Meal for One
I recently finished the book entitled Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone which is a compilation of stories written by food and other writers about their experiences eating alone. I would say that the overall impression the book gave was that eating alone is a time when it is more difficult to take care of yourself and the amount of time and effort you put into the meals tends to take a nose dive. The level of enjoyment you get from food also decreases concomitantly. There were those few people who most certainly relish eating alone, but in the end it really boils down to differences in life circumstances: people who can never eek out a moment to themselves and who are constantly catering (almost literally) to the wants / needs of others in their lives, really enjoy those times when they can sit back and treat themselves to what they truly enjoy, whereas those people who eat alone as a habit, as part of their routine, are not so enthralled. I wanted to take this book as a jumping-off point to try to explore my own thoughts, feelings, and emotions about eating alone, because, let’s face it, I do it a lot.
I do it so much in fact, that I think I’ve started to become self-righteous about my alone time over my meals. I happen to currently be living a lifestyle where eating with other people has become nion impossible most of the time and in order to make this seem less of a burden, I think I have reframed the circumstances in my head to make it seem as if I’m the one making the decision to eat on my own. Rather than feeling lonely, this perspective is supposed to make me feel validated, empowered, and like a strong independent single girl, which is what I am. But in the same breath as I say these things, I also am so wholly aware of the importance and benefits of eating with other people and I do miss it and I do long for it and I know exactly what many of the contributors of the above mentioned book were talking about when they said the satisfaction just isn’t there when you’re dining solo.
In some respects eating most of my meals alone has its benefits because I can have whatever I want whenever I want and not have to worry about anyone else. Truth be told though, I like to experience the world through other people’s likes and dislikes almost as much as I like to experience it from my own view. This is probably the anthropologist in me coming out. That said, this is likely one of the few times in my life that I will have the freedom of choice I currently do. But I have to admit that this “freedom” has left me in one heck of a rut. What is it about solo dining that leads to repetitiveness? I eat the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with a few variations) almost every single day. Obviously this isn’t particularly healthy in terms of getting a balanced diet with a variety of vitamins and minerals from different foods, though I certainly eat a lot of fruits and vegetables in my daily routine. However, the funny thing is, I believe I truly do enjoy the foods that I eat, however many times I eat them. I cannot explain it, but having a salad that fills up an entire mixing bowl every night just makes me happy.
On the other hand, this pattern is constraining and I yearn to experience more. However, making the time to cook just for yourself feels as if it is an activity best reserved for leisure time, not something I often feel that I have a lot of. Sometimes you do have to make a conscious decision to have it be a priority to treat yourself with as much respect as you would others; this just seems so difficult. I would absolutely be willing to spend the time to put together a wonderful meal for friends, but I would not typically expend anywhere near the amount of energy for little ol’ me. I suppose it all comes back to the idea that food is really a vehicle for shared experiences. I love to try new foods and to make new recipes, but it only seems worth the while if there are other people there to make the meal memorable, to discuss the food, or just to help in creating lasting memories. So while I continue to eat most of my meals alone, I will reflect on fabulous shared meals from the past, plan meals with friends for the future, and persist in making the same peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast everyday until something changes.