When I was a kid, one of the most amazing commercials ever created would run in between reruns of Seinfeld and Friends. The short, sexy saxophone-infused ad for Viennetta, a British frozen dessert cake, is at the same time deeply hilarious, and strangely...beautiful? It was instantly mesmerizing to a fey little child like me.
The commercial showed me a lot in life I then could not obtain: a sleek apartment in a high-rise, a slice of dessert in a Champagne glass, and the chic black glass dining room table it rested upon. It was one of my dreams to eat one, which I never got the chance to do. When I finally got to try the Viennetta (recently, actually), it unleashed a floodgate of happy nostalgia which yanked me back to simpler, happier times. That’s when I realized I had a whole go-to diet of wonderful, terrible snacks from my childhood that I’ve returned to in quarantine. I thought I might have grown out of them, but these foods were delicious then — and my adult taste buds can confirm that they still are.
With the pandemic still holding us hostage, we all need a little bit more comfort. According to a September 2020 survey, a market research firm discovered that the average person is enjoying comfort meals at least five times a week and snacks six times a week.
The breakdown of another new poll of 2,000 Americans found that two in three are reverting to childhood food favorites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. These include pizza (55%), hamburgers (48%), ice cream (46%), French fries (45%), mac and cheese (38%), spaghetti and meatballs (32%) and more processed deliciousness.
Good memories often involve food — this is because when we are feeling isolated and lonely or sad, the strongest memories in our brain are activated to give us comfort. You craving that giant bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with hotdog slices on top is not just your hunger malfunctioning: It’s your brain saying “there, there, kiddo, it’ll be over soon.”
Even more research suggests that while nostalgia has proven to be a rather negative or ambivalent emotion, nostalgic food consumption is rather related to positive emotions. Buy that burger, if it makes you think of your childhood.
To a young queer sproutling such as myself, a ruffled ice cream cake was literally the most fancy thing to ever exist on earth (to me). So, it achieved an almost fantasy-like aura since it was discontinued in the US in the early ‘90s. Even as an adult, I held the cake on a pedestal. It’d remain a marker of sophistication and elusiveness until I got to try one (they’re back, thankfully).
The ice cream cake is divine, as expected. It sort of reminds me of a bunch of those Magnum Ice cream bars kind of smashed together, with the hard chocolate shell layer between thin layers of vanilla ice cream. The Viennetta was not alone while it was here (I ate it in two days). It simply joined my other childhood favorites — frosted cherry-flavored Pop-Tarts, Jimmy Dean sausage, Eggo waffles with enough salted butter to place in each valley, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Milky Way candy bars, cheddar broccoli Mac and Cheese, (specifically those supermarket envelope ones from Lipton since I was a very snooty child), and of course, my one true love: Cinnabon.
Food that jacks up endorphins for any reason is crucial right now, at least for me, since the pandemic has sparked dark feelings of isolation. If it feels like you’re in a dimension all your own, something that might snap you back is something processed and divine.
With that in mind, I recently watched YouTube star Emma Chamberlain’s clip on her own food nostalgia during a particularly stressful Wednesday afternoon, and even though this is the first I’ve seen of her, hearing someone else’s fond funny memories of food they love made me feel a little better. Apparently a lot of people, about 5.7 million, have the feels for the childhood stories attached to Chamberlain’s favorites: Pop Tarts and Chicken-flavored Cup O’ Noodles.
Look, it makes perfect sense that the decadent snacks with associate with our childhoods — ones so rife with salt, sugar, and weird dyes we definitely shouldn’t be eating now — comfort us right now. Their smell, taste, and texture conjures memories or video games, playing outside, and a life before rent, deadlines, and Zoom calls.