What exactly is comfort food?
How would you describe comfort food?
Is it something that’s related to your childhood or your family, or something that has a cultural connection?
These are just some of the questions posed in Chapter 2 of our discussion course, Eating their words: The literature of food.
Defined as food that gives emotional comfort to the one eating it, these tend to be favorite foods of childhood, or linked to a person, place or time with which the food has a positive association. Source
In our notes we were given a few quotes that say something similar:
Anneli Rufus, in the online journal Salon, describes it as a food that gives us a “rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm and cared for….a complex interplay of memory, history and brain chemistry.” Food can be “the friend who never disappoints or ditches us”.
And according to Cari Romm in The Atlantic magazine, comfort food is “anything that a person uses to feel better”.
It’s interesting to do a search for ‘comfort foods’ to see what comes up! We also had a list of books written about comfort foods from a variety of well known chefs, which shows that it’s a ‘real thing’.
We had a great discussion about what our comfort foods are and the link between science, habit and familiarity.
We learnt that some comfort foods apparently have a physiological basis – sugar and starch can spur the release of serotonin which is known to increase a sense of well being, whereas salty foods like crunchy potato chips can spur oxytocin, the ‘cuddle chemical’ (and the one that is prevalent in breastfeeding to release the ‘let-go’ sensation).
I even interviewed some of my family on our recent weekend together, about their ‘go to’ comfort foods, (I take my research seriously!) and their responses included – mashed potato with lots of gravy, sweet foods like pastries, childhood favourites like butterscotch pudding, custard, rice pudding and only a few mentioned savoury foods and one said steak!
Some comfort foods seems to have a guilty edge to them like chocolate or wine.
I liked this quote included in our notes:
Perhaps it’s because in this crowded, hard world, we have convinced ourselves that seeking comfort is itself embarrassing, as it if makes us weak. We are ashamed to crave the salty, starchy, soft, unctuous and sweet, because we tell ourselves we are too smart to want what the judgmental would call junk… Anneli Rufus
Question: Do you think we try to fill our emotional emptiness by eating?
Food, comfort and families
Our talk led us onto other subjects like how some cultures have special foods for eating at a funeral in a special order and why we always have such a bountiful spread at the wake. We are lucky to have as one of our members, a woman who grew up in Poland, and she shared many stories of the importance of food at various times. We were enthralled with the story about sharing poppy-seed rolls as a visitor at a funeral while she was travelling in Europe. Does anyone know of the connection between poppy-seeds and funerals?
Likewise the sitting around the table as a family sharing dinner. It’s often not the food we remember as being comforting, it’s the shared mealtimes, the talk that weaves around the table and the sense of family. We all agreed this is something that needs to continue for the well being of family life and studies have shown the benefits of sharing mealtimes together.
Our readings included a funny post about a young newly wed couple from 1932 and their first meal as a married couple after they returned home from their honeymoon! Oh how times have changed!!
Another reading shared the memories of the lunchtime ritual of Indian school students where they’d share their lunches and learn about the different religious and cultural backgrounds as they’d try unfamiliar foods. I’m sure we all remember sharing lunches with our friends too!
We shared lots of memories – I can remember making mince pies with my grandmother and great aunt every Christmas and the fun we had together – to this day when I eat a mince pie I return to those memories.
One member spoke of her continued love of condensed milk and another shared how they were given a tube of condensed milk each Christmas. I can remember finding empty tins of condensed milk under my daughters’ beds 🙂
I think back to the many Rotary Youth Exchange students we have hosted in our family and when asked what they miss about home, they invariably say the food. They miss their ‘own’ breads, the taste of their mother’s cooking, the treats…and I always have a cooking session with them where they teach me how to cook one of their favourite dishes. It’s a fun time where we explore each other’s cultures and enjoy the results of the session. It also helps them stay in touch with their idea of comfort food and home.
Question: Is your comfort food associated with your childhood?
In this, our latest get-together, we again had a variety of readings provided, notes and discussion activities. One of the members takes notes as we talk and collates these into a report which is emailed to our lecturer. The report is read and commented on (not marked, it’s not an assignment!) and this week we delighted in hearing the lecturer’s thoughts and responses to our first meeting. She sounds like a lot of fun!
My first post The Literature of food – yes that’s a real thing came about in response to my fellow group members challenging me to write a post about food, as:
a) I’m not known as a food blogger and
b) I don’t really enjoy cooking that much
In Chapter 1 we discussed Writing about food and science, the language around food, how we communicate taste, texture and whether we live to eat or eat to live. It was a great discussion and my post had a variety of responses from readers keen to share their thoughts 🙂
I’ve now been challenged to write a post after each meeting to summarise my thoughts and reflect on the discussion that takes place over an extended lunch with the group of friends. In case you’re interested, my first post tells the story of our discussion group through WEA – it’s like a distance education course we undertake with a group of friends while we eat lunch together (quite fitting as this course is all about food). Other topics we’ve done include Scandinavian cultural greats and Women travellers and writing. It’s always interesting to read, discuss and learn from each other in a relaxed environment.
The next chapters of the course include the following topics and I’ll keep you updated on our discussions.
Chapter 4: Historical food
Chapter 6: Food in the future
I love this snippet from our WEA notes about Australians setting up cafes in New York city, I’m sorry I don’t know the exact source:
One of the most obvious signs of the Australianness of these cafes comes not from the decor but the colour of the food. American breakfasts tend to be dominated by shades of beige: omelettes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, waffles, pancakes, French toast. Australian cafe breakfasts…are bursting with vibrancy: brightly coloured micro herbs, orange salmon and, everywhere, the unmistakable green of smashed avocado…
Notice I haven’t mentioned Vegemite but I will if you want me to! It’s something that’s an acquired taste 🙂
Question: Do you have any thoughts to add on comfort food?
Happy eating – think about what you’re currently eating and if it has any association to family or your cultural background 🙂
To answer my own question: my ‘go-to’ comfort food depends on how I’m feeling – sometimes I need salty potato chips (crisps) and other times I need chocolate/sweet things 🙂
Over to you……
Sources: Please note many of the quotes used in my post came from the WEA Discussion Group Programme Eating their words: The Literature of Food, D224 by Dr Jeanette Delamoir.
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