Cooking: Understanding through Experience

I never would have expected that moving into my own house would cause the truths that these authors espouse to jump off of the pages I’ve been reading in such a real way.

I’ve spent the past two years living on campus at the college, but this past weekend, I moved into a house off-campus. With this step came another momentous change: the disappearance of my meal plan. Since I’ve been blessed with a sister who makes gourmet cupcakes and experiments with her own homemade pasta sauces just for fun, I never had much of a need to cook for myself while at home.

With a lot of experimentation, I’ve started learning to cook. While I thought I would be frustrated by the time and energy it takes to prepare my own meals, there’s something extremely gratifying about cooking in order to meet my most basic needs. I’m finding that it reinforces my temporality and reminds me that I am immensely blessed.

The disorganized omelet: scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato, bell pepper, and sharp cheddar.

The disorganized omelet: scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato, bell pepper, and sharp cheddar.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt articulates this well in her description of labor. Arendt defines labor as human activity grounded in biological necessity – the necessity to sustain and reproduce life. Arendt writes:

“The ‘blessing or the joy’ of labor is the human way to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures, and it is even the only way men, too, can remain and swing contentedly in nature’s prescribed cycle, toiling and resting, laboring and consuming, with the same happy and purposeless regularity with which day and night and life and death follow each other… The blessing of labor is that effort and gratification follow each other as closely as producing and consuming the means of subsistence, so that happiness is a concomitant of the process itself.”

Arendt writes about labor in order to distinguish it from work and action, for she diagnoses the state of modernity as having forgotten about the category of action. I will explain the significance of this in my next post. For now, I just wanted to explain to you a little more about the process of my research. I gain understanding about these authors’ truths not only as I read about them, but also as I live them.

While writing this post, I was reminded that a much more modern author from a much different genre put this truth beautifully in a book I read a couple of years ago. I just didn’t understand the weight of her words at the time because I had yet to live them. She writes:

“I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility.” ― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way



  1. mlmendonca says:

    Ally, you have perfectly described my first experience with living on my own as well. I also moved into an off-campus house this week and, although I have yet to progress past microwaved dinners, the act of cooking for oneself is humbling. Literally the last thing I want to do after working 8 hours in a chemistry lab is to watch things boil and use my brain to prepare food for myself. I’ve always been blessed with excellent home-made meals from my parents (or fast food) and never realized how much effort goes into providing a basic human necessity. Food certainly does taste better when you make it with your own two hands.

    I loved your quotes, particularly the part about how effort and gratification often go hand-in-hand. One never feels truly alive until they can independently create something, witnessing an observable change in the world due to their own labor. Even something as trivial as cooking someone else a meal can give meaning to our lives because we have the opportunity to impact our surroundings. I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more of your blogs!