For as long as I can remember, cooking has been my stress-reliever. I don’t meditate, but I think chopping an onion is transcendent. The methodical, repetitive nature of it all.

When dinner became a source of anxiety, I chocked it up to two years of a pandemic (compounded by social unrest, political upheaval and war). I figured my disinterest in the kitchen was just fatigue from living and working through major historical events every day. I’m not a therapist, but that’s probably partially true.

At the same time, and without any real intention, I began unfollowing the myriad food-related accounts that comprise the bulk of my Instagram feed. I’d accumulated food bloggers and chefs for years, using their photos as inspiration for meals and work. But lately I’d been scrolling through the glossy, stylized images of soups and perfectly twirled bowls of bucatini, only to close the app and feel uninspired, or just bummed about what I was making for dinner that night (more likely boxed mac and cheese than from-scratch pasta).

The thing about Instagram is that it’s very easy to fabricate a persona. If your food photos are well-lit and manicured, who’s to say the rest of your life isn’t just as aspirational? @soandso is girlbossing, teaching us about climate change with a colorful infographic, basically saving the world and making Ina Garten’s chicken Marbella for dinner. Meanwhile, I’m unable to rip myself from the most recent episode of Mad Men I’m comfort-watching for the 17th time, let alone make a gourmet meal.

There’s also the trend-driven nature of the platform: One week everyone is making the same chickpea stew, the next week it’s chocolate chip cookies. Ideas are recycled over and over until they’re replaced by the next cool thing, never to be spoken of again.

Even though I know social media is not real life, the combined lack of originality and disingenuousness made me feel less than inspired. Mostly, I was pissed off. (“Posting is so lame!” I would complain to my husband while refusing to delete the app from my phone.)

So I chipped away at the accounts I had once admired. It felt mildly cathartic to give my feed a makeover, even if the cookies and stews were being replaced with ridiculous meme accounts. I didn’t have a goal, and I didn’t think the Insta cleanse would have any ramifications beyond my tiny phone screen. I was just trying to be less annoyed. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that as a result, cooking is kind of fun again. (Emphasis on “kind of.” Rest assured that overall, I still find it taxing to make dinner when the world is a literal hellscape.)

I think it’s because I’ve lowered the stakes for myself. I’m not worrying about making complicated, trendy recipes to keep up with the Joneses. If dinner is a bunch of sautéed kale with boxed mac and cheese, well, at least I’m getting my daily serving of greens. It’s a lot less pressure to cook when the inspiration is coming from a craving, or even just the need for a fridge cleanout, instead of what some influencer is doing on the internet. Things tend to taste better.

Despite appearances, we’re all just trying to do our best. As for me, I’m trying to spend less time scrolling, and less time comparing myself to random people who seem to have it all figured out. (This is just a hunch, but they’re probably faking it.)

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