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Food And Emotion


Food is emotional.  I’m not talking about the emotional eating of ice cream while crying over a break up, really, but the guttural emotions surrounding what we feel while thinking about, preparing and consuming the morsels that make up our cells and our lives.  And no one is immune from feeling things about food, be it from a place of absence or abundance, fondness or regret.  Even the void of feeling is a feeling itself.  For better or for worse, we all have emotions associated with food as we grow, or have grown; physically, mentally and emotionally.

It would seem more so at this point in time, actually, that this idea of emotional food is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  All it takes is a trip to the grocery store, once a haven of ingredients we never knew we wanted, to take note of what is absent.  Flour, yeast, spices, eggs, butter, and a myriad of other staples flew off the shelves in alarming numbers the first few weeks of our new normal and have since had a tough time regaining its footing.  In addition to the things now gone, are the things left behind.  I’ve been pondering all of this during our weekly outings to restock our fridge and really wondering why food has taken such a prime spot in our lives during this pandemic.  Why is the flour gone but the pickles stocked?


In the past weeks as our world has been turned onto its side, I’ve seen and heard more about food than I can recall in recent memory.  From the news reports reminding us to frequent our local favorite restaurants to help them as much as we are able and the pictures of empty store shelves to the articles lining every news outlet and blog about the best way to start your own sourdough starter (flour, yeast and water mixed in a tightly covered container left to ferment) to enumerating flourless desserts (chocolate cake seems to top nearly all the lists I’ve seen, though I’ve yet to try any) and the passed along jokes of the ‘quarantine fifteen’ weight gain people are experiencing from the increase in cooking and stress eating and the closing of gyms and routines.  I’ve seen the goodness of people turning free little libraries in front of their homes into make shift community food sources for hard to find items and a little help for hard hit neighbors and friends.  It seems food is the second most talked about entity currently uniting the world, whether it be the lack of it, the abundance of it or the wrestling of it into some sort of edible finished product for those not used to cooking for themselves.  Bread baking is seeing a resurgence as people spend more time at home and want to give it a try.  I understand banana bread pictures are spreading like wildfire over social media, connecting us to one another one loaf at a time as are cooking fails and snippets of live stories where people chat and make dinner.


My personal emotions surrounding food are largely positive.  Though we grew up poor, we always had enough and that enough was always delicious.  Except for the brussel sprouts. Those we could have forgotten.  Food was a woven, rich tapestry in my family’s life and many dishes have been carried over into adulthood.  In fact, the older I get, the more I seem to understand about life and love and loss through the lens of foods that are familiar.  And I’ve decided that is what emotional foods during this crisis boil down to.  We are all out of control right now: our world isn’t normal, our routines are disrupted, our jobs are precarious, our focus has shifted.  Because of this, we want familiar and comfortable.  We want to sit with something that connects us to the past because the past we can make more sense of than we can the current and the unknown future.  So we shop and we cook and we bake.  We post pictures of our fails and our successes and we try to connect over food via technology with those we’d normally sit and connect with over a served family style plate of pasta.  We are going through a collective experience and in our panic and uncertainty we search for those things that provide grounding, whatever they may be in our unique but connected lives.


Tell me, what is your comfort food of choice right now?  Are you reaching for the easy or finding yourself with time to tackle some tougher food challenges?  For our house, we’re a mix of both, which is understandable given our unique situation of being on pause from nearly everything.  But whether the day called for easy or involved, we’ve been ending everything with ice cream, so maybe I really am talking about the drowning emotional eating of ice cream.  Except this time, our hearts are breaking collectively over lost life.  And, for a moment, the heart break seems eased bathed in cream.