So you’ve eaten something and it feels like a rock has landed in your stomach. Congratulations, you’ve experienced the World of Stodge. If this is your first time, you’re either a small child or very sheltered indeed. In either case, you’re likely aware of the somewhat poor reputation stodgy food holds. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to explore this.
According to my skilled and thorough research (or something), the word ‘stodgy’ has two meanings. One is the familiar food-based meaning, ‘heavy, filling, and high in carbohydrates’. The other is more general, ‘dull and uninspired; lacking originality or excitement’, and can describe anything from a badly written food-based article, to someone’s personality.
Let’s break this conversation down into three parts, ‘The Good’, ‘The Bad’ and ‘The Ugly’. This serves the dual purpose of being easier to follow, and making me feel clever for fitting in a film reference. You can decide for yourself which of those reasons I consider more important.
The Good — “What could possibly be good about stodgy food?” you ask, stupidly. Well, as someone whose most celebrated cultural foods consists of pies and puddings, I say there’s a lot of good with stodgy food. Probably more than I’m going to mention here, but I’ll give it a good go. The first point is fairly situational, but I don’t care. If you live in a cold country and it’s blowing a gale outside with freezing rain, you do not want a beautiful, delicate and fresh meal. You want something hot and filling and substantial. You want stodge. Stodgy foods are the masters of comfort food. This doesn’t mean that stodgy food is necessarily unhealthy (in moderation) or poor quality food. A carbohydrate heavy meal isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when it’s cold and you’re fatigued, this kind of food can provide the energy boost needed to keep you going. I’m not talking about the fast acting energy that other foods provide, if anything, stodgy food can slow you down considerably. But that dense feeling in your stomach is slow burn energy. It’s the coal your internal fire needs, rather than the paper that burns quickly and easily.
The second good point is that stodgy food is delicious. This is always what I consider the most important thing to consider with food. Food is designed to be eaten, delicious food is what makes this design worthwhile. I come from the land of stodgy food, and you can keep your light broths and beautifully balanced salad dishes or whatever. I’ll keep my pies and puddings and potatoes. I’m not saying that I only like stodgy food, but I do have a firm appreciation for it. It’s not necessarily a lazy dish either. Try making a proper pie (none of this pot pie rubbish) and actually cook the pastry properly. While having a well seasoned and delicious filling to boot. How about a Yorkshire pudding? All of these things are unashamedly lovely and will happily weigh you down like you’ve just eaten an anvil. Try eating a proper sticky toffee pudding and tell me to my face that you’d rather have a fruit salad. If you can’t eat gluten, don’t despair. Potatoes exist. Embrace them and rejoice. Fancy something else? Go to Poland, eat a hundred pierogis and cry happy tears as you settle down for an hour or twelve. Life is fleeting and delightful if you let it.
Finally, as I’ve realised I’ve yet to tackle ‘Bad’ and ‘Ugly’, stodgy food is usually very good value for money. Especially if we’re talking calories. Because of the ‘slow burn’ aspect mentioned earlier, you’re unlikely to need to eat for a while. This is mostly true with good value stodgy food, which isn’t designed to have you coming back for more (fast food can have this issue, an hour later and you’re hungry again) and so can keep a large, hungry family going. For instance, a decent stew can cost very little to make. You’ve got cheap meat, some vegetables (I recommend onions, carrots, swede and potato for a basic British stew) and a liquid, preferably stock (water will work). After a several of hours and some decent seasoning work, you can have a meal that can last for days. It can be served as is, or with bread, dumplings, or mashed potatoes to stretch it even further. This meal takes very little active cooking time to make, it’s pretty tasty, cheap and will also save a busy family even more time with the leftovers. Almost every country has a similar ‘peasant’ stew or soup which is designed for this purpose, ranging from Eastern European borsht to the delightful West Indian curried goat.
It looks like I’m contractually obligated to talk about ‘The Bad’ when it comes to stodgy food. The first thing I want to mention is the bad reputation. This way I’m not actually criticising it, but my format still works. The definition I mentioned earlier was actually quite neutral, at least on the food side. The Cambridge dictionary definition is far more damning, condemning this food to be ‘heavy and unhealthy, something in an unpleasant way’. This isn’t wholly incorrect, the ‘heavy’ aspect at least. However, as I’ve already mentioned, not all stodgy food is unhealthy. That British stew I mentioned earlier could only be considered unhealthy if you served each portion with an entire block of cheese. Even then, that’s a lot of calcium. So what’s with the bad reputation? One reason is that this food simply isn’t fashionable. It’s not glamourous and usually cheap and cheerful and common. Because of this, it’s very easy to have very bad stodgy food. Every dish needs to be done well to be enjoyable. But this kind of food that’s usually cheap and calorie dense is the favourite of restaurants and other food outlets that aren’t gunning for quality. They’re gunning to cut costs even more and to shovel out as much food as possible as efficiently as possible. Sometimes this isn’t too terrible. Sometimes you just want junk and that’s fine. But that’s how this reputation that all stodgy food is unhealthy and unpleasant forms.
Another point that should be mentioned is that, while I will defend the stodge until my dying breath, it’s not always the best food for your mood. Maybe it’s one of the four days of Summer and you’re fighting the urge to rip your skin off. Or you actually live in a warm country, I’ve heard these places exist. The last thing you’re going to want is a stinking great pile of suet dumplings drowning in hot gravy. Maybe you ate heavily the day before and your puny digestive system needs a break. Maybe you don’t like pastry and potatoes. That’s right, some people just don’t like stodgy food. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, it’s just not for you. That’s okay, I’ll eat it instead. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why it might not be the right time for this kind of food and I’m just too lazy to list them all.
Finally, The Ugly. I mentioned earlier that stodgy food isn’t glamourous or fashionable. Usually, even if you try your hardest, stodgy food is not pretty. You can decorate your pie all you like, it’s still a yellow pastry shell surrounding delicious mush. It’s not meant to be pretty. Sure, it can be appetising and mouth watering, but it’s definitely not art on a plate. It’s meant to be shovelled in your mouth and to then dwell forevermore in your stomach. Stodgy food is ugly and that’s fine.
During my ‘research’, I found out that ‘stodgy’ is both a British word and apparently a synonym for all British food. This… Yeah, this makes sense.