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What’s your idea of Comfort Food?

July 26, 2011

What is Comfort Food? I asked the good folk of Twitter and Facebook what they thought and the suggestions ranged from things with mash, such as shepherd’s pie and sausages; things with chips, such as pies, fish and bread to create butties, to chocolate and other calorie-ladened desserts.

Upon consulting my learned Oxford dictionary, it suggests to me that it could be all manner of things if you take some of the meanings for ‘comfort’.  Consolation.  That would be the tub of chocolate Phish icecream I used to eat after every miserable break up (Ben & Jerry’s for those of you that haven’t had the pleasure – definitely worth a trip to the freezer section.)  A state of physical well-being; being comfortable.  So that’s the warm cosy feeling you get when you’ve just devoured a plate of roast dinner, as suggested by @chob66, or a good portion of buttery mash with your sausages and homemade beans, as suggested (and beautifully made!) by @lucindaofficial.  Things that make life easy or pleasant. Well, we need look no further than @jbh_king for his comfort of burgers or KFC tower meal or to @alison_barnes for her fish, chips and ‘wallies’, eaten straight out of the paper.  You can’t get easier or more pleasant than that, some might say.   A cause of satisfaction; and I would have to agree with @nigell on pie, chips and gravy or @sofarsofood for a big bowl of creamy pasta.

So, what we traditionally associate with the term comfort food in the modern day are things that are indulgent (such as Rachel Viney’s vote for sticky toffee pudding with vanilla icecream) and physically comforting – there is no shortage of filling carbohydrates in everyone’s nominated food choices to suggest otherwise.  I guess the convenience of food nowadays could be described as a comfort, but then so can the plentiful supply.  I wonder if back in the days of World War 1 and World War 2 if just having enough food was a comfort? And I don’t want to rule out nostaligia either, because I think a lot can be said for the dishes that you fondly remember from your childhood or from happy past relationships and memories.  I take plenty of comfort from a steaming bowl of Heinz Tomato Soup and a big hunk of bread and butter because that’s what my mum used to make for me when I was poorly – so I directly associate Heinz Soup with a loving mother… That’s an advertising campaign, if ever there was one!

All this considered though, and I don’t think anyone has touched upon what society’s new comfort food could be.  In a world where more and more people are sitting up and taking note of what is happening in the environment around them; the way food is reared, kept and produced; the way it is packaged and transported and sold; the fact that we should be future-proofing our food supply but are in fact too preoccupied with having everything for the here and now and sod the next generation; in that world, I think comfort could come from food that is ‘guilt-free’.  I find it hard to believe that I’m a lone voice that takes comfort in eating a meal made mostly from the things I’ve managed to grow in my miniscule garden.  Oh yes, of course I take pride in the fact that I’ve nurtured these plants from hard little seeds and watched them grow from ugly gangly seedlings into swan-like beauties; but it’s the comfort of knowing that there were no pesticides involved, no food miles to count, no packaging to fester in landfills and no profit-obsessed supermarkets to muddle with that I can really relish in.

And whilst I am about 98% away from being self-sufficient with my meagre collection of fruit and veg, I also take great comfort in buying organic and free-range; in ordering from a box scheme or getting things directly from a nearby farm or small holding. I take comfort in making an effort to find out where my food is coming from and I take an even greater comfort in doing justice to the food I buy – making sure I try to use every last scrap (or at least give those to the cat!), rather than throwing food away to join the 8.3million tonnes that is dumped from UK homes every year*.

So, maybe comfort isn’t all about how rich, filling and indulgent the food is, or how easy it was to buy, prepare or eat.  Maybe some comfort could be taken by more people in how happy that food was whilst it was alive, or how well it was treated once it became part of the supply chain that we so easily take for granted.  Riverford Organic have got the right idea – they post videos of their happy animals enjoying a life that every animal deserves to have; if only we would pay for it.  I’ll leave you with their chicken video.  Tell me that this doesn’t bring you comfort?

*more information on this can be found at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com, along with suggestions on how to make the most from leftovers.

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