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It’s a New Year. Cook Whatever You Want.

The period of doing nice things for others is over. It is now nice to do what feels good to you.   

A young boy with an overwhelmed expression on his face stands behind a counter, surrounded by stacks of dirty dishes.
It’s going to be okay.
Corbis via Getty Images

Around the beginning of a new year, an inexhaustible drumbeat of self-improvement jargon begins to sound everywhere you turn. “New year, new you!” the Terry Crews cardboard cutout at the grocery store yells. “Here’s the essential productivity hack you must try in 2022!” the C-list celebrity in a TV commercial for your regional bank screams. Your baby’s first words, while shoving a broccoli floret beneath your nose? “Start your year off right!” Who knew that a minor change in the Gregorian calendar could bring with it such a massive tidal wave of bullshit.

The marketing around what to do with yourself for the sake of self-improvement in January is so relentless and bossy that it even comes for our most pleasant, inconsequential pastimes and passions. This month, it is no longer enough to just enjoy the experience of chopping onions for a soup — one must meal prep three weeks in advance, craft homemade veggie burgers with foraged mushrooms and buns baked from flour you milled at home from the wheat you grew out back, and oh, there are juices. One must juice everything. Juice your whole life — every single fruit and vegetable — if it means you’ll shed the you you were in 2021.

Here’s something I’ll suggest instead: Do not permit pernicious marketing to make you feel bad about yourself and what you choose or choose not to eat. Please just cook whatever you want.

In the two months leading up to January, everything is about entertaining and catering to the tastes of the greatest number of people possible. Platters of deviled eggs; big, juicy turkeys; baking dishes packed with stuffing; pies upon pies; Tofurkey logs; roasted vegetables of endless varieties; and more. There is an imperative to make dishes that perhaps you wouldn’t eat yourself because you know that your cousin or girlfriend or mother-in-law enjoys them and are often pertinent to their eating habits and diet. That is nice. It feels good to think of others.

But in January, due to the quieting of obligatory events and now the breakneck spread of the coronavirus omicron variant, there are very few reasons to not cook exactly what you want at any old time. It’s enough to come out of two whirlwind months of cooking and wonder how your Kitchenaid and oven survived, but to be expected to yet again cook according to the standards of someone else, let alone the arbitrary marketing overlord convincing you to do things for the sake of performing capitalism? No, I’m sorry, that really won’t stand. The period of doing nice things for others is over. It is now nice to do what feels good to you.

So what if, instead of forcing reduction, abstinence, limits, and new-year-new-you-ism, you made bibimbap one night and a quiche Lorraine the next? Or maybe you’re craving beans on toast on Thursday and a sleeve of Oreos on Friday? And perhaps there are even some occasions when you’re once again into the idea of the luxury and extravagance of a giant holiday meal, so you pull out all the stops and cook several courses and a baked Alaska to finish it all off? If you want to, go for it. And if you decide to feed your kids mac and cheese every night (with tuna and peas, as my mom made for us), they’ll probably understand — at the very least, they’ll survive for a month.

The best part of this approach to the slow and fallow months of winter is that it is actually a break and relief from the madness of November and December. Feeling pushed to again restrict, cater, or adapt to anyone else’s beliefs about how to cook for oneself is too much of an ask when, frankly, you’re tired. Tired enough to eat beans on toast, a frozen Eggo waffle, and some Saltines for 5 p.m. dinner. That’s all you need to do this winter — and that is more than enough.

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