What is the Emotional Value of Food?

Under the interesting-choice-of-a-title “Meatloaf, mashed potatoes fight loneliness” comes an idea related to the Spam/Velveeta post from Wednesday – namely that all foods bring something to the table…so to speak.

From the article:

(A) study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found comfort foods were consistently associated with those people close to them — so thinking about or consuming these foods serves as a reminder of those close to them.

“Throughout everyone’s daily lives they experience stress, often associated with our connections with others,” (Lead author Jordan) Troisi says in a statement. “Comfort food can serve as a ready-made, easy resource for remedying a sense of loneliness.”

Let us set aside the fact that naming something a comfort food is as disingenuous as calling a food a “guilty pleasure”. Both terms seem to imply that the food in question doesn’t have a requisite amount of “goodness” about it, so we have to rationalize our consumption of them. This is, as I’ve stated before, nonsense. If you enjoy a food, you don’t need any reason to eat it aside from that fact (except, perhaps, starvation).

What’s interesting about this study, regardless of how well-done it may or may not be, is that it tries to quantify the value of food beyond its physical, nutritional aspects. This is an idea I fully get behind, as do the vast majority of food fans out there. Food, regardless of what type it may be, can have an emotional value. We see this all the time, and I have to go no further than to state “home cooking” or “Mom’s apple pie” to prove my point. Let me compare two apple pies made with the same skill and ingredients, with the only difference being that one was purchased at a supermarket, and the other was made by a friend or family member, and I’m likely going to appreciate the latter more than the former. Probably by a vast margin.

It’s this difference in value where the interesting discussions about food are held. How do we quantify the emotional? How do we explain to friends and readers alike that the reason we enjoy the food we do has as much to do with nurture as it does with nature?

Upon reflection, I’m not sure that science can do anything here beyond lending credence to the obvious – We like foods because they make us feel good. As to why they make us feel good? That’s up to the rest of us to figure out.