I’m not much of a cook. I’ll get that out of the way first and foremost. You’ll never catch me humblebragging about my culinary adventures, and my best recipes come from Google. I’m far better at googling than I will ever be at cooking. In fact, part of the reason I fell so immediately, intensely in love with my better half was that the man could cook, and I was in desperate need of a healthier relationship with food. Fiercely independent as I was, I was ready to let someone feed me, and he did so with relish.
I have a tower of excuses for my abysmal cooking abilities. I don’t have the time (I often do), or the spoons (I sometimes do), or the know-how (which I could probably learn if I applied myself, let’s be honest).
The real story is a lot less sympathetic. Simply put, cooking is scary for a blind person who lacks confidence during hands-on tasks, and I’m one of them. I’ll write you a set of speaking notes in less than an hour, for an event I’ve never heard of, on a topic I know nothing about. That’s juuust fine. But please don’t ask me to do anything with my hands other than write, play the piano, and carry your stuff.
“But Meagan,” you insist, “surely you’re overthinking this! It’s not that complicated.” (You’re right. Congratulations.) Special training is not strictly necessary, and the majority of blind cooks I know are at least partially self-taught. It’s tricky, but it’s not arcane.
And yet, the chronic diffidence persists, and it didn’t originate with me. For as long as I can remember, sighted people have been all too happy to enumerate the disasters that might befall me. Knives can’t wait to chop off those precious fingers that help me read and use my cane. Boiling hot liquids are just waiting to terrorize me with much spattering and spilling. Grease fires lurk around every corner, poised to consume unsuspecting paper towels. Measuring is messy. Preparing dishes without visual input is imprecise. Whatever I make probably won’t be perfect. (The horror!)
And so, being someone who fears messes almost as acutely as I fear failure, I stayed out of the kitchen unless compelled to do otherwise. The years I lived alone meant I subsisted on an insipid rotation of frozen dinners, canned soup, and snack foods that lacked nutritional value but quieted my hunger. Every now and again, when I wasn’t busy studying or writing papers in a feverish haze, I’d throw together a salad or heap a random assemblage of ingredients in my slow cooker and hope for the best. My standards were low and I was frequently too ill to eat at all, so this worked for me … for a while.
Once I started working full time and transitioning to “real” adulting, I began longing for more in nearly every facet of my life. I wanted to travel more, socialize more, and acquire the grownup skills I thought I ought to have picked up years ago. My student days were marked by severe migraines and appetite-killing pain, and I was mostly too ill to notice I was living a small, sad existence. Now that I was blossoming, really learning to thrive, I felt I should take the act of cooking more seriously—for my health, if for no other reason. And there they were, my faithful, time-worn excuses.
But this time, there was a new element: my afore-mentioned better half. He didn’t have a lot of time or energy, either, but when he did, he’d prepare delicious meals for me and, eventually, for our friends. Nothing made me prouder than a group of my loved ones sitting at our kitchen table, exclaiming over his prodigious talent. There was immense satisfaction in the act of nurturing people, of bringing them together through the medium of food. An ongoing source of suffering in my life has been the perception that I have nothing to offer. No one needs me, I can’t be counted upon, and I will never make others feel cared and provided for in the ways so many have done for me. It’s a common and heartbreaking reality of disability, which very few of us escape entirely.
But bearing witness to the magic my partner could call forth by simply whipping up a meal and inviting people to our table made me question those long-held assumptions about myself. Perhaps I really was capable of nourishing others as they had so often nourished me. Watching him at work filled me with such an expansive, buzzy feeling of well-being that I decided it was time for me to be brave and turn these one-man meals into a team effort. I wanted to do more than stand on the sidelines of his generosity—a generosity I shared but couldn’t easily express. I wanted to help make it happen.
