Epicurus & The Philosophy of Cooking

It’s easy to see Epicurus as the Maggie Beer or Nigela Lawson of the philosophical world, but the reality is he’s more like Jamie Oliver. Get it done, and spend more time with those you love.

If he were asked to open up one of our standard recipe books, Epicurus would be disgusted at the complicated steps and time required to make a simple meal. He’d probably ask why we make it so hard on ourselves to enjoy good food. We wouldn’t have a satisfactory answer for him either, other than a mumbled ‘I don’t know how to cook.’

As a philosopher who advocated the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, Epicurus has a lot to teach us about our attitude to food and how we prepare it. He spent his life finding enjoyment in simplicity and the company of his friends, often dining on bread and water. While none of us want to exist on that diet for any length of time, we can take his lessons and apply them to the most mundane of daily tasks – making dinner.

The reality is, the less effort you put into a meal, the better it will taste. If only because the more time you spend with it, the higher the chance is that something will go wrong. Our diets are filled with peasant dishes, like pasta, pizza or stews. Why? Because they’re tasty, healthy, easy to make and the ingredients can vary according to what’s in season. The working class had no time to muck around with poaching or blanching, they had fields to till and noblemen to appease. Besides, try running a farm on the nugget of food that you get at most expensive restaurants and see how far you get.

‘But I don’t know how to cook!’ I hear you whinge, ‘I don’t know what flavours go with what!’ Sure you do. Ever sat down at a restaurant, looked at the menu and thought, ‘Ohh that looks good?’ It’s the same principle when cooking at home. If it sounds good, it probably will be. When in doubt, experiment.

The best meals are those you can walk away from. Put some ingredients in a pan, and go do something else. Try it. The flavours in your food will develop better if you leave them alone.

Epicurus was a big fan of simple food. He classified pleasure as the absence of pain and let’s face it – long-winded & complicated recipes can often be painful to make. There exists a serious cognitive dissonance inspending four hours to make a meal that you only eat in the space of thirty minutes.

Epicurus also argued against over-indulgence, because that often leads to more pain. Anyone who has woken up after a night on the town knows that you can always have too much of a good thing.

Epicurus was also big on free will. If he were alive today, he would tell you bluntly that you have a choice not to over-complicate your meals and make eating – the most basic instinct in the world – a chore.

Ilana Pender-Rose

One thought on “Epicurus & The Philosophy of Cooking

  1. I completely agree with this. People that say that they cannot cook, I feel, are pegging themselves to a higher standard than necessary. Yes, you are not a chef. Neither am I. Just try not to burn anything and if you do, try and learn from it. Celebrity chef culture and a perceived sense of affluence in the middle class has made ‘epicurean’ style food less of a treat and more of a norm. Unless it is truly your passion, forget about it. It’s a distraction.


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