While running several errands one day, my wife suggested we grab lunch at her favorite Thai Restaurant. I like Thai food — sort of. My favorite cuisines are Mexican, Mexican, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Georgian (as in Republic of), and French. Thai is on the list, I just don’t know where.
Ordering a Southern Thai version of Massaman Curry, she confessed to loving Southern Thai more than Northern Thai and considered it one of her comfort foods. Not wanting to admit that my unsophisticated palate didn’t know the difference between Northern and Southern Thai, I quickly changed the subject.
“Comfort food?” I asked. “What makes this dish comfort food for you?”
She explained that comfort food to her is one that nourishes the body and the soul. It is filling, consistently prepared according to family traditions, and one bite can take you to a different time and place.
I can relate to that.
Whenever I get a craving for comfort foods, my go-to favorites include such culinary delights as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, chicken and dumplings, french fries, chicken pot pies, lasagna, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, various casseroles, Mexican Chef Salad, and spaghetti. Although there was a brief moment in the Spring of 1979 when spaghetti almost achieved non-grata status on my preferred comfort food list. Just a few weeks after our fourth child was born, my (late) wife took our kids to visit her parents in Tampa, Florida. Leaving me home alone, she asked a few friends to look out for me. So on Monday, one couple invited me over for dinner. They served spaghetti. On Tuesday, another couple invited me to dinner. They served spaghetti. On Wednesday, my brother-in-law and his wife invited me to dinner. They served spaghetti. Any more comfort like this and I thought I’d start speaking Italian.
While most of us view comfort food through the lens of nostalgia and sentimentalism, psychiatrists consider comfort food to be a meal that people turn to when under emotional stress. Oftentimes, these foods are high in calories, carbohydrates, and childhood memories. But let’s be honest. While comfort foods may provide a short-term sense of “comfort,” turning to them during times of emotional turmoil can result in consuming unhealthy volumes of starchy foods. Who isn’t tempted to indulge in a large order of McDonald’s French Fries or a bowl of their favorite Mac ‘n’ Cheese or a whole container of Blue Bunny Moose Tracks Ice Cream! Reflecting on the stressful times in my life when I sought comfort in food, I had to admit that my weight gain could often be tied to such indulgences.
No argument there.
But I also think comfort food is best enjoyed when gathered around a table to fellowship with family and friends, celebrate special events, enjoy good conversation, reminisce the past, and make new memories. Such comfort food fellowship can nourish us, body and soul.
And it reminds us of another Table we gather around…
“Do this in remembrance of me…For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (I Corinthians 11: 24, 26)
As I matured as a man and a Christian, I noticed that I found myself feasting on a different kind of comfort food. Realizing my needs were more spiritual than physical or emotional, I turned to the Bread of Life. Whether it was the challenges of being a husband or a father, the ups and downs of my professional life, or times of grief at the loss of family, the best comfort I discovered came from the Holy Comforter.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8)
“How sweet are Thy words to my taste, Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103)
“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33)
“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.” (Ps. 63:5)
“They drink their fill of the abundance of Thy house, and Thou dost give them to drink of the river of Thy delights.” (Ps. 36:8)
“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
When I asked my wife why she considers Southern Thai food a comfort food, she shared her sweet memories of eating this food with a cousin and his Thai-born wife. I had to chuckle realizing that I too associate some comfort foods with similar cherished memories. Since a college friend and his wife introduced us to Mexican Chef Salad in January of 1973, this particular dish, suitable for large crowds as well as our growing family, has often been our meal of choice for special events over the past forty-plus years.
Some comfort foods, rich in sentiment and cherished traditions, provide us moments to savor the joyful memories of the past. But, at other times, indulging in comfort foods can be but a temporary, ineffective, and usually unhealthy salve for our hurting souls. It’s ok to savor the memories of the past. Cherishing good memories provides a comfort all its own. But let’s not forget that feasting on real food is the only thing that truly satisfies the longings of the human heart.
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall not thirst.” (John 6:35)
Now that’s real comfort food.