Comfort eating in the time of coronavirus
In these unpredictable times, we’re all reverting to childhood comfort food
This morning I had a craving, one I hadn’t had in a long time. A strange hankering for Weetabix cereal in hot milk, topped with plenty of sugar. It’s basically warm, sweet mush. But I ate it as a child on cold mornings growing up in Northern Ireland, so it has a special place in my heart. It’s proper comfort food.
I’ve been having a lot of seemingly random cravings for comfort food at the moment. It’s usually stuff from my childhood (some of which I inconveniently can’t get now that I live in Los Angeles). Digestive biscuits slathered with cream cheese. Fried egg and chips. Spaghetti bolognese. In the kitchen I’m making nourishing soups, stews and curries.
It seems I’m not alone. #Comfortfood has almost seven million posts on Instagram, spanning everything from grilled cheese to mashed potato. And my friends, from their socially isolated pods across the world, said they're doing the same. Some are cooking pasta dishes they ate as a child, trying out their grandmother’s pickled cabbage recipe, or whipping up sardines on toast like their dad used to make. Others are indulging in takeout, potato waffles and baked beans, and plenty of ice cream. Oh, and cookies. Everyone’s eating cookies all the time.
It seems like hunkering down at home, not knowing when this will all be over and how the world will look when the dust settles, makes us crave something reassuring. Our social feeds are full of perfect sourdough loaves and extravagant feasts. But in these unreliable, downright weird times, sometimes you just need to curl up on the couch with a giant bowl of coco pops.
A new report from Bloomberg backs this up. It found that grocery shoppers are buying throwback products like Oreos, Kraft mac and cheese and even Spam. In March 2020, sales of popcorn, pretzels and potato chips were up compared to a year earlier.
“People are retreating back into comfort habits,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus.“There’s a lot of uncertainty and in those kinds of times people tend to retreat to what’s known to them and what’s comforting to them.”
But what counts as comfort food? Studies have shown that the grub we find comforting has more to do with our associations, rather than the food itself. Essentially, if you don’t have fond memories of eating chips, they won’t bring you comfort now. This means that not everyone takes comfort from the same types of food. It also means that comfort food is not necessarily the same as junk food.
Interestingly, researchers also found that securely attached individuals ate more comfort food in response to “naturally occurring feelings of isolation”. Or, y’know, *unnaturally* occurring feelings of isolation as a result of a global pandemic.
So if you want to sink a pack of Oreos in front of Netflix while the world is falling apart, hey, no judgment here.