Craving Post-Election Comfort, And Finding It In A Reality TV Cooking Show

WBUR Cognoscenti, November 29, 2016

The holidays are nearly here, but where’s the joy? Everywhere I go, everything I read, people are angry. A close friend told me how hard it was to put together their Christmas card. “I can’t write ‘merry,’ I can’t write ‘cheers,’ or ‘wonderful.’ I settled for ‘hope.’”

This despair is not just for the liberals in my life, either; my Republican friends are unhappy, too. I’m not really clear on that one — they won, after all — but their Twitter rants seem worse than before the election.

I read recently about “the Trump Ten,” those extra pounds that have come from post-election stress-eating, that most basic act of succor. My husband and I are bingeing in a different way, watching the reality TV show “Chopped,” featuring host Ted Allen, four contestants and celebrity chef judges whose names I can’t even remember. But when Ted asks, “Which of them… will be chopped?” I sink a little more deeply into my couch and sigh with contentment. And that feeling is otherwise very hard to come by right now.

I have tried to figure this out. There are other shows on our watchlist. There’s “Srugim,” about modern Orthodox Jews dating in Jerusalem. It’s an Israeli “Friends,” but with more drama. It’s great, but you have to read subtitles. You can’t just listen and look at Facebook on your laptop. There’s “Veep,” which until recently seemed far-fetched. And there’s a sad, bittersweet rerun of the “Sopranos.” All different moods, each satisfying. But night after night, it’s “Chopped” for me.

I’m stuck on “Chopped” it’s because it is the ultimate escape. You don’t have to think at all. You don’t even feel. You just look at the basket of four bizarre ingredients and watch them become gorgeous meals.

You might think, charitably, that my addiction to “Chopped” has helped me cook better. You’d be wrong. I’m still buying ready-made entrees at Whole Foods. The only difference is, when I call my husband of 32 years in for dinner, I now say, “I’m plating!”

So many, it seems, are dealing with post-election blues. “Chopped” is helping me contend with mine at a time when my mind feels as dull as a butter knife. It’s as though all the bright flashing hope I felt during the campaign, all my brilliant, Nate Silver-certainty turned into a hot coal the moment I woke up and saw the red maps.

What is the best strategy for dealing with what lies ahead? Perhaps not escape via binge-watching “Chopped.” So I will continue reading my friends’ calls to action on Facebook, and I will keep considering which of the actions they urge I should take. We need momentum, not complacency. But then I wonder: Is it possible to live for a long period in a state of white hot anger? Might I risk becoming numb to it?

Numbness — giving up — would be the worst thing I could do. But maybe if I put it all aside for a little while, for the holidays, maybe I will rise up even stronger. Wait for the New Year, the inauguration, the million women march to renew my energy.

So my plan of action for now is to turn away from the screaming media and focus on my own cutting boards for just a few weeks. Because more than anything, right now, I really need to feed my soul.