While striding on the elliptical machine in the gym, I decided to flip through the television channels on the little futuristic workout screen. I landed on the Food Network, which was airing an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, hosted by culinary celebrity Guy Fiere. The focus of the episode was “Comfort Food,” and it followed Fiere around the southern tier of the United States as he hit up mom-and-pop soul food restaurants in his iconic red Chevy Camero. I watched with the same disturbing allurement as when passing a car accident while stuck in traffic on the freeway. The bleach-blonde, flip-flop wearing American father stuffed his face – and goatee – with buttery mac and cheese, chicken-fried steak, biscuits and gravy, pound cake, and meat-filled pot pies for 30 minutes, all with a contagious smile.
Don’t get me wrong; I understand the meaning of the term “comfort food.” It refers to the feeling one gets after biting into a warm doughnut or cheesy meatball sandwich, before suddenly being overtaken by the urge to plop onto a warm and cozy couch, curl into the fetal position, cuddle with your dog, and enjoy a gentle back rub.
Fast food has also turned into a type of comfort food. Companies like McDonald’s have found loopholes to legally bribe young children into lifelong consumption of their unhealthy products by giving them free toys, which make a child excited, associating McDonald’s with happiness. I have had this reaction to rich, high-calorie animal-based foods such as cheese, pastries, and fast food in the past. The orgasmic experience only lasts while the food is still sliding over your tongue. Once you swallow the last bite, the sensation of comfort usually transforms into something very different. For most of us, the evening following a holiday caliber meal is either spent on the couch with an aching stomach, in bed asleep with a gut full of saturated fat, or on the toilet seat disposing of our “comforting” dinner.
The next day you decide to starve yourself, run a few miles at the gym, and everything is all better, right? Unfortunately, the uncomfortable effects of comfort foods linger far past the time of your full stomach. In the US, the top five causes of death could be called food-borne diseases, which kill over 1.5 million Americans every year, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. These fatal diseases are not simple tokens of old age that are passed on to all senior citizens. The leading causes of death in America are illnesses created by engaging in a lifelong relationship with the dangerous standard American diet, which consists of high-calorie processed foods, meat, dairy, and a pathetic quality of cooked or fried vegetables. Milkshakes and beef stew may be comforting at the time of consumption, but what they leave behind in our bodies turns out to be the least comforting and most tragic of outcomes.
Most Americans die after years of pain in their joints, bones, heart, or other organs. Millions of children and spouses watch their loved ones undergo the horrendous effects of chemotherapy and bypass surgeries, which can leave the victim in a disturbingly vulnerable state for the rest of their life. Additionally, the cost of US medical care for families that have to pay for western chronic disease treatment rules out the prospect of paying for higher education.
If the scientific data reveals that our food choices are the most significant factor we have in controlling our health, why is the public not properly informed of this information? On almost every medication available, there is a warning label listing the side effects that may be associated with the drug. Similarly, the socially acceptable moderate consumption of meat, dairy, high-calorie processed foods, and alcohol, have all been scientifically correlated with increased chances of developing diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and many more.
Think about the last time you reached for a soda, turkey sandwich, or box of Cheez-Its at the grocery store. Did you see a label mentioning that this product has been associated with increased chances of causing a number of lethal chronic diseases? You probably did not, because the government does not require such transparent information, and no company would be foolish enough to honestly advertise the health effects of their dangerous products.
I believe a new pallet of foods must take on the comfort food title. Don’t you think the foods that give us good health, fight disease, keep us fit, make our skin glow, and relieve us of stomach pains are the ones we should call comfort foods, rather than a fried steak? It may feel good to drive up to a window and be handed dinner between two soggy buns along with a plastic toy and an increased chance of chronic disease, but I think eating a delicious meal created by the soil of mother earth, which defends your body from pain, suffering, and premature death, is as comforting as it gets.