No comfort left in comfort food.
by Trish Deseine
It used to be so simple. A palate-swamping Yorkie bar, gobbled down so quickly it hardly touched my tonsils let alone my tongue. Mashed potato with too much salty butter, toast with too much salty butter, scones with too much salty butter, soda bread… Sneaky roast chicken underbelly pickings or carrot cake cream cheese glaze, (mostly without even bothering with the cake) were my fixes when I needed something to trigger a million subconscious, nostalgic connections and soothe my stress.
After 9/11, comfort food came out of the guilty pleasure zone and took up full time residence in the Gastro Pub. Rice pudding, sausage and mash and dozens of other cuddly dishes transported us back to BinLadenless times when, apparently, we felt safer. In France, cooking with trashy, industrially produced products such as Nutella and La Vache Qui Rit added a touch of subversion to restaurant menus. Admitting emotional reasons for eating lots of « wrong » stuff in the land of Epicurianism felt revolutionary & so wrong it was, well, wrong.
In the UK and Ireland, nursery food, cheap sweets and fish and chips gradually became ok to eat again – as long as we were sure to label them with a great big « I » for Ironic and flagged up the intellectual capacity required (usually about three hundred quid’s worth) to fully appreciate Hestonesque cheffy interpretations. Food was a new class marker and comfort food was the perfect « look how far we’ve come » exhibitionism. While those who « knew » devoured the latest edible status symbol with one raised eyebrow and a demi-smirk, only feckless Philistines still ate Mars bars and curried chips as a matter of course.
As I was enjoying my delicious ironic trash, whether in destructured form or from the corner shop, I didn’t mind a few additives from time to time. You know, something to keep the goo nice and gooey, a bit of unhappy, anonymous cow here and there ? Hell, even a bit of its sphincter could be in the mix between my teeth in times when TV screens were full of people chewing on maggots & donkey penises. Like many of you, I suspect, I turned a blind (yet knowing) eye, sprinkled a little more salt on top, and swallowed.
But now there is horsemeat in the moussaka at Monoprix and it has all been spoiled forever. Food has definitively left its Age of Innocence.
For me, the collective, vicious circle of obsession, illusion and denial is well and truly exposed and exploded and there’s no going back.
I can no longer enjoy the trash, on any level. There are no more levels. All the levels have been used up, steeped in waterbaths of quirk and foamed up in huge puffs of cheffy bullshit and contrived journeys into foodie nostalgia. The wasteful gags have all been made, the bordering-on-creepy musings about sexual awakenings in forests with Flakes have been whispered and the feignings of deep lusty lust for Italian market food have been pouted out in a haze of lipstick and camp.
I shopped in Monoprix yesterday & it seemed that nothing lurking on those shelves (not even the HobNobs in the Anglo Saxon corner) could comfort me by « awakening emotions » or transporting me back or reminding me of my childhood. Or perhaps I had unknowingly been some kind of Damien or Rosemary’s Baby because suddenly, it all looks as if it wants to kill me.
And at the risk of sounding a bit stressed, I can no longer even look at a burger – not a MacDo burger of death any more than its 25 euro Haute Couture cousin, and for God’s sake keep those cupcakes OFF me.
From now on, for comfort in times of stress? I’ll have a good old fashioned Valium, thanks – just like my mother used to take.
Still from The Age of Innocence by Michael Scorcese, with Michelle Pfeiffer & Daniel Day Lewis, inspired by Edith Wharton’s novel.