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Food: Comfort and Happiness On A Plate

Many therapists ask their patients, “What do you do for fun?” and most abuse survivors don’t have a clue. But I think we can all agree on one thing: food is comforting and food is happy. As a writer, I’d rather write about food  — ingredients, culture, history, lore, recipes, restaurants, horticulture, chefs — than about anything else on God’s Green Earth.

In her 1943 book, The Gastronomical Me the queen of food porn, M. F. K. Fisher wrote this:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think about one without the others.

As I try to figure out how to live a happy, self-caresque life, I find myself looking backwards to the simple happiness of childhood for clues to present happiness.

Again and again, “food” is a happiest theme that emerges from the past.

That stab of ecstatic joy I always felt as a child when Mom announced, “We’re going out to eat tonight!” Being introduced to the ecstasy of breaded shrimp and cocktail sauce at Old Country Buffet by my grandfather. The life-changing discovery of how delicious Grandma’s savory cheeseball was at Christmas. The fact that every happy event — birthdays, school start, school end, Christmas and New Years — were all celebrated with special foods. Tacos, summer sausage sandwiches, sour-cream-and-onion chips, Taco Bell, Arby’s. Nothing fancy but it was food we didn’t usually have and it carved its niche in my memory along with my first taste of feta, gyros, sushi, California Rolls, wasabi, hibachi, miso soup and miso ramen with scallions…oy vey! I keep miso in the house now; it’s wonderful for head colds! Sort-of the Japanese version of chicken noodle soup.
From time to time when I was little, Mother would set me the delightful task of wiping off her spice bottles. Oh, how I adored it! Carefully I’d sniff each spice before wiping the bottle and replacing the lid. Little did I realize that I was training my palate. But oh! Tabasco Sauce smells so much better than it feels on the tongue. Ow! Ow! Ow! Wwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaater!!!

Second only to the spice job was when I got to pore over Mom’s 1978 Betty Crocker Cookbook (picutred above). As you’d imagine, it was bright orange, had a lovely fragrance and gorgeous food pictures. For a time, I aspired to be a food photographer myself. Well, that dream faded but I loved the book so much, I bought a copy for myself on eBay. Comes in handy too!

As a teen, the only TV shows my family watched were cooking shows on PBS. The Frugal Gourmet (that pedo!) announced with the flourish of Water Music by George Fredric Handel always made me feel so happy. Then there was Yan Can Cook with Martin Yan (who can debone a chicken in 18 seconds flat!) and Mary Ann Esposito and Nick Stellino, both preparing traditional Italian menus. The Bread Monk taught us how to make bread using a “well” and Mother Noella Marcellino, The Cheese Nun, visited France to gather rare cheese bacterias from the ceilings of ancient cheese caves and defended her doctoral dissertation in cheese microbiology. What a gal!

And who can forget my two favorite English cooks from Two Fat Ladies show, neither of whom died from being fat by the way, that lovable eccentric Jennifer Patterson and the wounded-but-triumphant soul Clarissa Dickson Wright. (Her real name was Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright. No kidding! Her parents were nuts!)

Perhaps best of all was Jacques and Julia starring two of my favorite cooks and favorite people, Jacques Pepin and Julia Child. While I drank in all this delightful culinary knowledge on Saturday nights, often mixed with Rich Steves tasting and quaffing local culinary delights, I ate frozen pizza which, although the fragrance promised so much taste but delivered so little, was still the best meal of the week.

Still, I dreamed of better food. Food that was made correctly. Chili that contained meat and not raisins. Authentic-tasting pizza sauce and tacos made “according to Hoyle” not seasoned on a wing and a prayer.

Then there were the books. Wonderful books about food by the PBS chefs and Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain and The Gastronomical Me by M. F. K. Fisher. I didn’t have the energy nor the work ethic to roll up my sleeves in the kitchen much as a teen, but I devoured books about food, food culture, food preparation, food history, famous restaurants and great chefs with Michelin stars. It thrilled me then…and  thrills me even more today.

Food is my happy place. I make no bones about it. For awhile I was ashamed. Today I’m embracing it proudly.

