Ah, the good old days just a couple of weeks ago when life as previously known was humming along and the many promises of spring were waxing. Seeking comfort in food, we could easily be tempted to polish off an entire cheesecake or plow through heaping helpings of kettle chips in such anxious and uncertain times. While one person’s go-to is a juicy cheeseburger, another’s a bowl of Chunky Monkey, comfort food isn’t any one particular dish or cuisine, but food that we tend to have a strong personal attachment to that makes us feel better.
Robert Frank, a psychology professor at the University of Cincinnati who specializes in perceptions, says it is not so much the taste of the food we crave but the positive feelings the food creates, especially in times of turmoil.
“If you were to speculate about these foods that you think of being very common for people of a particular culture, very typically introduced early and repeatedly in life, those are most likely the comfort foods that they would be talking about,” Frank says. “Those are the foods that you have the most experience with, [that are] most connected to culture and ritual, like a Thanksgiving dinner.”-The Hamilton Spectator
Many of our family, friends and neighbors are living in a state of isolation, without the social comforts of human company. Prohibitions from family get-togethers, dining out and convening in general have been instituted. Considering our collective impulse to gather at a favorite lunch spot or visit at a coffee shop is currently verboten and will likely be for some time, we might find that food can be the great comforter. With thousands of restaurants shuttered, one of the only options for dining is to DIY and find a little comfort in the kitchen.
It’s likely that we might have little extra time on our hands to cook for whomever we’re sheltered with and in appropriate social distance from. Also likely we may have at least a minimally stocked pantry of non-perishables and frozen fruits and vegetables for normal life interruption preparedness: snowstorms, power outages etc. While it won’t make all of the seemingly dire challenges of today disappear, composing a dish of comfort with whatever is on hand and whatever is from memory can have a calming effect for those doing the cooking and those doing the eating. Batches of soups and stews, casseroles and crock pot comestibles can be divvied up, frozen, portioned and put by for the days to come. That old Sunday supper spaghetti Bolognese recipe might hit the spot. Or that Greek-style honey-lemon roasted chicken and rice that we used to make for the holidays and use the leftovers from to make into chicken soup. Remember that green chile enchilada recipe that mom used to make? That would be perfect right now.
Life has thrown us a big ol’ bushel of lemons and anxiety, and while we may impulsively reach for an extra sleeve of Oreos to sustain us, we might instead avoid stress eating and seek solace in foods that give real comfort and those are dishes that are thoughtfully prepared and shared. With so much disruption and uncertainty, food can transport us from difficult situations and help to remind us of better times and keep us from going bananas. Enjoying certain foods can serve to recall precious memories, and if only momentarily, substitute hopelessness with nostalgia and a feeling of being cared for.