Comfort Eating: Food, Drink and Emotional Health in Early Modern England

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This article explores early modern practices of ‘comfort eating’, arguing that they represent a crucial dimension of early modern preventative healthcare. The article argues that ideas of comfort eating were shaped not only by medical understandings of the composition of foods and their impact on the body, particularly on the levels of the four humours, but also by the cultural and social significance of certain foods, along with when, where, and with whom they were eaten. For early modern people, whether a food could provide comfort depended on its perceived medical properties, the quantities in which it was eaten, its social capital, and its use in other areas of daily life that were known to promote cheerfulness such as sharing meals and gift-giving. Focusing on this more holistic approach to emotional healthcare reveals how practices that have normally been defined as largely social in nature, such as gift-giving and hospitality, were viewed and performed through a medical lens, while also demonstrating how techniques for managing the passions seeped into everyday experiences of food consumption and culture. Practices of comfort eating represented a critical tool with which early modern people could manage their emotional health and the health of their wider communities, empowering them to adapt their diets where necessary, create medicines that could cure diseases of the passions, and consider how everyday social codes of hospitality and commensality could have medical implications for the health of their passions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-91
JournalThe English Historical Review
Issue number590-591
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2023


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