Toast-y Feelings: Comfort Food and Memory
by Georgia Jeffrey
Toast (2010) is a film that nourishes the soul. It is a biographical motion picture based on British celebrity chef Nigel Slater’s book Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger (2003). The audience is taken on a journey that looks back on Slater’s childhood and discovers what precipitated his love for food. Slater’s mother, Kathleen, is depicted as a loving but hopeless cook while his father struggles to show affection to his son. After the death of his mother at a young age and the introduction of a culinary-gifted but dismissive step-mother, Nigel must seek affection from elsewhere, in the kitchen.
The film is an exploration of memory, gender roles, sexuality and comfort food. One scene in particular, after which the book and film were named, depicts the role of memory and comfort in food (0:04:56). Nigel’s biological mother hopelessly tries to boil a tinned meal in a pot, which burns when she is distracted. Her response, “I think I better make some toast,” is a line Slater relates to his mother and her failed cooking attempts. The film cuts to a long shot of the family at the dinner table. Muted tones and dull lighting emphasize the feeling of disappointment from Nigel’s father. A brief silence is followed by the overwhelming sound of crunching. The camera zooms to a medium close-up of Nigel’s face displaying a wry smile as he crunches through the crust. His internal dialogue plays over the shot “no matter how bad things get, it’s impossible not to love someone who made you toast.” This dialogue is paired with natural lighting illuminating the left side of his face portraying a moment of sublimity. Nigel goes on to break the fourth wall with a look of acknowledgment and pleasure that many of the audience will understand.
Roth (2017) argues that comfort food does not necessarily have to be the food that you like the most, but that it is often entwined with the memory of a loved one. “Food items become comfort foods because people are repeatedly exposed to them in the presence of relational partners” (188). They are often associated with childhood (Jones, 2017). This film confirms Roth’s (2017) idea that nostalgia does not depend on a happy childhood; “in fact, it often recreates a fictional one, glossing over difference and conflict to construct a more harmonious past” (196). In this instance, toast comforts Nigel as he relates it to the memory of his late mother. He finds her lack of culinary knowledge endearing.
Jones, M. (2017). “Stressed” Spelled Backwards Is “Desserts”: Self-Medicating Moods with Foods. In: M. Jones and L. Long, ed., Comfort Food: Meanings and Memories, 1st ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp.17-41.
Roth, L. (2017). Comfort (and Discomfort) Food: Social Surrogacy and Embodied Memory in Real and Reel Life. In: M. Jones and L. Long, ed., Comfort Food: Meanings and Memories, 1st ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp.182-207.
Slater, N. (2003). Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger. London: Gotham Books.
Toast. (2010). [film] Directed by S. Clarkson. UK: BBC Films.