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The Search for Comfort (Food) on Election Night

Eating right helps regulate our moods and actions, but that’s easier said than done during the most chaotic election in decades

The last time that America had to vote about Donald Trump, we all ended up with more on our plates. I don’t mean that as a metaphor. Literally, a food-tracking app observed a 3.6 percent bump in calories consumed on Election Day 2016 compared to the average Tuesday. 

In the aftermath of that election, people started realizing that they were eating more calories than usual as a low-grade coping mechanism for the dull, throbbing stress of being governed by a fool with a terminal case of Wannabe Dictator Syndrome. The Boston Globe and NPR called it the “Trump 10,” and the phenomenon has hung around for years; a 2018 midterm poll conducted by YouGov found that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than their Republican brethren to admit they’re “eating their feelings” because of the political climate. 

No wonder a bunch of national brands are offering free food today. What better way to hook a new clientele than by seducing peeved-out citizens with the comforts of greasy, sugary foods like donuts and pizza, to sate us as we stare into the sociopolitical abyss?

Ironically, I don’t even remember what I ate on election night four years ago. What I learned from that night is to avoid copious amounts of alcohol; I recall trudging four blocks to a liquor store to grab a handle of Bulleit bourbon at 11:45 p.m., when my friends and I realized Trump was likely going to win this thing. We awoke feeling like shit the next day, blearily staring into Twitter to the rhythm of a thousand beating drums inside our skulls. I swore I would no longer drink a bunch of whiskey on a near-empty stomach, no matter how nauseous I feel about the sustainability of American representative democracy or the endless trampling of progressive ambitions in 2020. 

But what to eat? 

My appetite feels like it’s fading every minute. Lacking inspiration, I reached out to several people I know in the world of politics who are observing the election with great anticipation, wondering what they’ll be consuming to stay sane. 

Political science expert David Faris, who teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago, is looking forward to a homemade lasagna, made by a friend that he and his family have been living with during the pandemic. “As for drinks, I’m prepared for all eventualities — a bottle of nice champagne if things go blue early, Bulleit whiskey for the worst-case scenario, Press Hard Seltzer as something to keep me busy while we twiddle our thumbs during the counting,” Faris adds. 

For criminal law expert Jody David Armour, comfort comes via classic dishes that recall his upbringing, identity and Black history: Slowly braised oxtails over rice, with a side of yams and collard greens with cornbread. Bay Area labor organizer Andrea Lu tells me she’s probably going to order a giant box of donuts. Josh Goodman, a longtime Democrat activist based in New York City, is settling down on the couch at home with two hot pizzas.  

It’s not much of a coincidence that these dishes fit the bill of classic comfort foods, with a rich mix of fat, carbs and sugar. Research has shown time and again that these compounds help release dopamine into the part of the brain responsible for pleasure and generate natural painkillers in the body. We learn, through our lifetimes of eating, that certain foods — especially nostalgic ones — can boost our moods and liven our bodies. It’s called the “comfort food premise,” and while it’s extremely subjective to each person, our favorite tastes help us ground ourselves to something familiar during times of distress. 

Of course, not everyone has an appetite. Like me, my old boss and mentor Jon Regardie, a longtime writer and observer of L.A. politics, has hit a wall on making any interesting food plans. “Usually a meal or beverage would be celebratory, and I just can’t feel celebratory given the absolute uncertainty surrounding tomorrow night. It’s not even that I’m expecting dread and thus looking to drown sorrows. It’s simple uncertainty that makes me know I’ll have my customary one Fat Tire and a nice, if not special, dinner,” he tells me. 

The lack of enthusiasm is mirrored by my friend Matt Kang, the editor of food news site Eater LA. He’s weighing the pros and cons between a rotisserie chicken dinner or Japanese pork katsu curry, two of his favorite comfort-food dishes from local restaurants. “I’m gonna eat something easy in case things make me sick to my stomach,” he explains. “But my only concrete plan at the moment is to sit in my garage and smoke a massive cigar while watching the election results roll in. I have an 8.5-inch La Gloria Cubana from the Dominican Republic that I reserve for occasions like tomorrow.” 

All I know is that I can’t stick to booze all night like I did four years ago; skipping a meal because of stress just makes you more stressed out, after all. So following the lead of everyone I spoke to, I’ll lean on the familiar and soothing. I’m planning on not watching the live results, but a part of me knows that I won’t be able to resist the allure of doomscrolling through The Hellscape Known as Twitter. If that’s the case, the least I can do is try and nourish my body, and take some small pleasure in good food made well. 

I’m thinking a big platter of Hainanese chicken rice from the shop three blocks away. Then maybe two large orders of McDonald’s fries, in the hope that the fat and salt will stave off the anxiety. And maybe a CBD seltzer instead of whiskey, this time around.