Food is a centrality to each of our lives. We talk about what we will have for dinner at breakfast and daydream about the beautiful dessert that we can create afterwards. Our mouths water as we pass bakeries and smell the delicious baked goods drizzled with chocolate or sprinkled with sugar. The cookbook section is growing massively larger at the bookstores these days and there are multiple television networks dedicated to food. However, the question needs to be raised, do we really think about the health of the food we eat, who we are going to eat with, and the ingredients that need to be purchased for making a meal to fit everyone’s diet?
According to the 2006 American Time Use Survey, 58% of people in the U.S. regularly eat on their own. Another survey, from Kelton Research, a national polling firm, in 2008, found that three out of four American adults take their meals alone at least occasionally. Additionally, two-thirds said they’d prefer to eat dinner in their pajamas on the couch rather than have a fancy meal at a restaurant.
-Forbes Magazine. Eating Alone. 2009
It is not a bad thing to eat alone. There is no shame in going to a restaurant or spending time in front of the television with your dinner every once in a while, but some people don’t get the choice to eat alone or not. There are many people who spend their time showing the world that they are completely functional and not lonely. Many mask their pain, don’t show fear, and bury the fact that they are actually lonely.
Some people don’t have a group of friends to ask to dinner, while friends neglect others, some people don’t have a family to go home to and their best friend is their Internet. These generalizations that I have made here are based off of my own life. I am an extroverted woman, who owns a company, and I am married. The world has told me that because I have certain descriptions, then I will never have to eat alone or feel loneliness, but that is far from the truth. Many days I feel a lack of control and unwanted by my community of friends- even though I know that this is not the truth, but it is how I feel.
After being diagnosed with food allergies my loneliness grew even worse. I got sick all of the time and felt excluded from the enjoyment of eating. My husband, fiancé at the time, did a great job telling other people what the different ingredients meant and helped me navigate meals because I was too embarrassed to. I felt like I no longer had a choice to eat alone or not. My meals had to be prepared and going out was like and obstacle course meant for people trying to win The Amazing Race.
I finally got over this hump and have had to reorganize what meals look like for me, but it took time, patience, and willingness to hunt for good, nutritious ingredients. I encourage each of us to invite someone new to dinner this next week, go out for a meal, or just grab a cup of coffee. You never know why people eat alone, sometimes it is a choice, but when the choice is taken from you, it can be the most painful experience.
Ideas for Communal Meals:
- Potluck for lunch, but have everyone say what they are bringing prior, that way people can say their dietary restrictions
- Sign up for a CSA box with a group of friends and have a cooking party to figure out how to cook all of the different produce.
- Host a cooking day at your work, church, local community center, to teach people about your specific dietary restrictions.
- Join a MeetUp group that talks about food, or start one .