A Nation Turns to Comfort Food

— -- The Sept. 11 terror attacks had a profound impact on the United States, and the effects are still rippling across American society in large and small ways. Here is a periodic wrap-up of some of them.

Sikh Killing Suspect Could Face Death Penalty

M E S A, Ariz., Nov. 7 — A prosecutor plans to seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing an Indian immigrant after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Frank Roque, 42, is accused of shooting Balbir Singh Sodhi as he stood outside his Mesa convenience store Sept. 15. Sodhi wore a turban and a beard as part of his Sikh faith.

Roque is quoted in police reports as saying "all Arabs had to be shot" and he wanted to "slit some Iranians' throats."

Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley said he decided to seek the death penalty after conferring with Sodhi's family and the government of India, the East Valley Tribune reported Tuesday.

Authorities also allege that Roque shot at a convenience store owned by a man from Lebanon and at his former home, now occupied by a family from Afghanistan.

Arizona's hate-crime law cannot be used as a reason for seeking the death penalty. Instead, the state must prove at least one of 10 aggravating circumstances; Romley wouldn't say which one he will cite.

— The Associated Press

A Nation Turns to Comfort Food

I R V I N E, Calif., Nov. 7 — Robert Zumberge can't seem to get enough cowboy coffee — a steaming concoction of hot java and dark chocolate miniatures. For Kim Almquist, it's candy.

There's something comforting about certain foods, something that feels good after so much bad news that started with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"What's one more chocolate?" asked Almquist, 24. "It seems a little strange to be obsessing about something like that when there's so much more going on."

Zumberge, 49, typically would think twice about indulging his sweet coffee craving. "But now? Not so much," he says.

People across the country have turned to food — from chocolate to instant mashed potatoes to peanut butter and jelly — to deal with the anxiety of the terrorist attacks and anthrax scares, according to dietitians and psychologists.

"It's hard to measure because people don't know they are doing it. But you're hearing it and you're seeing it," said Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"The No. 1 predictor of diet failure is stress. The last two months, without question, whether people feel it or not, has been a very stressful time. People aren't thinking about eating healthy."

It's a point punctuated by a recent A.C. Nielsen survey of grocery store sales that showed a spike in comfort food purchases. It found snack food sales increased nearly 12.4 percent in September over the previous year; the sale of instant potatoes jumped almost 13 percent, according to Information Resources Inc.

Even Weight Watchers groups have reported an unusual number of members saying the attacks have added an element of stress in maintaining their diets.

"There's been a lot of discussion in meeting rooms. In addition to talking about food, they are talking about emotions. It's unusual to have the same topic on the top of everybody's minds and have it pose the same problems," said spokeswoman Linda Webb Carilli.

In New York, marketing consultant and trend watcher Faith Popcorn said she believes comfort eating won't disappear any time soon.

"It's not going to play itself out. I think it's going to get deeper," she said.

She admits she's fallen victim to it, too. "I'm eating as much as I possibly can. I'm eating M&Ms and potato chips and soggy, soaky foods," she said. "It's stress."

— The Associated Press

America Dressing Down After Sept. 11

N E W Y O R K, Nov. 7 — Last November, Anna Carrillo spent $200 on a fancy dress to wear to holiday parties. This year, she expects to go more casual and buy leggings and a sparkly sweater.

"Usually, I go to a lot of holiday parties. This year, it will be a lot more low-key, and I will be spending more time at home with friends and family," said Carrillo, 29, of Los Angeles. "Under the circumstances, you want to spend time with your loved ones, rather than just going out."

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, America is expecting a subdued holiday season, and many shoppers want clothes to match the mood.

That does not bode well for stores stocked with formal holiday wear like brightly colored dresses and beaded ballgowns. Stores that rent or sell tuxedos are also bracing for a difficult holiday.

Already, Macy's has reported that women's black pants and simple black dresses are among its best sellers. Talbot's said shoppers are buying more casual looks, pairing long skirts with sweaters. Men's clothier Paul Stuart said its simple black cashmere blazer is replacing the standard tuxedo in customers' holiday wardrobes.

And the color red is just as strong as black, stored reported.

"It is just more patriotic," Carrillo said.

The shift in sentiment came too late for stores to dramatically change their merchandise, though some have cut back orders of fancy dresses in favor of more relaxed looks.

A recent survey of 1,000 consumers by America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C., found that 20 percent of the people who normally go out to parties said they will be spending more time at home.

"Consumers are going to be entertaining more with family, and it will be less about showing off who you are, and more about sharing who you are," said Marian Salzman, worldwide director of strategy and planning for Euro RSCG, a New York-based marketing company.

— The Associated Press