December 3, 2011
Winters always mean comfort food, to me. A pot of vegetable-beef soup simmering on the stove (though in this economy it’s usually vegetable-hamburger soup). Corned beef with cabbage, potatoes and carrots (again, with hamburger in this economy). Tomatoes and okra simmered with slices of smoked sausage (or – yep, you guessed it – hamburger). Chicken and noodles, with peas and carrots (no, no hamburger, but I have been known to make a mean pot of hamburger and noodles in brown gravy if chicken is too expensive). Beans and ham. Chili. The list of comfort foods around the world is endless.
I started thinking about this after reading an article over at msnbc.com about the toll the economy and subsequent joblessness has had on food banks around the country. http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/01/9123979-lingering-joblessness-taxes-nations-food-banks Everywhere, we’re getting worried about how we are going to feed people if this globally entangled economy doesn’t improve. Maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way.
When you get right down to it, most of what we call comfort food started out as peasant food at a time when peasant farmers and small businessmen had a vegetable patch, a few chickens and maybe a pig, milk cow or goat. Most comfort food consists of several types of vegetables, herbs and spices, with a little meat for flavoring or some kind of meat substitute such as eggs, milk or cheese augmenting a meal of vegetables and starches such as potatoes, rice or other grains mixed in or on the side.
We humans ate this way for much of our history. Most of us still do, except that – as the oil age dawned and big agriculture, globalization of crops and processed food spread around the world – our consumption of meats and fats increased while our consumption of vegetables remained the same or decreased, even in those dishes we now call comfort food. This is a very expensive way to eat. And, it will become increasingly so as the world economy moves through peak oil and climate change. That could be a good thing, because almost everywhere the “American way of life” has spread, so has the American way of death – obesity and early age onset of coronary artery disease, diabetes and, perhaps, even some cancers.
As the global economy – propped up by fossil fuels and a fossil fuel based military – fails, we will have to localize our economies once again – including our agriculture. Perhaps, with local farmers no longer forced to compete with giant, international agri-corporations and more people growing at least some of their own food again, we will go back to the roots of what we now call comfort food in order to feed everyone. Over time, we may even see a genuine reduction in the deadly fruits of our modern way of eating.
How could that not be a comfort.