Proustian Memory and Comfort Food

Food is just food until it isn’t.

Image by Isaac NC

Armchair Psychology

We’ll talk about other experiences in a second. For the moment, let’s stick to food. I strongly suspect that everything you’ve ever tasted, you relate to:

  1. The first time you ever tasted it
  2. The memory of how it made you feel the first time you tasted it

Madeleine Memory

I learnt about Proustian moments like the above after writing this article (there being no new ideas and all), but they explain perfectly why it feels so good to drink a cup of chai with a butter biscuit that you last enjoyed on a carpet in your godmother’s house six years ago. The memory of that chai will always be tied to the pure joy of that moment, and compound-chained to the other moments you have enjoyed a good cup of milky chai: at 3 pm with your sister’s vegan chocolate cake on a workday on the sweltering island during the pandemic; as a shot with ginger on the way to class on a foggy Delhi winter morning, your classmates shivering in four sweaters, and you taking yours off from the warmth of walking and the chai; with your grandparents in the early evening, served with delicious, warm, fried, salty things.

Comfort Food

Let’s consider these ‘comfort foods’. By comfort food, I don’t mean binge-eating ice cream until your eyes roll backward in your head, rather the kinds of foods with which you associate a kind of warmth and connection. The foods that bring you comfort, in other words. Oskis refers to work done by her colleague, Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York, Buffalo, who studies comfort food as an experience rather than the food itself.

When Pop Psychology Works

Though psychologists refer to this as involuntary memory, I think that we can use the same factors that conditioned us to generate positive and negative emotions to certain foods to instead create new experiences around foods, events or activities we may have tricky relationships with.

Conclusions (and Other C-Things)

Sometimes, unexplained emotions or characteristics that we think are a part of our identities are extremely ingrained in our perception of ourselves in the world. But I like to think that we are forever growing and changing, and that we can at least chip away at our fears and aversions with a cuddle and a chisel. And maybe some chai.


What is comfort food to you? What is a food you absolutely can’t stand? How strongly do you remember the first time you ate either of them? And when was the last time you cried when you heard a song in the wild?



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