Food and Culture / Robinson Crusoe

The True Meaning of Comfort Food

This week we have read well into Robinson Crusoe, analyzing his shipwreck and subsequent adaptation to the island through the lens of Levi Strauss’ “Culinary Triangle.” In this post I hope to go over some points from Robinson Crusoe that I found interesting when viewed through this context, and relate it to my own experiences with food as a reflection upon American food culture.
First, on Crusoe’s obsession with bread. From the beginning of the novel, we see him refer to his food or his winnings as “his bread”. It is frequently mentioned when he is aboard ship, and the first thing he goes for when salvaging the ship wreck is “bread-room” where he “fills his pockets with biscuits” (an image I found to be entertaining). At great lengths he describes the growth of the corn with its purpose being to create grain. In short, bread is Crusoe’s comfort food: food that nourishes the body and the soul, and provides a memory of home. I will wager a bet that every member of the class, no matter their nationality, background or upbringing, can relate to this concept, if not the phrase itself. While Barthes does not use this term explicitly, I believe he would concur that not only food but comfort food is a universal experience.
Particularly interesting is the relationship between comfort food and family. Touching back on my post from last week and modern review culture, you could go to a restaurant that has the “best rated” chili in the world, but your Grandma Dean or Uncle Joe will inevitably still make it better. This is only intended as an example, and replace the dish and family member as you wish, but I believe we will all inevitably have our biases towards certain dishes or types of food cooked by our family. I see this as more evidence as food being inextricably linked to one’s culture. However, I also realize that the example of food as a shared, familial experience is a stark contrast to Crusoe’s solitude.
Finally, I found Strauss’ theorization of a “Culinary Triangle” to serve as an important layer to be added upon Barthes’ thoughts. While the triangle is universal, and in every culture there is the raw, the cooked, and the rotten, there were numerous examples in the texts and in lecture where this framework exemplifies cultural differences. Crusoe lying out grapes to make raisins could be interpreted as leaving them out to rot, just as some could find the notion of fermenting dead fish for a sauce to be ghastly. I felt the thoughts of the two authors were complementary to one-another. Even as Crusoe is forced to re-establish his life, and with it his own food culture, the imprint of his past experience can be seen in all his actions.
w/c: 459
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One thought on “The True Meaning of Comfort Food

  1. I agree with your post about bread being Crusoe’s comfort food. He seems to mention bread more frequently than you would expect, and in multiple contexts. You also mention how a family member’s food could potentially taste better than a critically-acclaimed restaurant’s, due to the memories it invokes. Memories are closely linked with the senses (taste, in this case), so it is interesting that Crusoe’s comfort food is relatively bland and tasteless. It might be that bread is one of the most simple of the “cooked” foods, and Crusoe is simply reaching for the closest shred of culture in his isolation. His attempt to rebuild his own food culture must start with the “cooked”, but once he has established that, he can experiment with the raw or the rotted.

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