A lot of research and discussion has been devoted to how people eat in groups. We already know that people eat about 30% more when dining with friends and that teen girls have a reduced incidence of eating disorders when they participate in family dinners and that we eat more in “healthy” restaurants, among other interesting food-as-a-social-construct tidbits. But a new book (which I haven’t read but really want to, thanks NPR!), What We Eat When We Eat Alone, finds authors Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlan on a quest to discover how people choose to eat if left entirely to their own devices.
The question du jour – what do I eat when I eat alone? – is one I have not given much thought to. This is probably because I honestly cannot remember the last time I ate alone. Having wee ones at home 24/7 precludes any semblance of normal dining, much less solitary dining. In fact, these days I’d settle for a meal where nobody regurgitates their food, throws silverware or insults my cooking while invoking their favorite potty word.
The last time I was alone at all, when I accompanied my husband sans children on a business trip, I was too busy relishing the fact I got to lounge around on a pillow-top mattress and watch all the MTV I could guiltily enjoy (what?) to worry about eating. I had a bag of trail mix, a packet of turkey jerky, instant oatmeal that I could make with the coffee maker, and a mint chocolate Luna bar to tide me over during the days until dinnertime when we’d go out with his coworkers to some crazy expensive restaurant and eat a lot of yummy food. Which brings me back, again, to the fact that I haven’t eaten alone years.
Still trying to answer the question, I went way back in time to my pre-marriage college years. And you know what? Between living with 3-5 other girls (don’t ask), dating and coworkers I don’t think I ever ate alone even then! How weird is it to be a grown woman of 31 and to have never had a memorable meal alone? Thinking back on it, I came to an epiphany of sorts – I don’t like to eat alone. If I am alone, I don’t eat. I don’t “forget” per se, like some people claim to do, but I’ll put off eating until I can share a meal with others. I guess I’ve always been a social eater.
So my long-winded answer to what I eat when I’m alone is that I don’t eat meals alone. I’ll snack – or not – until the rest of the pack shows up dragging the wooly mammoth behind them. But someday all my kids will be in school (I know, I can’t imagine it either) and ostensibly I will have at least one meal a day all by my lonesome. Will I make lunch dates with friends? Call my sister and eat on the phone with her? (Yes, we do that.) Or will I finally learn to enjoy the pleasure of solitary dining?
All of which makes me wonder what you eat when you eat alone. Do you cook yourself a beautifully crafted, nutritionally balanced meal eaten off real china at the table? Lean Cuisine in front of the TV? Or do you just kinda snack like me?