Thursday morning, approximately seven minutes after my vehicle failed its annual inspection, it decided to break down on me at the trailhead to 19 Mile Brook. As a result, Friday morning found me hiking north on route 16, with my Kelty on, my snowshoes dangling, my microspikes jingling, and my thumb out. No one was stopping. I’d even taken off my hat and removed my sunglasses so that I appeared noticeably female, amiable and harmless to passersby, rather than like the axe murderer that I actually am. There were tears, there were curses, and there were symptoms of an impending stress-induced emotional breakdown. My life is over, I dejectedly decided. Logical conclusion to come to, of course.
This unanticipated stressor atop heaping to-do lists, a failing cell phone, work, impending school, and a bank account with numbers that explicitly demonstrate my seasonal, low-wage lifestyle, was enough to cause me a wee bit of emotional discomfort, to say the least. Later that night when I was safely home and my vehicle issues were resolved, I found myself desperately craving comfort food—in the form of Sour Patch Kids and Nacho Cheese Doritos. After a half-hearted attempt of resisting these overwhelming, emotionally-charged cravings, I got into my car and drove to the grocery store that is located directly across the street from my house. How very environmentally friendly.
As I lay sprawled out on the sofa feeling sick from candy that I’m allergic to and chips coated in some form of chemically-created non-cheese, I slunk to a depth of shame. Nothing about this is aligned with my current goals of working toward buying healthy, local, fresh, minimally-packaged food or toward conserving fuel to do my part in decreasing the my negative environmental impacts of my daily life. Not 24 hours prior, I’d been happily brainstorming a 7-day challenge to food-shop sustainably and nutritiously while completely avoiding processed, packaged foods. Chips and candy that had probably experience more world travel than I could ever hope to experience happened to NOT be on this list. I felt that I had an inkling of what it’s like to experience the post-shame after sabotaging one’s own weight-loss diet with buckets of ice cream.
It occurred to me that this all felt backwards. If I was feeling stressed, shouldn’t I feel inclined to treat my body with kindness in the form of clean, nutritious and ethical food? For shits and giggles, I typed in “anthropology of comfort food” into Google, demanding answers as to why I was feeling urges that so wildly and overwhelmingly contradicted my present goals.
After digging for viable sources, I discovered “Food for Love: the role of food offering in empathetic emotional regulation,” in which the authors discusses how humans sharing food with other humans is a an avenue for developing social relationships in a cultural and symbolic context (Hamburg et al 2014). Eating, it seems, is an “inherently social behavior” (ibid) and our associations between food and comfort stem from infanthood; babies, after all, totally depend on other humans for food, safety, warmth, and love, and therefore are conditioned to connect the act of food consumption with security, belonging, affection, etc. This conditioning lends to embodied cognition—the interplay of perception, action and introspection which allows for physical elements of one’s environment to take on abstract meanings (ibid). “The appeal of eating comfort food may arise from its association with social proximity,” the authors note, while in contrast, when people experience “social exclusion and rejection, they feel cold and crave warm food, presumably as a means to compensate for the lack of social proximity” (ibid). Additionally, cortisol levels increase in the body during stress, and are partly responsible for dictating some of the body’s cravings.
In other words, it’s not totally our fault. And I have to accept that little obstacles such as these will arise on my quest to sustainability. Perfection isn’t quite my goal (not yet anyways). Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your small victories. Sometimes when you can’t save the world, you decide to eat Doritos instead. I love bending evidence to justify my actions, don’t you?
Thankfully, as my faith in the goodness of mankind was beginning to self-destruct, an ice-climber turned his car around on rt 16 and picked me up. He went out of his way to drive me all the way to my vehicle where it was dutifully waiting for me after having been towed. My faith in humanity was restored.
Hamburg, Myrte E., Catrin Finkenauer, and Carlo Schuengel. “Food for Love: The Role of Food Offering in Empathic Emotion Regulation.” Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Media S.A., 31 Jan. 2014. Web. Accessed 25 Jan. 2016