A couple of weeks ago, Los Angeles experienced the beginning of some strange weather, preceded by a rare cold snap. “Bone-chilling” days of 50-degree temperatures and the collective response to this cold spawned some very excellent, public/media reactions such as…
I have heard that our poor city is nearing the end of this “arctic snap,” but I remain attached to the thought of eating warming comfort foods in the chilly evenings. After all, I’m a Midwestern girl who grew up experiencing snowy, blustery winters and soupy-humid summers. I experienced seasons, and with them, seasonal foods.
As you know from previous posts, I’m in the process of completing a year-long program through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition™, where we are asked to identify our cravings and really dig deep down to figure out where these cravings come from. Many people in one of the program’s online forums mentioned that they were craving “comfort foods” during their diet detoxification period. A class colleague offered up some “healthy comfort food” recipes and immediately I began to question, “can one put the word ‘healthy’ with the term ‘comfort food’ outside of the identification of a paradox?”
This question led to a different set of questions: “What is comfort food?”, “What defines comfort food?”, and “Can comfort food be comforting and healthy?”
So I jumped onto my Facebook page and asked the question,
“If asked to describe what comfort food IS, what descriptive words would you use?”
I received a very interesting response:
Reading all of these words/descriptions, I related to almost every response – even “alcoholic” has its time and place. 😉
When I heard the term “healthy comfort food,” I immediately got confused. How can a comfort food be healthy? Based on the responses to my question, I don’t think comfort food is widely regarded as being synonymous with health.
I think my friend, Gina, hit it on the nose saying, “Something that reminds you of a specific time or place.” Is your comfort food your favorite comfort food because it transports you to a specific time in your life wherein you were being taken care of? Our mother’s potatoes au gratin or our grandmother’s matzo ball soup may have been vehicles of healing, rich with “vitamin L” (Love) that could stave off ailments, from the flu to a broken heart.
Often when we eat comfort food, we will also gorge ourselves until we are actually physically uncomfortable, stuffing ourselves with food to fill in gaps, wherever they may be. Big fight with a friend/significant other? Fill the void with a package of Oreo’s. Boss at work won’t listen to you? Fill the void with a glass bottle of wine.
Why would we do that? Why would we try to comfort ourselves with something that makes us ultimately uncomfortable? (I am sure you have each experienced that physical regret that is the result of helping yourself to more than one or two servings of a dense, rich food.)
There is something else at play here…we find a food that provokes an emotional response and we want to put it IN us. Even if it means we’ll be rolling around on our couch later, moaning about how STUFFED we are. But we do feel a temporary, initial comfort from the sensory experience.
I also loved my friend, Sarah’s, word: “Shared.”
This is a word that people don’t often associate with comfort food. Does it matter to you to share your favorite comfort food with another party or parties? Do you get additional comfort from that experience? Think about Thanksgiving and Christmas; we share special foods during the holidays and that becomes part of the comfort.
Can we change what we define as “comfort food” if we change how we EXPERIENCE a food? If you find a healthy recipe that tastes great too, and you add it to your meal on a special occasion, can you begin to identify that food with words such as “vitality,” “inner peace,” “health”…”comfort?”
One friend, Brian, opined:
“No food is truly ‘unhealthy’ or ‘bad for you’ (save for those particular foodstuffs to which one [adversely] reacts to in some way) when eaten in appropriate amounts and with gusto…enjoyment- the spiritual experience of aesthetic pleasure, primordially derived from food. A classic ‘comfort food’ (and one which I find very satisfying) is mac’n-cheese: now imagine it home-made, fresh, with all organic ingredients and artisanal cheeses (maybe with a mesclin salad and a glass of wine). That poster boy for ‘unhealthy’- bacon, oh bacon- the sweet candy of meats: a few strips from certified humane, local family farms, eaten a few times per month… Cheeseburger?! (“good LORD, are you TRYIN t’ kill me?!”): how about organic grass-fed angus with grass-fed, raw cheddar cheese and fresh onion, lettuce and tomato on a whole wheat bun – now that’s love. All foods have a place on the plate, variety is indeed the spice of life (and the foundation of a healthy diet).”
(I have to insert here that we soon after discovered that this exists, and certainly does NOT have a place in Brian’s argument, above.)
I am in agreement with my friend and believe “comfort food” can be a mindful choice when sourced from genuine and vital ingredients which can include meat, dairy, produce…even a baked good.
Think of your favorite “indulgent” comfort food. How could you make this comfort food something that will satisfy your emotions AND your body (or as David Wolfe likes to call it, “the temple of your soul”)? Can you choose a smaller portion? More humane ingredients? Ingredients with substance and nutrition, not sodium benzoate and/or yellow dye #5. How can you enhance bland comfort food with a new, intriguing flavor? Shaved truffle, chopped fresh cilantro, minced dried chili peppers, crushed ginger or a squeeze of fresh citrus juice? Can you add dimension and vitality to your favorite comfort food and truly comfort all facets of your being?
I’d like to challenge you to try this with your favorite comfort food, and report back to me! 🙂
Also, in keeping with my goal to record AWESOME occasions in 2013 (and in keeping with a food theme…sort of…it took place at a diner so…you get the picture), I give you: