I saw this piece about comfort food at Epicurious.com and it got me thinking about what ‘comfort food’ means. Well, after some thought I’ve decided that comfort food has a few different personalities. One is nice, sweet and sincere, another is unhealthy yet therapeutic, and yet another is out to get your money (aka get me a pay check). Let me share what I’ve found.
The pairing of the words comfort and food first appeared in Webster’s Dictionary in 1977 and refers to food that improve one’s emotional state, sense of well-being, or comfort…go figure. It is a rather current development that American chef’s in an effort to define ‘American cuisine’ invented a fine dining model of comfort food that includes expert cooking, quality ingredients, but also higher prices compared to the Mom & Pop places costumers previously went for comfort food. What it comes down to from my viewpoint is that in the past comfort food at a restaurant might have consisted of instant mashed potatoes topped with a goopy brown graves and beef meatloaf topped with ketchup, costing you about $7. Today, and in the same fashion we have been tricked with horribly effective marketing that we will be comforted spending $34 on Yukon gold whipped potatoes topped with Veal demi-glace and truffled veal meatloaf under a heirloom tomato compote…Oh, and it will be even better paired with a silky smooth bottle of Siler Oak wine. I agree and I’m sure most readers agree that the second option sounds just divine, but why? Whicked nasty marketing, the boys down in R&D got the mission accomplished.
How could something that is supposed to make you feel emotionally good be physically unhealthy? Well it is all about where we look for comfort. What isn’t comforting to anyone…and I mean anyone? Let’s start with some rice wafers with fake cheese flavoring, some raw carrots, yogurt, and alfalfa sprouts. Does that sound like it would make you feel better? No, it sounds like a colon cleanse. What does sound good and consequently make us feel good unfortunately does not turn out to be very healthy. It doesn’t take much explaining really. Just think chocolate, ice cream, chips, Big Mac, even ‘Happy Hour’ are things we all take comfort in but turn on us after consumption. According to good ole’ Wikipedia somewhere around 33% of college age women make healthy eating choices when looking to improve their mental well being.
So what is that nice, sweet and sincere part that was mentioned? It all looks like cloaks and mirrors of unhealthy eating and overspending all of a sudden. Do not distress. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. What brings me comfort in the culinary world? Surely it isn’t the duck confit, grilled pizza, or vegetable pie as Epicurious might have you think. What brings me comfort is what I grew up on. Whatever it is that my mom pieced together after work that we shared as a family all sitting at one table. Sure at the time I would rather have played football in the street with by buddies or kicking my sister under the table or done anything else than eat what my mom made while not understand why dad was so grumpy (I understand now, The Grind). So what really brings me comfort in food and for most readers who fall into the same generation/economic class? I’ll start with city chicken, that shit is good. Taco night and we are talking straight Ortega out of the box powdered taco blend! The f’ing shells always broke, but a scoopable mixture of meat, cheese and sour cream was fine. Lastly is Beef Stew, which is very basic yet executed to a tee even under a chef’s scrutiny? Plus I learned from my father, to the chagrin of my mother that mashing up the vegetables and meat made something of a homogenous porridge that tasted even better than eating all the pieces parts separately.
Comfort food is quite diverse. Does Epicurious hit the nail on the head? Not a chance, but I still like Epicurious. Can dumfoundedly mixed results be expected from our comfort food habits? Yes! Yet Mom is most likely still the best cook we know.