The Philosophy of Comfort Food


What is it about a warm, familiar meal that brings peace to our lives? For some it is ice cream and hot fudge, lasagna or mashed potatoes; for me – it’s Matzo ball soup. I didn’t grow up in a Jewish household, nor did I ever consume this type of soup as a child, but as a young adult whenever I was sick in college I would prepare myself a huge vat of Matzo ball soup and survive on it. By the time it was gone, usually so was my illness, so I attribute my generally healthy life to this traditional meal. Some even joke that it’s “Jewish penicillin” – whatever it is I am thankful.

We derive comfort from many different aspects of our lives; a touch on the shoulder from a friend, a kiss from a loved one, even a warm blanket over your knees in a comfortable chair with a book. But no comfort is as universal as the comfort felt by a warm meal in your stomach. Think about the missions of homeless kitchens – to provide a hot meal to those in need. Think about what a luxury a hot meal truly is – it means access to a stove, preparatory tools like pots, pans, spoons and knives, and the ability to consume that meal in a timely manner. A sense of community is created when a group of people gather to enjoy a warm meal – precisely the comfort we feel when we gather around the kitchen for holiday meals. Here are some things to reflect on what comfort foods bring to our lives:

  • A sense of ritual. What is more comforting than a little repetition in your life? Perhaps preparing the same meal over and over again with expected results provides you comfort. Despite any outside stressors in your life there are certain aspects of your life that you can control – and one of those is certainly your meal choices.
  • A sense of humanity. Emergency preparedness organizations (like the United States Coast Guard) recommend stowing away some comfort foods in your natural disaster preparedness kits. Why? When something stressful or disastrous is happening the last thing you want to do is survive on food that you do not like or find comfort in yourself. It’s basic human necessity – you know yourself the best, and can decipher what can comfort you the most in an emergency. (Which is why this Californian put a giant jar of Nutella in her preparedness kit for the most recent Hurricane season!)
  • A sense of fulfillment. Whether we are discussing literal, nutritional, fulfillment or the figurative “comfort food” fulfillment, there is something about a special meal or ritual that makes us feel “full” and recharged and ready for whatever else life has to offer.

So tell us over here at Philosophy Matters what brings you comfort when the weather gets colder. Is it family? Friends? A lucky sweatshirt or a favorite meal? How do you know when it is time to reach for that comfort?

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