These days, when more and more people are living alone and a meal is just a few taps on Postmates or Seamless away, dining alone feels less like a cry for help and more like a sign of independence and self-assurance… or at least just more common and necessary. But the rise in solo dining might have unintended consequences, according to a report from The Conversation on the groundswell of food sharing initiatives in response to the rise of eating alone.
The report focuses more on the positives of food sharing, defined as “eating, growing, or redistributing food together with others,” than it does on the negatives of solo dining. Community-building and sustainability are cited as the main reasons to engage in food sharing initiatives; the authors suggest that breaking bread (or whatever) with others could be a balm for “eco-anxiety” spurred by the realities of the modern food production industry (among many other things to be eco-anxious about). The article also points out a few studies that suggest dining alone carries health risks, like increased rates of depression in older adults, along with metabolic issues like higher blood pressure.
The article also addresses the semi-obvious: Eating alone can absolutely be symptomatic of loneliness, and loneliness on a societal scale is kind of a huge deal right now. Solo dining has its own statistically significant associations with depression and metabolic disease, and social isolation in general has been linked to increased rates of depression and blood pressure problems, according to WebMD, along with a whole bunch of other health issues, like increased recovery time from cancer, a higher mortality rate than non-lonely people, immune system issues and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
If eating alone exacerbates your negative thoughts and feelings, a food sharing initiative near you, or just reaching out to friends and working a few dinner plans into your social calendar might help. But for frequent solo diners who are happy to stay that way (or who don’t really have a choice), it’s not urgent to kick the habit if it doesn’t stem from any deeper-seated feelings. Alone time isn’t the enemy here: Research has shown that time spent in solitude can be both mentally restorative and socially beneficial, increasing empathy, confidence, and creativity. And if you’re solo-dining curious, a guide from the New York Times on how to have a good time eating alone suggests a few ways to turn meal time into healthy alone time, like practicing “mindful eating” by thinking about what you want to eat and then eating it (OK, maybe that one is kind of a dud), having a solo cocktail to break the ice with yourself, and eating the kind of things you’d feel hesitant to chow down on with company. Some people just want to eat chicken tikka masala alone in bed or enjoy some linguine with clams at a table for one. With the right mindset, there’s really nothing wrong with that.
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