After a long day of work, my nighttime routine is fairly simple.
I take a long, hot shower (steaming hot and yes, even in the middle of a sticky New York summer, okay? Sue me). Then I wash my face and spend about 15 minutes moisturizing from head to toe. Next, I change into my cleanest and coziest pajamas and grab my phone before sliding into bed. After a halfhearted scroll through Twitter and a little bit of fanfic-reading, I move onto the main event….
One of those 30-second cooking videos that get uploaded to my Instagram feed daily.
I didn’t realize I was doing it so frequently at first. But, soon it became a ritual.
Shower. Pajamas. Bed. Cooking shows.
It became an every night thing.
I wish I could explain the appeal.
The closest thing that comes to mind is ASMR. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it’s basically a fancy way to describe the pleasure that a person receives after being exposed to a digital, acoustic, and/or visual stimuli. So, those videos on youtube of people speaking in low and soothing whispers? Or those videos of someone smashing and shaping glittery slime?
For me, cooking shows and videos seem to satisfy that same unnameable itch. But it’s not just the mini-clips on Instagram either. Food Network, the Cooking Channel, the Travel Channel, youtube mukbangs. I watch it and love it all.
I’m a perpetually anxious person. Even seemingly simple interpersonal interactions take a lot out of me. By the end of the day, I’m either completely spent or twisted and coiled in on myself like a spring.
When I finally make it home, all I want is a way to decompress. Many times, that comes in the form of a culinary instructional video.
I’ve learned that self-care comes in many different forms. It can look different depending on the day, the time of year, and ultimately on your mental state and mindset. In most situations, it’s best to listen to your body and do whatever makes you feel best. As silly and simplistic as it sounds, sometimes my self-care means flipping on the television and seeing what’s on and waiting for me.
Even when I’m watching more high stakes cooking shows like Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen (which prides itself on being as over-the-top and ridiculous as possible), it is still a low-stress situation for me.
Look, I take my television-watching very seriously.
I get over-invested in both characters and storylines. I fall in with these shows like I wrote them all myself. That kind of love and dedication comes with its own set of stress and anxiety. But, with cooking shows there’s really no option for me to do that. Which is great for those evenings when I just want a low-commitment way to get out of my head for an hour or two.
Instead of overanalyzing a text message or work email, I can watch the Pioneer Woman “cook” an entire meal in her ranch kitchen for her cowboy husband using mostly jarred and store-bought ingredients (seriously, who gave this woman her own show?). Or listen to Giada over-enunciate the word “mozzarella” so we never forget she’s Italian. Or spend an hour watching Beat Bobby Flay even when I know the truth, that no one really beats Bobby Flay.
Or I can take a one-way trip straight to Flavortown with Guy Fieri.
Instead of working myself up into a panic about the day’s event, I can watch these chefs boil, fry, whip, and chop.
With every perfectly poached egg, split with a fork to show that the whites are set but the middle yolk remains amber-colored and runny, and the mountain of carrots and cucumber matchsticks, precisely julienned with a mandolin slicer….I feel my anxiety levels slowly reduce.
Until finally, the spring at the pit of my stomach uncoils.
I can then turn my television off or put my phone down, feeling completely at ease, for the first time all day.