In true Alcoholics Anonymous tradition I think I should start this with an admission: My name is Richard and I am a cookaholic, and I am not alone. According to recent statistics (see note 1) it is very likely that you know several cookaholics and probably have at least one in your immediate family.
Now you may already be able to guess what cookaholism is but, like many other addictions, there are some clear symptoms that can be used both as warning signs of emerging cookaholism, and to diagnose the presence of the full blown version of this awful affliction. To practice diagnosis I suggest you think of a person you know who shows signs of being fanatical about cooking and try the following check list. The presence of any two of the following indicates a person at risk, three or more is a positive diagnosis while four or more indicates severe and acute cookaholism that needs immediate shock exposure treatment (discussed below).
- Patient engages in compulsive note taking while watching their favourite TV cooks. This is, of course, a futile activity as the need to squash the instructions into a fixed time slot between the phone-in competition and the commercial break means crucial details will inevitably be garbled or missed. None-the-less, they still crave the presence of a pencil and paper while watching.
- Patient attempts to hide their addictions by placing the means of satisfaction out of sight. The hidden items may be substances or tools that are used when engaging in the addictive behaviour:
- Tools include celebrity chef endorsed implements that have been used no more than twice before being consigned to the darkest recesses of the kitchen cabinetry. These were typically bought in the forlorn hope that they would magically come with a few free millilitres of the raw talent of the endorsing genius.
- Substances could include secret caches of out-of-date ingredients, often hidden in plain sight among more everyday ingredients. Typically these will be packets hidden at the back of a store cupboard, a pinch of which was absolutely required for a dish that is served in pots no larger than ramekins. This disk will have been made once and only once, and required at least three hours of preparation to produce no more than two minutes of indifferent consumption.
- Patient maintains an extensive library of manuals and instructions. Unlike old ingredients and unused tools, these will typically be on display, with the more prestigious (and least useful) taking price of place. These may also be accompanied by a hidden cache of less socially acceptable recipes and notes (e.g. slimming recipes clipped from magazines, often interspersed with an occasional recipe for an excessively calorific, high density desert or pudding).
- A ‘favourites’ list on their personal computer that includes at least one each of the following:
- A saved link to a desert recipe found on the sort of cookery forum where members post the ingredients for their Granny’s Baked Alaska or Rich Fruit Cake accompanied by cooking times that, while absolutely perfect for the originator’s 25 year old free-standing oven with it’s intermittently working thermostat, will result in little more than charred remains in nearly every other cooking appliance in the known universe.
- Links to the websites of two or more TV channels labelled innocently as something like “TV Guide” but which take the form www dot TV Channel Name dot com slash/ recipes.
- A link to a celebrity chef website. Follow this link and if the loaded page includes the text “Welcome back” with the name of the patient, then consider this as completely fulfilling the criteria for item 4.
- A large collection of recipe cards obtained from at least two different supermarkets. A particularly severe form of this symptom is where the patient not only keeps and uses the recipe cards, but believes they are to be read literally and constitute an absolute truth. This is shown by an insistence that the ingredients are bought from the original shop and an unwillingness to accept that the word “Tesco” (or whatever it may be) is the one word you can afford to completely ignore in the phrase “half a grated Tesco cucumber.”
Note that while others may unwittingly contribute to such collections on birthdays, often these are bought by the cookaholic themselves although in a covert and furtive way. Typically the target book will be bought in the run up to Christmas, wrapped carefully and then given to a partner to pass on to the smallest child in the household. This smallest child will then give it back to the cookaholic who rewards them with a display of enthusiastically feigned surprise alongside completely genuine delight as they now know they can spend Christmas afternoon indulging their obsession. Note that this particular symptom is insidious as it subtly encourages the next generation to consider this normal behaviour and makes them susceptible to developing cookaholism themselves in later life.
Having identified the presence of the condition, I am sad to say that there is very little to be done as there is currently no known cure. The best that can be recommended is a course of palliative care in which, while the condition remains, the more extreme symptoms are kept at bay by controlled feeding of the addiction. Exposure to TV chefs (effectively the ‘dealers’ who promote the spread of this disease) can be limited but not too severely or unfortunate withdrawal symptoms may ensue. Occasional cookery books and cooking gadgets might be purchased although this, ideally, should happen no more frequently than twice a year (patient’s birthday and Christmas may provide convenient dosing points).
Finally, it may be possible to temporarily attenuate the effects of the condition by sending the patient to a suitable facility for a day or more. Unlike traditional rehabilitation camps, over exposure rather than abstinence is usually the recommended treatment so a cooking experience day, ideally a day of personal training with a celebrity chef, may help. Apart from providing a host of ideas and recipes to practice, this will typically provide the patient with an extended period of satisfaction and sense of well-being, allowing at least a temporary return to normal living for a few weeks afterward.
(1) 93.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.