When I’m feeling depressed or overwhelmed, cooking allows me to do something instead of folding into myself and pulling up the zip, like those anoraks which can be compacted into a tiny ball.
If I am unable to reach outside of myself enough to speak, cooking is like having a conversation or a dialogue with the vegetable (it usually is a vegetable). And it is a dialogue. The vegetable speaks through texture, through ripeness, through smell; it says what it’s capable of, and what it’s not, and makes suggestions. The vegetable’s indexical function, pointing to historical uses (to the limited extent that I’m aware of them), to recent television, newspaper, Instagram appearances and beyond, tell me things I can do that I’ve not thought of. When the world seems to be pulling down the shutters, a ripe tomato opens them right up again, and insists I go in.
There it is on the wooden block or plastic board, like a miracle. It was in the shop with all the others, anonymous, and then it’s there, speaking to me, divining a future I didn’t know.
Even if I can never love my own skin, I can appreciate the smooth and slightly furry surface of a fresh, unwashed tomato; the light prickle of a small courgette; the squeak of two aubergines rubbing together in a shopping bag; the shyness and waxen inner leaves of a round lettuce.
In a room full of people, a carrot or an onion can make space for intimacy: see here, follow this contour, take care of this hardened bit, don’t let the knife slip, take a tissue, keep close, drop me in butter, baby and everything will be alright