• What role does comfort food play in the time of coronavirus? (Digital Vision)Source: Digital Vision
I'm not sure meals exist in the same way anymore.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

7 Apr 2020 - 1:25 PM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2020 - 10:00 AM

Food and I share a checkered past.

When I first started high school, I'd use my babysitting money to buy a very specific rotation of comfort foods on my commute to and from Sydney's western suburbs.

There was the steaming hot custard bun I'd buy each morning from my favourite Chinese bakery on Burwood Road. It went perfectly with the large cappuccino I'd nurse between my legs on the crowded train. Then there was the Bubble Tea I'd buy at Strathfield station, where I changed train lines. And, finally, there was the small bucket of fried chicken tenders I'd buy from KFC after school in Homebush - a greasy, succulent reward for surviving another day of schoolyard hell.

This type of eating wasn't reserved for an end-of-week treat. It was a daily habit, my little secret, my way of coping.

Naturally, it wasn't long before I got quite overweight and unhealthy, which coincided nicely with the arrival of puberty and my very sudden and urgent need to feel physically attractive. So I adapted, as people do, and began a long and torrent affair with dieting - one that I still occasionally revisit, if I'm being honest.

But not now. Not today.

As I'm currently in my third week of COVID-19 self-isolation, I've decided to practice some semblance of self-love by refusing to worry about how I look. I've therefore been reintroduced to the deliciously soothing world of comfort food.

As I'm currently in my third week of COVID-19 self-isolation, I've decided to practice some semblance of self-love by refusing to worry about how I look.

In self-isolation, my approach to food is similar to when I'm stuck at an international airport terminal. You're not quite sure what time it is, or what day it is, or whether you're eating because you're actually hungry or just because you're bored. You just listen to your stomach, work through your options, and start eating.

I've taken to eating a giant bowl of cereal with Greek yoghurt and dried fruit at 3am, which is usually when I experience my first pandemic night terror and bolt upright in a puddle of sweat, feeling, you know, peckish. As I stopped eating meat last year, I've also been experimenting with different crumbed soy-based proteins (I refuse to call them fake meats because then I'm one of THOSE people), with varying levels of success. Basically, if you can whack it in the oven for 20-minutes, squirt some sauce on it and call it a meal, I'm very into it. Then there's the chocolate - giant boxes of Favourites bought on special, blocks of Cadbury Dairy Milk, stored in the freezer for optimum crunch.

The chocolate in particular has been quite cathartic. When I was growing up, my dad used to slowly work his way through a block of Cadbury peppermint chocolate with his late-night peppermint tea. The smell of chocolate, especially when combined with herbal tea, has always taken me back to the familiarity of childhood and family. It still does today.

The chocolate in particular has been quite cathartic.

I'm not sure meals exist in the same way anymore, though.

Since the pandemic, what I eat feels less dictated by time and more dictated by mood - when I'm feeling most anxious or stressed or restless. Is that ideal? Absolutely not - and it's something I'll be discussing during my weekly psychologist session (held over Zoom).

But it IS comforting, and I'm grateful to have access to all my favourite treats, whether they're particularly good for me or not, at a time of such unease.

The Chocolate Factory: Inside Cadbury Australia premieres Saturday April 11 on SBS at 7:30pm. The program will be encored Sunday April 12 on SBS VICELAND at 3:35pm. Join the conversation on social #SlowTV

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