The times have not been easy: the death of my father; the virus-induced sudden closure of the school in which I work; the difficulty of finding food in the shops; the widespread sense of gloom and foreboding. Were I a drinker, I might have poured a glass of whisky.
The answer at such a moment is a mug of tea and two McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, admittedly, they are possibly the fifth and sixth biscuits of the day; there were two with the eleven o’clock cup of tea and two this afternoon. I am aware that they are comfort food and that they are not good for my health and that I need to lose the weight I have gained.
“It is not the tea; it is what you have with the tea”. His voice again surfaces into consciousness.
Undergoing an angiogram in a Dublin hospital in 2013, the cardiologist had turned the monitor around to point out obstructions in the coronary arteries caused by a build up of cholesterol.
“Too many church hall teas”, I had commented.
“No”, he said, in his soft German-accented English, “it is not the tea; it is what you have with the tea that is the problem”. It was his attempt at humour, but diagnosed the problem exactly. Cakes and biscuits had become daily foodstuffs, they had to stop.
Yet, now, even knowing that the biscuits are the wrong choice, I still eat them.
There are undoubtedly numerous studies into the psychology of “comfort eating”, numerous articles in learned journals on why people choose to eat food that only does them damage. Perhaps there are studies on which comfort foods are the most detrimental to the health of the eater.
A mug of tea and two digestive biscuits does make the world seem a more manageable place, more benign, possessing the possibility of cheerfulness and optimism. Perhaps the positivity owes more to the burst of caffeine from the very strong tea than from any beneficial effect of two biscuits.
Someone would probably make a fortune if they could produce a comforting foodstuff that had no detrimental effect.
“Feeling cold and grey?” the advertisement might ask. “Feeling tired and weary? Then we have the very thing you need. No calories, no artificial additives, no bad side effects”.
Of course, it would still never taste as good as a nice cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, and it would leave many doctors more able to concentrate their efforts on people with serious conditions.