As I wrote last week, to live is to be completely immersed in a sensuous environment, the often overlooked background atmosphere that deeply effects how we feel about life from moment to moment.
Food and drink are a symbol of that sensuous environment because they are a constant source of the small pleasures in life that make life meaningful and satisfying.
If that is right, then the home is the place where happiness is enacted.
At home, we are surrounded by a plenitude of familiar sensations, and food and drink are a prominent part of that atmosphere, the aromas and flavors permeating our lived experience throughout much of the day.
At least that is how it was in the past. The home used to a place of relaxation (unless the housework was unfairly burdening some household members and not others.) It was a place were we could fully engage with this sensuous dimension, without the distractions or turmoil of commerce. This is, unfortunately, no longer true for many of us working from home. Working from home has lots of advantages. But one of its complications is that, when work penetrates the home, the spell of that sensuous plenum is broken.
Many predict that working from home is the new normal as business see the advantage of cutting costs by eliminating the office building.
In this new reality, food and wine become even more important. As a symbol of that sensuous environment, they provide us with the feeling of the world receding even when it isn’t. The enjoyment of being immersed in the sensuous plenum of the home teaches us that this experience of enjoyment has intrinsic value—it serves no other purpose and is not reducible to its usefulness. In the midst of a busy work day, taking the time to savor is essential for mental health.
For this experience, the quality of the food and wine matters. But its goodness is the goodness of direct, unmediated pleasure that does not require fine discrimination or intellectualizing. Its goodness is not recognized through critical judgment. We are simply drawn to its quality and can sense it. Its goodness announces itself to us.
This is the nature of comfort food. The quality of the food expresses our dominion, our control over nature, our ability to create surplus and overcome need even when the phone is ringing, the Instant messenger is pinging.