this essay in the beginning of July. After a few months of cooking with recipe boxes, my fascination waned. I’m currently back to my snacking way of eating. This in itself is hilarious to me and reflects how my autistic brain waxes and wanes. Second, I think it is also a reflection of honoring what feels good. It became less and less fun to cook that way, so I stopped. Who knows, in a few months my excitement might return and I’ll shift to that.
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