I used to be someone who ate just for fuel, as some people work only to earn money.
It’s not that I disliked food: I’ve written about my devotion to English breakfasts and Sunday roasts; I am obsessed with eggs in all forms; find immense comfort in jam and toast; would kill right now, during lockdown, to go to an Italian restaurant and order masses of pasta followed by affogato.
It is just that I have never seen eating as an event. I viewed it as a side course, while doing something else. Breakfast omelette with one eye on a book. Quick sandwich at my desk checking Twitter during lunch break. Balancing a dinner plate on a cushion watching Netflix. Meals weren’t a chore, but I was not someone who planned ahead and got excited about them. I didn’t savour food. I took it for granted.
Then more and more friends came into my life who adore food. They are loyal to some recipes and experiment with others, but are never snobbish or judgmental about the fact I occupy a high chair of ignorance when it comes to all things culinary. One pal has an array of pans hanging over her kitchen island, the names of many I couldn’t tell you; pans that I am seemingly incapable of not headbutting. But this is not a column on how I learned to cook, even though I am slowly – as if on the lowest heat – making progress.
This is a column on how lovely it is to be cooked for. I used to find being cooked for stressful, for two reasons: I felt panicked by witnessing skills that highlighted my inadequacy; and I felt guilty and rude because I could not return this particular act of generosity. I haven’t sung for my supper at dinner parties, exactly, but I have done a lot of insisting on washing up and bringing large bottles of booze.
The huge joy, I have discovered, in being cooked and baked for by people for whom food is an obsession – eating it, making it, thinking about it, writing about it, eating some more of it – but who above all prioritise those at their table, is that it is a transferable pleasure. I now enjoy cooking by proxy. It makes me happy to make my friends happy, and I have learned that enjoying the food someone else has cooked for me will do that.
Feeding someone is an act of love; a way of bestowing life – even if that life comes in the shape of Victoria sponge. Especially, in fact, if it comes in the shape of Victoria sponge. My mouth and heart are full.