Unfortunately, food (in general) and comfort eating (in particular) has gotten a bad rap in these United States. In other countries, any food at all is considered healthy and received with gratitude. But in our nation, every food goes on the Naughty List at one time or another.

Back in the 1990s, after eating ourselves out of a very difficult time, my overweight family and I did the “Somersizing” eating plan made popular by Suzanne Somers. We cut out starchy, sugary things like corn and bananas, stopped mixing our food groups and ate meat, meat, meat. Sure, we lost weight! My dad, like Suzanne, also got cancer. Big mistake that. I firmly believe Somersizing screwed up the pH balance of his body.

That horrible experience put me off specialized eating plans for life. When acai berries are declared the latest “super food,” I ignore it. When {fill-in-the-blank} is put on the naughty list, I ignore that too. I eat what I like and what I crave, figuring the body knows best. What it craves is what it needs.

Turns out, that’s true!! I recently told my doctor that, despite being insulin resistant, I feel great when I eat cheese. “You know why, man?” he said in his adorable Jamaican accent. “Because proteins release a different kind of insulin than carbs and sugars.” Oooooooooooooooh! That explains why I never get the shakes when I start my day with a bowl of 4% cottage cheese!

Which brings us to the subject of comfort eating. It too gets a bad rap but y’know, it’s a whole helluva a lot better than other self-comforting techniques. Better to have that extra portion of Camembert than to self-soothe with alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, spending sprees. C’mon! It’s the lesser of the weevils!

I’m a firm believer in comfort eating. I ate my way through my miserable teens and hopeless, unhappy twenties. It may’ve piled on the pounds, but it kept me sane and gave me some joy. I didn’t have much to look forward to…except the next snack and next meal. When all hope was lost, my love of food kept me alive.

Oddly enough, in an oblique way, it was food itself that helped me get free of my narcissists. I started cooking and I could tell Mom didn’t like to have anyone else cooking in her kitchen. She even begrudged me the power to bake a quick bread or attempt to make caramel. Within six months of starting to cook, my parents had finally “allowed” me to leave and my joy in finally having my own kitchen in my own home…knew no bounds!

I’ve never told anyone this but on the day I closed on my townhome, I got down on my knees in my new kitchen and thanked God with tears for my new home and especially, my own kitchen. I then proceeded to stuff it with every ingredient known to man. When we married, Michael explored the kitchen while I was at work and exclaimed, “This woman has everything!” and that included lox, anchovy paste and clam juice. Collecting kitchenalia is still a hobby!

The food I turned out….mamma mia! It was good! But I was still comfort eating. When I had a horrible day at work, I’d treat myself to a bag of Cheetos and a bag of Doritos and have a chips-and-pity party with Delly my Bichon Frise although she’s partial to Spicy Doritos.

Getting married changed all that. Within 18 months, I went No Contact from my narcissists and comfort eating just wasn’t an issue anymore. I didn’t need it on a daily basis. The wound I had filled with food was gone.

But, now and then, comfort eating still comes in handy, like last week. I was so scared something would go wrong with Michael’s surgery so I loudly announced, “I’m going to eat my way into next week” and that’s exactly what I did. Michael turned out fine. I turned out fine. The cookies served their purpose. They kept me sane and happy and wonder of wonders, my clothes still fit!

Look back at your childhood and tell me: What made you happy as a child? Was it food? Building model airplanes? Writing novels? Painting pictures? Exploring? Building sand castles? Drawing architectural floorplans? Making stained glass? Calligraphy? Singing in choir? Sailing? Fishing? Biking? Camping? Reading? Writing? Raising puppies or chinchillas? Comic books?

We may be all grown up now but our passions don’t change that much. Recall your childhood joy and you’ll find your adult happiness as well.

And now…I’m going to go eat! In the words of that delightfully honking Julia Child, “Bon appétit!

Food: Comfort and Happiness On A Plate


Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post and YourTango freelance writer and entrepreneur. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, subscribe to her bi-weekly e-newsletter, contribute to help her husband fight his extremely rare lung disease, Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and shop her e-store, please visit www.lenorathompsonwriter.com.


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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2019). Food: Comfort and Happiness On A Plate. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2019/06/food-comfort-and-happiness-on-a-plate/

 

Last updated: 2 Jul 2019
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