Edible Vancouver Island January/February 2024


The comfort food formula seems to be made of carbohydrates, fat and an intangible collection of positive associations.

WORDS LIISA SALO Exploring the joy of comfort foods comfort in a dish

c omfort food. Simply hearing those two words is enough to bring about knowing smiles and warm, fuzzy feelings as happy memories come to mind. Food–with its multi sensory components of sight, smell, feel and taste, along with a lifetime of associated memories–is a powerful mechanism we use daily to make ourselves feel good. Add in the fact that food affects our energy levels, mood and overall health, and it’s clear to see why Our preferences are always at play when it comes to food, seeking tastes we enjoy and avoiding those we don’t. At its core, food choice is an evolutionary survival tool built into our DNA: seek pleasure, avoid pain. Once we’ve ruled out foods that truly don’t agree with us, the selection process is highly personalized and often influenced by our history and pleasant memories of childhood. Preparing and serving food is often an act of love, so when a child comes inside from playing in the snow to find a warm bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, or some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies after walking home from school on a blustery day, the welcoming and warming food is more than functional fuel: it’s a symbol of care and love. These types of associations of feeling cared for and having hunger satiated–along with the tastes, textures and smell of the food itself–all create an imprint on the brain. Returning to this state of contentment again and again is as easy as preparing and enjoying the same foods we grew to love. food choices have such an influence on our feelings. HOW COMFORT FOOD CRAVINGS DEVELOP

COMFORT FOODS TO SOOTHE STRESS In times of stress, we naturally seek ways to self-soothe. Turning to foods we crave can be a healthier option than other more addictive habits with detrimental effects–though of course, moderation is key. Typically the foods we seek for comfort are somewhat hearty and healthy–not like the empty calories in candy, for example. Comfort foods are often warm, wholesome and rich in carbohydrates, such as mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. These foods not only keep us satiated for longer, they trigger the release of feel-good chemicals in our brains, like serotonin. This chemical response elevates our mood, providing a sense of comfort and creating a positive feedback loop, making us naturally gravitate toward these foods when faced with stressful or The call to seek comfort from food is emphasized in fall and winter when the discomfort of shivering in the cold and enduring long stretches of nothing but rain and grey skies starts to take a toll. We instinctively yearn for hearty, soul-soothing dishes to pick up our spirits. Whether it’s a savoury bowl of stew, a casserole loaded with cheese or a loaf of bread fresh from the oven, the warmth seems to offer a comforting embrace. The outlier to this formula is ice cream– that sweet and creamy companion in good times and bad. Perhaps the common denominator is food that has a higher fat content. challenging circumstances. SEASONAL INFLUENCES


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