American Comfort Food & Culture

Comfort food, in common parlance, refers not just to the sustenance obtained from edibles, but also to the sense of well-being obtained from eating. In this case, it may be psychological or emotional satisfaction. As defined by YourDictionary. com, comfort food is “any food eaten not only for its pleasing taste but also for a sense of contentment, nostalgia, etc. that it provides. ” The sad reality is, the pleasing taste in most cases does not equate with healthy food. Comfort food, while it provides feelings of soothing warmth and gratification, may have ill effects on the body, and the persons concerned may or may not even realize it.

Yet one wonders why people, though aware that certain foodstuffs (like the nicest tasting fries) are unhealthy, still partake of it. Upon closer analysis, one sees that food and diet are inextricably linked to, if not embedded in, evolving society and culture. Take the case of America, where one can witness comfort food in two distinct and interesting dimensions: fastfood that is usually devoid of nutritional quality; and traditional gastronomy handed down by one generation to another, as exemplified by authentic South American cuisine, painstakingly prepared by the matriarch of the household as younger family members look on and assist.

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Fastfood has become a highly profitable industry and global phenomenon, while home cuisine preparation is becoming a vanishing art. As families become immersed in the vicious cycle or struggle to survive, attain work success or recognition, traditional meal preparations are being replaced by cheap instant meals. “Saturated fats and meats are displacing grains and fresh vegetables. Mealtimes are shrinking. McDonalds is everywhere. ” (Walsh 36). Regular fastfood fare like burgers and fries continually entice young and old alike, in America and other parts of the world.
“The flavors of childhood foods seem to leave an indelible mark, and adults often return to them, without always knowing why. These comfort foods `become a source of pleasure and reassurance, a fact the fast food chains work hard to promote” (Schlosser 123). Huge marketing budgets have been allocated to convince consumers to head for fastfood restaurants with kids and other family members in tow. What people easily take for granted is that as they opt for fastfood meals, “they consume more calories, less fiber, and more fat” (Schlosser 241).
Fats may be categorized as good or bad, and among the most undesirable kind is trans fat found in fastfood staples like french fries. Trans fats contained in hydrogenated cooking oil pose a big risk to heart health, as studies have revealed. “It serves to justify current efforts to get trans fats out of the American diet” (Boyles, parag. 5). Obesity, fatty liver and heart problems are but some of the dangers of regular fastfood consumption in big servings.
Fortunately, helping curb the health decline among America’s population are medically backed reports and a growing health consciousness that have spawned concerted efforts by consumer groups to ban “the use of trans freats in restaurant food in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago” (Boyles, parag. 5). This had also generated “pledges from a growing number of fast-food restaurant chains to make their products trans-fat free” (Boyles, parag. 5). Showing an earnest gesture of support in such initiative or clamor to give consumers healthier food options are fastfood companies like Wendy’s and KFC, to name some.
Home-produced food may be the norm in certain societies, and “it shouldn’t be surprising that the societies that have been most successful at retaining food cultures are the ones that have also resisted the pull of Westernization” (Walsh 39). This is not to say, though, that traditional fare like Southern American cuisine is not laden with calories, sugar and fat. Southern American food with multicultural influences includes deep-fried foods and rich gravy made with pan drippings and leftover coffee (Brant parag. 3).
If not taken in moderation, they may pose some undesirable health effects, Economics likewise lays a big role in people’s food options. “Most Southerners were subsistence farmers who relied upon their on harvests to feed their families” (Brant, parag. 3). Delectable dishes, notably “big country breakfasts of eggs, biscuits and gravy, sausage and grits, and supper plates of chicken-fried steak, corn bread and collard greens provided farmers with the fuel to work from sun up to sun down in the scorching heat and humidity of the south” (Boyles, parag. 5).
While certain recipes and ingredients of south American cuisine stand out, the myriad, longed-for flavors reflect “a combination of culinary heritages from around the world” (Brant, parag. 1). In many parts of America and major cities around the world, contributing to the decline of traditional mealtimes are the trappings and offshoots of the modern technology era. There is media, with its powerful influence; and migration from slow-paced rural communities to cities marked by fast-paced lifestyles. “Not only do these changes add stress for families, but nutritional quality declines as well” (Walsh 38).
Cornell University Professor of Nutritional Science Jeffrey Sobal, was quoted by TIME as saying that ”parents complain that they make [traditional] dishes, but the kids won’t eat them. They want the things that they see on television” (Walsh 38) and consenting adults acquiesce. Indeed, various interweaving factors shape today’s American food culture and while “we might – indeed must – clean up the worst of the fastfood excesses, trying to preserve the diets that keep us both culturally and physically healthier, no one pretends we’re ever going to turn back the clock entirely” (Walsh 39). It is, after all, the age of convenience products.
Further boosting the popularity of fastfood restaurants is the business strategy of focusing not just on product innovations but also in providing a complete customer experience. Hence, McDonalds has its Playland to appeal to tots. Other fastfood restaurants strategically focus on a theme, slogan or attitude to further lure customers, wittingly or unwittingly. All told, fastfood has both an upside and downside, While most present-day comfort foods meld flavor and texture for utterly enticing eating options, consumers will do well to take a moment to determine if these foods are worth the momentary pleasures they provide.
As for restaurants who have made a giant step towards offering consumers the healthier route through food alternatives that limit dangerous ingredients, it is high time they sustain their initiatives that will put a country’s burgeoning population down the healthier path. Households that find it difficult to reshape their dietary paths are usually hindered by budgetary limitations. It can be gleaned that inexpensive, time-saving fastfood has fueled the rapid growth of fastfood outlets on a global scale, Individuals with high standards of living, on the other hand, are better able to experiment and widen their food choices.
Indeed, given today’s societal trends and the fastfood phenomenon, only time will tell if healthier and tastier alternatives to trans-fat-laden `comfort food’ will see the day. In the meantime, America is seen grappling with diet-related illnesses even as health empowering news updates are gradually holding sway Works Cited Boyles, Salynn. “Researchers Say Findings Justify Move to Reduce Trans Fat in U. S. Diet. ” Emedicinehealth. com. 26 March 2007. 13 August 2008 <http://www.
emedicinehealth. com/script/main/art. asp? articlekey=80077>. Brant, Kelly. “Southern Comfort. ” Allrecipes. com. 13 August 2008 n<http://allrecipes. com/HowTo/Southern-Comfort–Southern-Food/Detail. aspx>. “Comfort food definition. ” YourDictionary. com. 13 August 2008 <http://www. yourdictionary. com/comfort-food>. Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Walsh, Bryan. “How the World Eats. ” TIME June 2-July 2, 2007: 36.

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