“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey.”
Remember when Anton Ego dug into his bowl of ratatouille? He is immediately transported back to how his mother’s cooking made him feel after a terrible day. That’s what comfort food can feel like. From digging into ice cream tubs and slurping Maggi to securing some good old wine bottles during the blues, the feeling of comfort remains pacifying. Be it a stressful day at work, break-up with your partner or fight with a best friend or even a bad day at school, eating comfort food at the end of the day or right in the middle, it gives you the power to keep going against the tide.
What is comfort food?
The term comfort food, first appeared in 1997 in ‘The Washington Post’, refers to food items whose consumption gives people a sense of consolation and feeling of wellbeing. Research found comfort food has high calorific value and tends to be associated with childhood memories and happy times of life. There is a reason people say “there is no better feeling than a warm pizza box on your lap”.
The Emotional Connect
Food can bring back strong feelings and memories from the past. The belief that comfort food can be linked to a specific person, place or time, with which the food has a positive association helps to explain why most people indulge in comfort food when experiencing negative emotions. This is also the most common representation of comfort food in the media, be it delving into an ice-cream tub after a break up or snacking on chips after a bad day. We attach our senses like taste, smell, touch to feelings. Some foods can take us back to memories with our friends, families or times we’ve felt warm and fuzzy. When you feel really uncomfortable and anxious, relishing a food you associate with comfort can be grounding. This is probably why chai hits different in the Dublin winters or Filter coffee brings back memories of Bangalore rains.
Rajma Chawal or McChicken?
While what can be comforting to one may not be to others. For some their grandmother’s Rajma Chawal recipe can be comforting, while it is the McChicken for me. And every time I savour it, I remember going to McDonald's with my family for happy meals. These visits in due time made and didn’t realise that in the process the McChicken became my comfort food. While it has been argued that eating healthy induces feelings of wellbeing. It is the emotional association that the narrow range of comfort food holds with people or memories which makes it the knight in shining armour.
Your Knight in Shining Armour
Quotes from favourite Netflix series, one-sided relationships with celebrities or even photographs and letters- each fulfilling a belonging need for a person feeling the lonely hues. These non-human entities called social surrogates become a go-to for under-weather hues. Comfort food is thus, due to its amazing consoling capacity, considered a form of social surrogate: something to keep us feeling warm and comfortable when the world feels uncertain.
The pandemic blues
After the lockdown in several parts of the world, talks of a “new normal” soaring with uncertainties, changing almost all the daily routines including everyday activities like social interactions with friends at workplace or at gym, ordering and consuming comfort food had increased. There was also an increase in the variety of supplies stacked in grocery stores, as most restaurants and cafes remain closed for long and comfort-food is prepared at home instead.
In a time when the world felt uncomfortable with the new changes, food was a source of comfort for most.
I believe that while comfort food is helping people sail through their emotional disturbances, uncertain times may provide opportunities to add more items to their list of comfort food - I added cinnamon rolls and Pazham Pori to mine. What are you planning to add?