- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Forget about the 2016 election. There’s talk of chili and cornbread, pasta with meat sauce, coffee cake, grits, grilled cheese sandwiches and wine - lots of wine. As the eastern half of the nation faces down a formidable blizzard, major news organizations are homing in on what’s keeping the population together.

Comfort food plays a hefty role here, as does a captive audience. An estimated 75 million people have been affected by the weather event, a phenomenon that the media has not overlooked. Subsequently, hundreds of reports have appeared in the last 24 hours detailing what to eat, and how to cook it.

Fox News has provided its viewers with seven recipes “to keep you warm,” including porchetta with bacon and slow cooker chicken and dumplings. The New York Times is asking readers to share their blizzard cuisine; the snowbound have responded in force with apple pie, beef stew, macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding - “also good for hurricanes” the contributor noted.

ABC News offered recipes for pot roast, celebrity chef Rachel Ray’s Buffalo chicken chili and and maple bacon hot chocolate. The network also suggested pairings with Netflix programming for those opting to binge watch. The International Business Times chimed in with directions for cream biscuits, snow pancakes and roast chicken.

Beyond the news media’s zeal to maintain their audiences during crisis, there’s some science involved, of course. An extensive study from the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of the South explained it all in scientific terms: “Comfort food triggers relationship-related cognitions and can fulfill belongingness.” Other studies have found that comfort foods don’t actually boost moods; a blizzard simply gives people an excuse to indulge in their favorite goodies. Or they may just be vulnerable.

“Consumer behavior experts have theories about why we respond to an impending weather disturbance by filling our carts with dark chocolate gelato and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Storm preparedness - wrapping up everything at the office, getting into your minivan and making a run to the nearest grocery store for batteries - is so psychologically exhausting, that once you’re at the store, anything goes (into your cart),” writes Lavanya Ramanathan, a correspondent for The Independent, based in the nation’s capital.

“Basically, your ability to resist temptations is reduced,” Ravi Dhar, director of the Center for Customer Insights and professor of psychology at Yale University, told the reporter. “Mental stress can have an effect on the type of food you choose.”

“Behaviour experts call this ‘mental depletion.’ The obvious answer becomes Funfetti cake,” Ms.Ramanathan noted.

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