A 5-star chef in a 1-star kitchen

Illustration by Dominic Davies

When people learn that I like to cook, they commonly respond by saying they could never learn to cook because it is too hard. I never found cooking to be that hard. The hard part is finding the willpower to cook when getting a pizza delivered is so easy.

Most college students are resigned to eating snack food, ramen, delivery and fast food because they are convenient. But convenience usually comes at the price of quality and money. It takes effort to learn to cook, but the returns are innumerable.

Our food choices affect so much of our lives. What we eat affects our health, our wallets, our mental state and even our environment’s health. It is often said that the biggest thing the average person can do to cut down on their carbon footprint is to decrease how much meat they eat.

Most importantly, your food choices affect how you structure your life and where you focus your energy. Just like with any choices, there are trade-offs, the largest of which is time and effort. When deciding what to eat, you should ask the question, “Which do I have more of: money or time?”

A select few people have more money than time and have no problem eating restaurant or precooked food all the time.

But if you can spare the time and energy, you can learn to cook. The actual act of cooking can be as easy or as hard as the chef makes it. The hard part is putting in the time.

An easy way to cut down on this time is by prep cooking. Almost all meals have some part that can be prepared ahead of time. By spending one or two hours a week doing this, it is easy to get all of that over with. Some of the best cooking advice I have heard is to cook as much as possible, whenever possible.

On Sundays, I usually boil some rice and beans, roast some vegetables, cut up some fruit and bake a batch of cornbread muffins. This usually takes about one and a half hours of actual work, plus several hours of waiting for the beans to finish.

But at any moment during the week, I can heat up the rice, beans and vegetables with a tortilla and have a relatively healthy, incredibly filling taco in less than five minutes. If I just want a snack instantly, I can have some cornbread.

This is just one way to prep. There are a multitude of ways to incorporate cooking to match your specific tastes and lifestyle.

Pizza dough can be frozen, and the process of shaping it, adding toppings and cooking it takes around 20 minutes. Stock can be made out of vegetable scraps and chicken bones and can be used on a cold day for soup. Salads can be eaten right out of the refrigerator.

There is a high barrier of entry to get into cooking while figuring out how food fits into one's life. Some ingredients spoil faster than expected. Organizing a pantry is a hassle, especially with the limited space of most apartments. And, of course, there is the challenge of grocery shopping.

These obstacles can be threatening, especially to someone who has never stepped foot in a kitchen except to make ramen. It takes plenty of trial and error figuring how to balance money, time, willingness to cook and clean, nutrition, taste, storage space and dietary restrictions.

But just like with anything, it becomes easier with practice. There will always be a need to be able to feed yourself. It is not something that will go away. The challenges of cooking are many but having the ability will serve you as long as you are able to feed yourself.