Comfort Food and the American Worker

I don’t like to cook. Nor, for that matter, am I all that enamored of baking. It’s quite sad actually because my grandmother was fantastic in the kitchen; she could effortlessly whip up a kugel or get the weekly Sunday roast on the table with ease. My grandpa owned a butcher shop as did his parents before him. (That picture at the top of the post is from a receipt book from my great grandmother’s store on 10th & Hadley in Milwaukee, Wi – circa 1920 or so).  Somehow though the cooking gene didn’t get downloaded into my DNA.

My mother is a passable cook (hi Mom!) and my daughter is a whiz in the kitchen who loves to spend hours experimenting with new things and replicating old family favorites. Thankfully my husband loves to cook and bake; blessings upon my mother-in-law for teaching him. When he’s in the kitchen, which is quite often, he makes things like bobotjie, melktart and koeksisters. Thanksgiving dinner now means instead of my lackluster attempt at making a pumpkin pie, Mr. S. prepares a Malva Pudding.

When I’m the one in charge of dinner…I call Waitr.

Yet, I realized last night as I found myself IN THE KITCHEN AND AT THE STOVE (!!!), I’ve been cooking an awful lot lately. To the point where I paused for a bit, put down my wine glass, and thought it through. I ran through the several meals, per week, I have cooked over the last month. Granted, nothing spectacular, elegant, adventurous or exotic. Nope; I’ve been cooking “comfort foods.”

Tuna casserole (check). Au Gratin potatoes (check). Bacon and eggs (check). Spaghetti (check). Casseroles, in the US Midwest tradition, made with Campbell’s condensed soups (check). Ice cream for dinner. (check).

Comfort foods. All of them.

In 1966, the Palm Beach Post used the phrase “comfort foods” in a story and it’s often credited as one of the first uses of the phrase: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”

Am I under severe emotional stress? Maybe. I dunno. I have my days. And things have ratcheted up at the office lately so, to some degree, there’s added stress. But nothing that a big old heaping bowl of cheese and carbs can’t satisfy if you know what I mean!

And then, the more I got to thinking about it, the human need for “comfort food” is why so many of the Wellness Programs launched by well-intentioned HR gals/guys are doomed to failure. Not that long ago I had a chat with a fellow HR lady about “Wellness Programs” and we meandered down the same well-worn path; healthy eating, weight loss, blah blah blah.

“I should just replace the junk food in the vending machine so our employees can’t buy crap!” 

“Everyone in Louisiana eats too much fried food; maybe we shouldn’t allow them to bring it on-site!” 

“That macaroni and cheese is just clogging up everyone’s arteries!’

Hey Pam in HR … listen up! There’s a reason, based on decades of research tradition, why donuts are the thing that everyone brings to the office in the morning to share with their coworkers. Walk into an office and saunter up to the coffee pot and you’ll find Kringle, King Cake and Kolaches……….not Kale.

Heading to the office to slog away at some bullshit thankless job for 40+ hours a week is hard enough; don’t take away our cupcakes and give us quinoa cookies.

We want comfort. Or at least a damn big slab of bread pudding.

I Hate Twitter’s 280-Character Limit

At the risk of sounding like the crabby old neighbor lady, waving an upraised fist and shouting “get off my lawn,” let me just say that I despise Twitter’s 280-character limit.

With a passion.

I’ve been hanging on Twitter since 2008, have participated in hundreds of organized chats, been known to tweet along at many a conference or event (one of my annual faves – #rexcomus – just happened), and have relied on the flow of my Twitter stream for both breaking news and levity.

But I am getting exhausted.

I jumped into a chat yesterday and quickly hopped off; I just could not even make the attempt to read the volumes of words flowing down the screen. There were WALLS of text as participants pontificated and wrote lengthy paragraphs when a simple idea or answer would have sufficed.

The fun of a Twitter chat, for me, has always been the fast-pace with quick-hitting (sometime edgy) comments; the platform was designed for rapid-fire banter and discussion.

Not anymore.

When Twitter expanded the available real estate it simply led to more rambling. Gone are the days of users relying on brevity with the need to be succinct, clear and concise.

If you want to be verbose do it on Facebook.

Or LinkedIn; I don’t read much over there anymore either.

Is it Ever Time to STOP Chasing a Dream?

The internet, magazines and even the backs-of-cereal-boxes are filled with inspirational messages, stories and exhortations. Quotes abound as HR bloggers, career coaches and life style experts share words of encouragement:

There’s big business to be had by inspiring others, pushing people to develop good habits, live their authentic lives and clarify their goals and aspirations. Depending upon one’s outlook it’s easy enough to find motivation of the spiritual, religious, financial or career-focused type. Future focused human beings, with a desire to improve their lives, may set goals and dream big as part of a deeper search for personal meaning. People may have aspirations in order to overcome adversity stemming from the death of a family member, the ending of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Sometimes it’s just a bit of restlessness or a lingering feeling that they can find enjoyment and fulfillment by doing something ‘more’ than merely holding a spot on this whirling planet we call Earth.

Positive thinking is great; much better, in my opinion, to look for opportunities than employ a “woe is me; I can’t change things” mindset.

But after a recent conversation I got to wondering if there is any validity to the opinion that there’s a shelf-life on dreams.

  • “You don’t have that many years to work before retirement; perhaps you just need to be happy where you are.”
  • “What more could you want? You have a pretty great life.”
  • “Isn’t your current life enough to make you happy?”
  • “You’ve accomplished a lot; isn’t it time to take it easy?”

I know a lot of dreamers. In some cases I could refer to them as idealists or even visionaries. I run into numerous early or mid-stage career HR professionals who know, with certainty, their desired career path; moving into a CHRO role or shifting from a generalist path to a specialization in OD or Learning and Performance. I recently met a guy who wanted to be a professional musician but put that on hold in order to take over his family’s business a few decades ago; but now he’s gigging with various bands and the plan is alive to work towards a recording contract.

Is there an expiration date on dreams? I don’t think so. 

“I’m going to dream. Maybe one day I’ll be disappointed that things didn’t work out exactly

as I’d planned, that I didn’t get to write for National Geographic, pen a bestselling novel

or win a literary award, but I will have challenged myself to reach a level that I didn’t

think I could. I would have enjoyed the process, had fun, and even for a little while,

believed all things possible.”

Mridu Khullar Relph