Eating Alone

Back when I was in the workaholic world I ate a lot of meals alone.  By the time I came home from the office the rest of the family would have eaten already.  So I’d have my supper alone.  During the years of my long commutes I ate alone 6 nights per week.  And when I was traveling on business, as I often was, I almost always ate alone.  Eating alone became the norm.

There are times when it makes sense to eat alone.  But eating alone should not be the norm. Whenever possible, meals should be communal and family affairs, as they always have been for us humans.  I have great memories of the big table at my Granny’s house, for example, where the whole family ate together three times a day.  No wolfing down a sandwich while watching TV.  No room service in a hotel room.  No reheated supper at the kitchen table long after the rest of the family has eaten.

If asked to recall some of our fondest memories of food, it’s likely that we’ll recall meals with family and friends, not meals eaten alone. If as a culture we went back to eating meals together, enjoying our food along with conversation and good company, it seems to me that would be a big step toward repairing our broken relationship with food.   It seems to me that we’ll take the quality of our food more seriously when we take the quality of mealtimes more seriously.

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9 comments on “Eating Alone

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I grew up with the farm kitchen being the center of activity. People just hung out there even during the meal preparation. The kitchen table was the most used piece of furniture in the house. Meals were eaten there, card and board games were played there, birthday celebrations with cake were celebrated there, plans for next year’s crops were solidified there, and animal or produce crops were processed there. It was the focal point of the house. When my family moved to the city, I was 10 years old and life changed. Milk was delivered to the door, newspapers magically appeared on the porch, and neighbors were within sight of my bedroom window. We still ate meals together at the kitchen table but many other things were left behind from the farm days.

    Fast forward to a young lad standing at the alter with his bride. Only heavenly bliss was in the future to come. We were in love and too poor for a honeymoon so the new life together started the next day. I’m not sure what happened to breakfast and lunch, I only remember dinner or supper as it was called on the farm. My wonderful bride fixed a great meal and promptly took her plate and went to the living room to plunk down in front of the TV. I, on the other hand, was geared to sit at the kitchen table and in bewilderment asked where she was going. A disagreement followed because she had grown up eating in front of the TV and I had grown up eating at the kitchen table. Sadly, I lost that disagreement and many more over the course of the years that followed. I quickly learned that blending two majorly different family backgrounds together was going to take much more than lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes.

    I really miss those farm days when conversation across the table was the norm.

    Have a great eating together day.

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    • Joanna says:

      Sorry to hear you lost that disagreement Nebraskadave. I feel blessed that in that case I won. It wasn’t the amalgamation of two family backgrounds this time, we were both used to sitting in front of the TV, but I wanted our family to be different and figured that since many of my favourite memories centred around food shared then that was a good model to follow. I was so pleased that my children, even the more rebellious youngest one, all sit around the table with their respective partners and children to eat these days. It was worth it to have many a time sat around the table, even in the sullen silences that sometimes marked the teenage years, because there were more days when we talked and shared laughter together. Even now when we all get together, it is usually the times spent around the table that are the most precious, often reminiscing and my kids are still in their 20s

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    • Bill says:

      You tell that story very well Dave. I can picture the scene. Like Joanna I’m sorry you lost that one.

      Once upon a time I was a sports junkie and during football season I wanted to leave the TV on during supper. My wife gently asked me to stop doing that, so I’d be fully present for our family meals. If that was an argument, I lost it and I’m glad.

      If you like country music you may know the Tim McGraw song “Back When.” It has a line that hits home: “Sittin’ ’round the table–it don’t happen much anymore.”

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  2. shoreacres says:

    There are times when it makes sense to eat alone. But eating alone should not be the norm. Whenever possible, meals should be communal and family affairs, as they always have been for us humans.

    That’s a whole lot of “should” up there. It seems to me that eating alone by choice and eating alone by necessity or circumstance are two different things. Finding ways to cope, graciously and creatively, with the necessity of eating alone is something more and more people are trying to do.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes of course. As I wrote, “There are times when it makes sense to eat alone.” I have in mind the loss of mealtime as a time for family to gather and talk. It seems the norm these days is for each member of the family to eat whenever they feel like it, usually just microwaving something and carrying it off to their rooms. 20% of the meals Americans eat these days are in our cars. I’m just suggesting that whenever possible we should eat meals in the company of friends and family.

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  3. avwalters says:

    I grew up in a large family. Added to that, there was always at least one straggler at every meal, sometimes more. Dinner was often a boisterous event–lots of talk and good food. When my marriage broke up and I moved out, I thought that meals would be challenging. Instead, I realized how much my ex had filled mealtime with television–I had long since lost the social connections. So I started to entertain. At least once a week, sometimes more, I’d invite people to dinner. Soon, our neighbors on the farm became regulars–we’d potluck or grab a beer and snacks when the farm crew came in at the end of the day. Good food is best shared.

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    • Bill says:

      I agree. We have friends who live in the city who made a practice of just opening their doors once a week to anyone in the neighborhood who wanted to share a meal with them. Lately we’ve been having (usually hosting) two potlucks a month. I’m a strong believer in socializing over food. “Good food is best shared.” Well said.

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  4. valbjerke says:

    My childhood memories of family mealtime – consist of an anxiety ridden tension filled hour of conflict. I used to liken it to waiting for a bomb to go off. It took me half a lifetime to be at ease sitting around the table with my own family and relatives….
    Even still to this day – I tend to bolt my food and am the first up from the table. Thankfully I didn’t pass that nonsense onto my kids – they think nothing of having twenty people over for dinner, the hours of prep and the hours of cleanup.
    They lead happy chaotic full lives – so I think I did at least that part right 😊

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah, and that’s a shame. Someone else who saw this post told me that when she was a child they were required to eat meals together as a family and that it wasn’t usually a pleasant experience. It hurts to think of people who dread being with family.
      But I’m glad to know your kids love company with food. I’m reminded of time we spent with my old college roommate who now lives in Spain. There in the summer the entire village would gather together for supper outside. It was like a big happy party every night.

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