Filling the void with food

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many people started eating like they’ve never eaten before. Business at local supermarkets reflects this change, with more market shoppers than usual. And despite a decline in business in the first months after 9-11, restaurants are on the rebound.

By Brittany L. Turek/Special to The Malibu Times

In times of tragedy, people often turn to food or alcohol as a means to find comfort, hence the phrase “comfort foods.” During the weeks following the events of Sept. 11, many people used food to fill the numb void left in their souls by the terrorist attacks.

Jasmine French (not her real name), a 21-year-old actress and Malibu resident, has battled anorexia, as well as mild bulimia, for the past two years. After turning on the news that Tuesday morning, however, “something just clicked,” said French. “I sat glued to the television for a week straight, in total shock. And honestly, I just stuffed my face with whatever junk happened to be in my pantry. Then I went to the grocery store and bought even more junk.”

French had not eaten bread, cereal, red meat, chocolate, or any other food containing even 1 percent of fat in nearly a year.

“I must have gained at least 10 pounds in a week,” she said laughing. “Part of my mind was totally fighting what I was doing because I felt so guilty for eating that much, while the other part was like, ‘You know what? Enough is enough!’ I’m tired of wreaking havoc on my body. I want to be healthy. So I’ve been exercising a lot and talking to a nutritionist and basically just trying to develop a normal, healthy lifestyle.

“It’s hard watching my body change,” she admitted. “But if I’ve learned anything [since Sept. 11] it’s that life can be taken away like that! I’m not going to kill myself anymore over whether I’m a size 5 or not.”

Like French, many Malibu residents have been purchasing more food from the supermarkets, as opposed to dining out.

HOWS Trancas Market owner/manager Paul Hughes feels there’s been a slight increase in business since the tragedy.

“I think people are staying at home and buying more food. Not necessarily comfort food, they’re just eating at home more. We’re very happy with the way things are [in the business]. It’s very seasonal. We go up in summer, come down in winter, but we’re as good or better than last year. We’ve got to be satisfied with that.”

“I know the economy’s not doing well, but people have to eat,” agreed an employee at Ralphs. “And our liquor sales have increased dramatically in the last month or two.” He admitted, however, that the upcoming holidays could be more responsible for the increase in liquor sales than the terrorist attacks.

Pacific Coast Greens manager Stephen Mitchell feels sales in the industry have been affected. “Not really brutally, though,” he said.

Being a health-conscious market, PC Greens is mostly a market that’s “comfort-based/income-based,” said Mitchell. “It’s not really pure necessity. It’s more gourmet. I wouldn’t call it comfort food, so much.”

Mitchell thinks the store has held up pretty well, though, because “we provide people with services that are fairly necessary.”

Mitchell also said that a “great deal more people are staying home during the holidays. He noted the customer base for PC Greens stayed steady during the Thanksgiving holiday, saying that usually numbers drop during this time.

Whether or not supermarkets are affected, restaurants in Malibu initially experienced a decline in business.

PierView Cafe saw a “dramatic drop-off in the later part of September,” said manager Mary Elliott. “It was real eerie for three weeks. Everyone was in state of shock, just walking around like they didn’t know what to do. And business really did drop, in terms of not only the volume, but the spirit.”

Although business was down slightly for a couple of weeks after Sept. 11, employees at Duke’s Malibu didn’t notice much of a decline.

“That’s not generally what’s happened with other restaurants I’ve talked to, though,” said Duke’s employee Gaven Whapshre. “Compared to other businesses we’ve been very fortunate. I think we’ve been very fortunate in that people want to come to the beach and get away from the TV.”

Elliott agrees.

“We’re starting to see an incline in our business, which is a good thing. Typically in the winter (or what you consider winter here) it’s a slower time, but [the customers] are starting to come back out. Especially our drinking crowd. It’s heavier than it’s been in months. Even since before Sept. 11.”

Elliott also believes that families are beginning to go out more often to spend quality time with their loved ones.

“We’re seeing a lot more families for dinner,” she said. “I see normality coming back. We’re starting to see a turn-around.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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