Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG)

My wife was out for a girls’ night and I was home alone with my three rowdy kids. To my enormous shame, I have yet to get my two younger kids to eat the same shit that my wife and I eat every night. I cook a regular meal, and then my boys eat chicken nuggets or cheese toast or some other garbage. Without a responsible spouse around to patrol my eating habits, I could have joined the boys in grabbing some shit out of the freezer, heating it up, and eating like a caveman. That’s fun sometimes. It’s fun to eat a box of pizza rolls and call it dinner.

But that’s not what I did. Instead, I made some carbonara for myself. I used this recipe from cooking bro Tyler Florence. Before you yell at me that Florence is not Italian and that his recipe couldn’t possibly be authentic, please know that I don’t give a shit. The recipe works, so I used it. I put on a pot of water to boil. Then I grabbed some garlic and some bacon and fried them up together, grabbing little hunks of bacon to snack on as I cooked. Then I whisked together a couple of eggs with a shitload of grated parm (the real kind). Then I boiled the pasta, drained it, dropped it into the fried garlic and bacon, took it off the heat, and then lovingly folded in the eggs as my kids fucked around on screens in the other room. I skipped the parsley because this was not a night for vegetables, then I poured some wine and dug in eagerly.

This is far from the only time I’ve cooked a meal strictly for myself. I know I’m old because when I’m home alone now, my first thought is not oh wow I can beat off all I want! It’s oh shit, I can cook ANYTHING! Cooking for yourself is an exercise in complete and utter indulgence. You get to pick the meal. You get to season it (or in my case, overseason it) all you like. You can lick the spoon as you cook because you’re gonna be the only one eating your germs. And you can make a really fucking huge portion if you want. When you cook for other people, you gotta worry about all kinds of shit. Does anyone have allergies? Will they eat it? Will this food be ready before soccer practice? Oh, Jenny hates pepper! That’s right! Better not pepper anything! But when I cook for me, I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone other than myself. And I, dear friends, am extremely easy to please.

I am well aware that time is at a premium for a lot of working people out there. Cooking is, in many ways, an obscene luxury. Too many cookbooks and lifestyle gurus take that fact for granted. There is now an entire multibillion dollar meal kit industry set up for people who want to shop and cook but don’t have the time. That loss of personal time to cook and to eat as a family has almost certainly made some kind of shadowy, deleterious contribution to the shitworld we currently live in.

But if you DO have the time, and you can swing it, cooking for yourself really is a healing, meditative experience. Perhaps it’s not nutritionally wise to make a wad of bacon-and-egg pasta, but it certainly helped me SPIRITUALLY, which I’ll go ahead and consider more vital at the moment. Like any obsessive pursuit, it’s soothing to tune out the rest of the world and fuss over ONE stupid little thing, especially if it happens to be a tasty meal. It’s also nice to eat that meal quietly. I know the company is almost always more important than the food, but I don’t mind being my own company sometimes. You need those moments hanging out in your brain’s little missionary: just you and a big fucking steak you made. Mmmmm… steak. No need to ruin a steak with talking, my friends.

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Cooking for yourself also makes the meal a real and significant part of the day. There’s something deeply unsatisfying in eating a fast food meal that takes 90 seconds. It feels as if I’ve missed the meal entirely. I need the process of prepping and cooking and even cleaning so that I can point to that part of the day and be like, “That was a thing that happened that was fairly pleasant.”

Because these are unpleasant times. Sometimes I feel like I can’t find my brain because so much SHIT is happening all at once. That’s especially true now, with all the unbearable election stress and mass shootings and doctored press conference footage and falling Supreme Court justices and wimpy-ass Democratic leadership and corrupt attorneys general being shuffled around. It feels like the world will not leave me the fuck alone, with our asshole President being the worst offender. I have raged and I have marched and I have voted. And I wish it weren’t so, but it’s pretty clear that America doesn’t have much interest in taking care of people these days. The country’s growing obsession with self-care—effective or otherwise—is a giant fucking indictment of how much greater society has broken down. I can get hysterical about it all I like, but the forces of evil out there have more or less figured out a way to make their false outrage the only outrage that matters.

And so I cook. I cook because it’s one thing I have control over, and because I know that I can expect a nice result and not be let down. The carbonara turned out good. Of course it did. It had bacon in it. Sometimes being good to yourself is the only good option.