I’ve been seeing the #imperfect365 hashtag a lot on Instagram over the past few days. It’s a reference to a photo-a-day project spearheaded by Dine & Dish, but the word “imperfect” got me thinking about how I’ve been approaching my relationship to food and cooking over the past year.
At first, “imperfect” made me defensive. The word in this context felt self-consciously defiant, a brush-it-off rebuttal similar to the kerfuffle a few months ago over the fact that not everyone’s kitchens were Pinterest-ready and that the general population’s seeming inability to stage their lives to, well, perfection invalidated their perfectly reasonable life choices.
But the longer I contemplated the word, the more I started to embrace the concept of imperfection as a rallying cry. Not for the idea that we need to justify or downplay our achievements, or gloss over the idea that we might feel a little less-than in the age of constant comparison, but for what we can learn through the pursuit of perfection.
I don’t really make resolutions (or five-year plans, or bucket lists), but this year, I’d like to use “imperfect” as a reminder to bring a little enjoyment back to my food life and to refocus my energies on the no-holds-barred enthusiasm that got me into this game in the first place.
My initial interest in cooking was born of a desire to learn and to get it right, but it was only through repeated tries and failures and experiments and self-taught repetition that I really learned anything at all.
I loved writing—and clearly still do, but it was the happiness I felt at mastering a new cooking technique (go forth and deep-fry, people!) and discovering how I could get better and better in a new field that inspired me to push further and become the confident cook I am today.
I never went to culinary school and I don’t feel inferior to anyone in the business who did. But over the past five years of being a bona fide full-time food writer, I’ve starting cracking under the self-imposed pressure to be an expert all the time—how can I spin this into a story? What’s the takeaway here that I can use to pitch? How can I use this meal, this drink, this vacation to further my career? I’m compelled, in other words, to be perfect.
Admittedly, I have an OCD personality, and fixating on this stuff soothes me in a way. And I know it sounds self-serving to feel frustrated by something I am able to do as a career when it sounds like a pie-in-the-sky dream job to so many. But it’s a rare day that I’m cooking for fun anymore. (Stocking the freezer with Dan’s weekly dinner enchiladas doesn’t count.)
There’s always a story to file, a deadline to meet, and my pierogi book photographs are due in two weeks and they absolutely must be perfect or I will collapse in a failure puddle. Or so I tell myself.
Perfect is the enemy of the good, as the phrase goes. And though I won’t stop working on being a better food photographer—that’s one area where I do still value the struggle and effort of making a dish or drink look as good and beautiful as it can possibly be—this year, I will push myself to take time out and be imperfect with my cooking every once in a while.
I will make it a point a few times a month to cook for fun, to pull out one of the cookbooks that are slowly annexing every square inch of bookshelf space, and make a recipe from them without thinking about how I can use it to inspire me professionally. I might not even photograph the meal.
Hey, I still can’t make mayonnaise and I’m cool with that, so I shall apply the homemade mayo rule and see where it goes. Besides, all of this might end up in a story somewhere else someday (or it might clear my mind enough to come up with my next book idea!). And that might not be perfect, but it’s good enough.