As the weather gets cooler here in the northeast, one is inclined to eat rich hearty foods. The soup lists on menus are getting longer and the warm food trays at buffets are looking better and better. I am craving mashed potatoes. (That probably has nothing to do with the weather). As someone who tries to eat whole foods and fresh vegetables as much as possible, the cold weather is a challenge for me. I don’t care for salads in the cold weather, no matter how savory they may appear to be. I crave warm foods, starch and calories. But alas, the whole food edict is helpful in assuaging these desires and leading me down the road of roasted vegetables. As I approached the starch filled lunch line at work today, the question on my mind today was, “Why do we crave hearty foods in the cold”?
My first impulse is to say that we need to insulate ourselves. To some extent, depending on where you live, this is certainly true. But after a bit of research,* this hypothesis does not satisfy me.
However, it did lead me to find some data on another thought I had. “What if we’re stockpiling for winter”? It turns out that there is research that, while not conclusive, suggests that as it begins to get darker sooner, we begin to eat more. Whether that’s out of boredom or a natural hibernation instinct, I can’t say.
But it is third and most soulful possible conclusion that I relate to the most. As it gets cooler, we lead into the holiday season where memories quite often collide with food. In my family, there are a few favorites. Turkey dinners for my mother. Shepard’s pie, a stew or a roast for my father. And for my brother… Aunt Peggy’s legendary meat pie.** I confess that I don’t have one food that is my go to. I just like food. Really well made, preferably healthy, food. But whole foods and vegetable diet be damned, for the past week, I have been craving that meat pie like a lion craves an antelope. Bring it on!
Putting aside the irrational arguments for the health content of the meat pie that my family often makes, I know that our communal craving is not just the taste. It’s the activity. Meat pies are made with love. The meat is seasoned and slowly cooked. The crust is laid into the very specifically chosen pan with great focus and care. When cooked and drained, the meat is poured into its shell with such anticipation. As a child, helping to break the pieces of cheddar cheese and carefully laying it on top of the meat, making sure that the entire surface was coated with cheese was a very pleasing task for me. And of course, we would now lay on the top blanket, the soon to be crust , by artfully placing the croissant dough triangles on top, while trying to keep aside a reserve of dough. But the best part, truly, to this day, is deciding what to “draw” on the top crust with the leftover dough. When the pie hits the table, everyone looks to see what the lovingly drawn image is before cutting into the pie. Memories. So many beautiful memories. Often, after the meal was through and the leftover pie was placed carefully in the fridge (the leftovers are even better), my mother would call my aunt and tell her the tale of the evening’s meal. My sweet, funny, loving aunt would go on about how it is always a crowd pleaser and how now she would have to make one. Family. It’s not just about taste. It’s about family.
I guess in the end, for regular, everyday people, it does not matter why we crave more calories in the winter. It matters that we do so healthfully and mindfully. Roasting vegetables. Limiting gravy and fatty contents. Keeping a holistic approach to eating while allowing ourselves a few of the treats that the cold weather traditions bring. And when we are dining with loved ones, that we eat up the very special gift that we have with them, time.
**If this recipe is really owned by Pillsbury. Sorry. We’re giving Aunt Peggy the credit.)
***Check out some of my mother’s blog entries at https://diaryofadedicateddiabetic.wordpress.com.
(This is the video of the chipmunk in the photo above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTjGNhuPl2c)