IndieWeb Carnival June 2023: Cooking

Jun 21, 2023 • Yousef Amar • 4 min read

I'm writing based on a prompt from Sara Jakša for IndieWeb Carnival. The topic is cooking. I decided to take this as a freewriting exercise.

My relationship with food is a bit unusual. I don't like to think about food at all. It's a chore that I just want to get out of the way so I can get back to whatever I was doing. I don't like to set time aside for it, and usually eat while doing something else. I'm ok with eating the same bland food every day, as it serves mainly as a source of fuel.

As such, I don't like cooking either. Beyond that, I also don't like it because of the ephemerality of it. I don't like the idea of putting time and effort into something, only for the results to be gone half an hour later. I personally gain very little from the journey itself, unlike one might a sand mandala -- I do not derive pleasure from the act of cooking, nor is the preparation / cleanup my preferred mode of meditation.

In this household, Veronica is the one who cooks, except when she asks me to cook specific things she can't. At most, I might crack some eggs in a pan for myself. On Fridays we order takeaway together. She used to ask me, "What do you feel like ordering?". My answer was invariably, "Literally whatever, stop asking me that". Now she says, "Tonight we're having pizza", and orders me the same Margherita as always, and I am content.

I have a routine: on Mondays I add the same groceries as every week to our weekly Sainsbury's delivery, to arrive on the Tuesday, after Veronica has added her (much more variable) selection. I eat the same food every day, except for shared dinner, and except where the groceries don't quite divide equally (e.g. green apples come in packs of 6 annoyingly).

I do not eat things that generate too many extra steps. For example, I eat tortilla wraps rather than toast, because the toaster step is too much friction. I eat sliced cheese, rather than spreadable cheese, because I do not want to take out a knife, spread it, wash the knife. In fact, I do not eat anything throughout the day (except for dinner) that generates dishes to clean. I know this is extreme but I'm only comfortable like this!

I was an early adopter to meal replacement shakes. Back when Soylent came out in the US, Joylent became its European equivalent. I tried it out of interest, but I was still living at home where my mum cooked, and generally got by on a small breakfast plus family dinner, so I didn't need it.

These days there's Huel. I tried it but I hated the taste and texture, plus cleaning the shakers was a hassle too. Veronica encourages me to try a more balanced diet, so I try to have ready meals every once in a while. Sometimes I'll have the coop meal deal, which for me is always tuna sandwiches, orange juice, and a pack of crisps.

I grew up on my mum's Egyptian cooking, which is meat-heavy, carb-heavy, dairy-heavy, and fat-heavy when compared to other cuisines. It's all just quite heavy I guess. I'm fortunate to have never known true hunger growing up, and I never had to think about food with my mum cooking. When I visit her, my mum often gives me precooked meals to take back to London with me. I'm the only one of her children that she does this with, because she knows how I am with food. She gives me meals that I can freeze and microwave. She knows I don't like messing around with my food (e.g. removing the bones / cleaning meat) so she even does this for me too.

I'm very grateful for this, though unfortunately as flying/travelling have become more expensive, and times have gotten tougher overall, I usually fly Eco Lite, and so can't carry luggage, so my mum usually can't give me her food.

Veronica has tried this food and she generally can't handle it. Not just because of lactose-intolerance, but because there's a lot of oil and meat. I suppose you kind of need to have a stomach for the heaviness of Egyptian food. It's food that will get you full. I need to eat more than her anyway because I'm double her weight, so it suits me well.

Veronica works for a company that does nothing but analysis on food (for carbon footprinting). Sometimes we discuss technical things around food and cooking. For example, database schemas that can capture all the complexities and relationships of recipes and ingredients (this is incredibly hard). I also explored some automation around matching free-text ingredients with ones in a standardised DB of foods with her boss. Food is a messy area, so using the LLM hammer on it (e.g. for generating meal plans[1]) sometimes works better than e.g. queries over a database like Edamam.

If you don't care about that level of structure, there are other specs for recipes. Avoid falling into the edge case poisoning trap (that article deals with recipes too). In the context of IndieWeb, there's the microformats h-recipe, and there's also the Recipe, and a long tail of other attempts at creating structure. I even tried my own attempt at one point with a friend from high school, where recipes are described in a "bakefile" (rather than a makefile). It seems the procedural nature of cooking often resonates with programmers due to the the overlap with programming.

I actually know very little about food and cooking. People are often surprised about this, because I'm knowledgeable about so many other things, but I have a huge gap when it comes to food. I'm often roasted (no pun intended) for not knowing the names of very mainstream vegetables.

At the same time, I'm very interested in horticulture and growing your own food for self-sufficiency. I haven't had much of a chance to experiment with this a lot while living in London, but I would love to one day own smallholdings with land for growing, and chickens, to be able to farm everything I need. Unlike cooking, I derive a lot of personal benefit from this.

I think it's less about the farm, and more about the self-sufficiency. If I were to grow everything in a lab, rather than the natural way, that would be great too, although I would lose some benefit from doing it the natural way. Going back a few generations before the teachers, all of my ancestors were farmers, so there might be a reason there as to why I'm drawn to it.

  1. I tried this before as a product by the way. Word of warning: be very careful with liability. Sometimes dietary requirements / allergies can get ignored outright and no amount of prompt engineering helped (even when I say "NO NUTS. I will DIE if you include nuts. NO NUTS!" and I get "sure, how about some almond milk?"). ↩︎