Fried chicken, mac n' cheese, burgers, mashed potatoes and ice cream sundaes. What do all of these foods have in common? For most of us, these are what we'd call "comfort foods" -- foods that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But have you ever thought about why these foods seem to heal all of our woes? Comfort food is a powerful medicine. In Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, the first volume of his famous In Search of Lost Time, he writes this famous line after eating a French cookie called a madeleine:
"No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me."
What makes the experience of eating a madeleine so emotional and comforting? Here's why.
Food elicits feelings of nostalgia.
Maybe when you grew up, you had a favorite pizza place that served a mean Sicilian. Every Friday after school you would stop by for a slice with your friends. So now, when you're all grown up, you walk by a pizzeria and order a slice, for old time's sake. The first smell takes you back to your childhood. That first bite is completely transportive.
Food makes us think about family.
Think about Thanksgiving. It's a time often spent with one's family. And it's a holiday all about eating food. We mean, giving thanks. Eating big meals makes us think of family, tradition, and good times spent with those we love.
Scent is associated with emotion and memory.
Food scents and other scents are directly connected with the memory. Think about the first whiff of hot dog that you smell on your way home. It instantly recalls those summer days spent on Coney Island, eating on the boardwalk. Why is this? It's all because of the olfactory bulb -- your scent processor. This bulb connects straight to the amygdala and hippocampus, two areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory. Smell, more than any other scent, is linked to these areas. So holding a hot dog or looking at one is way less effective than smelling one.
Food reminds us of our favorite places.
You've moved to New York City after living in France your whole life. You see a new French restaurant open down the street, and stop in for a Croque Madame. As soon as you cut into that runny egg, you're back home. It makes you feel a little less lonely.
It's the best way to our hearts.
That's the common phrase, and we believe it 100%. Food is a way to show someone that you care. When you've gone through the effort to make something with your hands and to share that meal together, you're creating a memory.
Food is not just a way to live, but it's a way to love. As always, don't overdo it.