Think of those spreads with upside-down pineapple cake, frosted fudge brownies, and trays of rice-krispie treats you sampled in the back room at wakes and memorial services. The home-cooked dinner prepared by someone you love, that made you forget about how crappy your day was. The banana bread you made for a friend, neighbor, or relative, who was sick or going through a difficult time. A toast to someone who's passed.
Just because Paula Deen made it and it has a bunch of cheese and butter in it does not make it comfort food. I get a little irritated when the term is tossed around just to describe something creamy and delicious with bacon in it that you probably shouldn't be eating. And that's because occasionally I get to see the true healing power of food.
There were the Filipino families in Michigan who came together for a fundraiser to make and sell lumpia (eggrolls) as a typhoon destroyed their homeland. The town of Pateros in central Washington State still celebrated its annual apple pie festival this past summer even though the largest wildfire in state history just destroyed dozens of their homes. They were smiling, if only for that evening.
Then, this past week, after an excruciating few days covering the shooting at a high school in Marysville, Washington, that left three dead, I found Teri Branan and the other moms who set up a free cafe to feed hundreds of teens who wouldn't be able to return to class for another week. Many of them were hurting bad. Some didn't want to leave home at a time when they really need one another. Perhaps lasagna would make them reconsider.
Teri said something really profound to me as I was wrapping up my shoot.
"Sitting at a table sharing bread is what you do with family, and family heals together. That's the only way they're going to get through this."
I thanked her for what she was doing. We hugged. She offered me a sloppy joe.