I’m still a bad cook. (What’s that? You thought this would be a story of radical transformation? Triumph over adversity? Sorry, wrong blog.) I’m not sure that will change, though experience will help me hide it better. What I do have is patience, inspiration, and determination to improve. I also have a partner who appreciates every contribution I make, whether it’s researching recipes or taking care of the food prep he finds unendurably dull. He knows I have a long way to go before I’m satisfied with my skill level, but he is happy to celebrate the baby steps between where I am now and where I want to be. The pure, unbridled joy he takes in those baby steps gives me the space and freedom to celebrate them, too.
With every meal we coordinate together, with every recipe we choose and every cozy conversation that plays out over our cutting boards, I feel my confidence building and, more and more now, a growing closeness not only with the partner I cook with, but the people I cook for. Showing love in words has always been easy, but showing that love with my hands was always an epic struggle. Now, with practice, I am learning to embrace the work of my clumsy, imperfect hands as a pathway to enhanced self-worth and a better relationship—with myself, my partner, and my loved ones.
The cherry on top of the sundae? I haven’t yet managed to chop off any fingers or start any grease fires. (I’ll just have to try harder.)
TLDR: If you’re looking for a way to bring more big buzzy waves of well-being into your life—and really, who isn’t—cook for yourself. Cook for the people you love. If you can, cook right alongside those people, even if the thought of others watching you work is uncomfortable.
Running low on spoons? Don’t have enough time in the day? Scared you’ll mess it up? Do as much or as little as you feel you can. I promise you that whether I do the heavy lifting for a meal or merely slice a carrot or two, the happy buzzy vibes show up either way. It’s the sense of competence and collaboration that matters, not the volume of work done or effort made. The benefits of cooking for yourself and others are endless, and you can’t go wrong with a little extra confidence now and again. I learned that the hard way, so you don’t have to.
It’s one of the few advantages of growing up in a specialised environment: we were expected to learn – and be proficient at – everything includign cooking. However, I can’t say I’m anything more than competent, and that only when my sister is not at home where she can hang round my neck and give me constant advice on ways I could be doing it differently. There are devices, such as a food procesor (pick your machine carefully), air fryer and microwave which can help. I really love the slow cooker, as things seem to go in easy and come out tender and tasty. A portable induction element, which will save energy, react much faster and be really safe because of its inability to heat anything placed upon it which isn’t magnetic, is also recommended. The portable ones tend to have raised buttons where the fixed units are less accessibly designed. As to knife skills, I think that blind people cut themselves less frequently than sighted people. Keepign your knives in good ordre definitely helps: choose really good knives (the best you can afford), don’t put them in the dish-washer, sharpen them before and after you use them, ensure they’re comfortable for you to hold in your hand. All these things were told to me when I bought my first one and I’ve never forgotten, even when my sister forgets to treat our knives with the kind of care which will help ensure we’re both kept safe, and which treats them with the respect they deserve. I’m going to pass on your post to a friend of mine who longs to speak the way she hears others do so, and hasnt’ made it yet. This may encourage her and motivate her to put regular and concerted efforts into her goal. I sincerely hope you achieve yours.
Hi, Kylee. Thank you so much for reading, and for leaving such a kind comment with such great tips! I do love my good knives. 🙂
I have always loved cooking when I started learning to cook back in 2013. I have always used the microwave and now I use the toaster when I’m by myself but I don’t exactly feel confident using the induction hobb on my own as my mother has always had a fear of me burning myself which is why my mother possibly wouldn’t have much patience teaching me. She does agree that a deep fat frier is unsafe My mother has since found toasty bags that can be used over a hundred times not to be thrown out. First I tried toasted sandwiches in the toaster in these bags I know now that before I put the toasted sandwiches or egg and bacon muffins or even a slice of pizza in the toaster in the toasty bag a zap in the microwave just so any filling is not cold when it comes out of the toaster. I do struggle with buttering my bread or toast and I’m told that I need to work on the strength in my wrists and my hands but I’ve since heard a couple of other blind people say they struggle with strength in their hands and/or wrists but I can’t lift a heavy kettle as my hands shake too much if something is too heavy to lift.