Roar Culture Editor Alex Blank on the comforts of cooking like a hermit and embracing your asocial tendencies.
Everyone has their own set of anxieties. Personally, there are few things I dislike more than people seeing me cook – and, correspondingly, eat. I had been afraid of many aspects of university, but the food stuff was one of my biggest fears. I didn’t even care (as much) about the fact that I would most likely not make any friends; I was too preoccupied with my thoughts on The Kitchen.
I remember walking into my first student-halls kitchen. From the whiteness of the floors and cupboards, and the pinkness of some girl’s hair, I still recall nothing but tension. After a week of dangling in and out, I gave up and never came back. I lived in that place for a year, and I have never stepped into that kitchen again. What did I live off? Don’t ask.
Take two. New university, new and shiny student halls, new part of the city. This time will be different, this time will be fine. I was the first one to arrive on my floor, which gave me enough space to inspect every nook and cranny, every possibility for missteps or awkwardness, in the giant shared kitchen.
On my first night and second morning, I ate a sandwich from home as well as a shattered Pop Tart. The second night in, I finally did it. I went in. I was armed with a pink pan in hand and sauce that was as red as my cheeks. I was alone, and I made my meal in peace. Though I managed to almost conquer my fear of the kitchen, I left my pots and pans to gather dust in my room, ordered a mini fridge, and dangled between two unchanging points for the rest of the year – my room and the kitchen’s microwave. I prepared simplistic meal-like concoctions on my tiny desk, and then took them – as inconspicuously as I could – to that safe-like box.
If you are as semi-proudly asocial as me, here are some tips on how to survive cooking among strangers without renouncing your hermitage status.
First of all, I cannot stress this enough: microwave is your best friend. I made oatmeal in the microwave, I cooked pasta and various kinds of grains, I scrambled eggs, I grilled cheese sandwiches, I “baked” mug cakes. Sometimes I got up super early and cooked pasta in the morning – not to face anyone for the 9 minutes it takes to cook the pasta, but only for 1 minute it takes to heat it up.
It only backfired once, as I tried to cook rice. I put it in, went back to my room and turned a timer to remember to get it. All of a sudden, a piercing fire alarm reverberated all over the floor, and I was greeted with more socialising I was able to bear at 7 a.m. More than that, I had to admit it was my fault, and I stood awkwardly amidst the smoke, not knowing what to do, because I can’t do anything while people are staring at me. Suffice it to say, I never cooked rice again. I don’t even like it that much, to be fair.
Another life saver: a mini fridge. Granted, my freezer was the size of a spleen, so buying extra bread or frozen fruit / vegetables forced me to store them in the kitchen, but at least it gave me a range of cold-meal options to sustain me when I didn’t have the nerve to leave my room. It’s fine, it happens – you’re tired, you’re irritable, your words stumble upon themselves in your mouth. It’s better to have a cold meal than to have your vocal cords freeze as you try to make hateful small talk with a flatmate.
Last but not least: buy couscous in bulk. It’s warm, quick, healthier than ramen, and arguably – since it only transforms into digestible shape if you cover it with a plate after pouring water over it and leave it alone – just as asocial as me.
I’m not claiming you should master self-isolation, even though we’re now more adept at it than we used to be. It’s important not to feel lonely, and I know that cooking and eating together can bring people closer (though I still don’t get the appeal). However, everyone has different needs, everyone connects differently, and some people need their space to be able to clumsily pour one thing over another while not burning anything, including their cheeks.
It’s fine if you have asocial tendencies in one area or another – whether it’s food, cooking, commuting, studying, or anything else. Life is about balance and boundaries, and breathing, and all of those need space. I don’t feel guilty over being so private anymore, because I know it gives me enough peace of mind to be able to put myself out there in other ways, on my terms.
There is only one good piece of advice here, really: University is your experience, and you are allowed to make – and/or break, on occasion – your own rules.