On Eating Alone
I wrote the first draft of this article before the world as we knew it became something we didn’t. Now, in the time of Coronavirus, things are different, and they probably will be for a very long time. As social distancing and self-isolation become the new norms, loneliness will gnaw away at us unlike ever before. I originally intended for this article to be one that acted as an advertisement for eating alone, something to make you consider going out to a restaurant by yourself every once in a while, but now, most people don’t have either of those options. In this new age, eating alone is something that is not really optional, and even if you’re at home with family, I imagine that it doesn’t quite feel the same as before. These days, the time I spend alone is often spent either attempting to distract myself or in constant worry about an uncertain future. Despite this, I still find solace in cooking for myself and eating it too. I’m planning to leave most of the article in its previous state, along with some additions, because even in these turbulent times, I have faith that one day we will return to normalcy, and while that period will be full of probably hesitant human connection, it will still be important to find comfort in just being with ourselves.
When I tell people that I enjoy eating alone, and at times prefer it to eating with people, I’m usually met with one of two responses. The first one is of recognition and agreement, “me too! It’s just good to be by yourself sometimes.” The second is usually nothing short of disgust, “I could never imagine going to a restaurant alone.” The people in this camp, at least in my experience, view the act of going out alone as something sad, a last resort that shows they’ve given up, with no one to spend time with. There is also an important distinction between going out alone and cooking at home just for yourself. I’m a staunch supporter for both, and think that neither of them is done nearly enough. There are many reasons I love eating alone, and think that you might learn to as well.
I’ll start with the act of going out to a restaurant alone, because I think that’s the hardest sell. There’s an image of someone sitting at a table in a restaurant by themselves surrounded by chatter and connection that elicits a feeling of pity. As that person sometimes, those are not the moments that I think I should be pitied. When I am at a restaurant with other people, often I’m focused on them, talking, connecting, and sharing, but when I am there alone, I can direct my focus wherever I want. If I want to just sit and be lost in my thoughts for a while, I can do that. If I want to watch the workings of the restaurant, seeing what other people are eating, maybe do a little eavesdropping, I can do that too, and if I just want to focus on the food, paying close attention to each bite, understanding how it makes me feel, seeing if I can guess at some of the ingredients, I can do that too.
There is freedom in eating alone at a restaurant that simply cannot be replicated. When I’m at home, I feel like I’m distracted too easily to be truly lost in my thoughts, but at a restaurant, even being on my phone is sometimes difficult, because I’ve got to dedicate at least one of my hands to using a utensil! Going out to a restaurant alone is a practice in being okay with being with yourself, which many people don’t like doing these days.
Cooking at home for yourself is much more common, and I probably don’t need to sell you on it. You know the satisfaction of making yourself a meal, playing some music or your favorite podcast while you pine away over a pot of stew. It’s relaxing, it’s fulfilling, and most of all, it’s delicious. Especially in the transition period that is college, making yourself a real meal feels so “adult.” Don’t get me wrong, I love entertaining and making food for my friends, but there is something so relaxing about making a dish solely for you. There’s no stress on whether your friends will like it, or if it will be ready by the time they come, it’ll be done when it’s done, and you’ll enjoy it whenever that is.
As you can probably tell, food is something special for me, and for our culture. It represents self-sufficiency, where there is satisfaction in being able to nourish yourself. Humans eat food for sustenance; our body needs energy to function and food supplies that energy, but the story of humans and food is obviously more than that. Food is one of the main ways we as humans express and share our culture. The recipes we make and the restaurants we go to bring us closer to people who came before us and also to people who are still around.
Food is somehow extremely personal, only you can have the singular experience you’re having, and only you can get sustenance from the food you put in your mouth, while also being universal. Everyone needs to eat, and everyone enjoys eating good food, where “good” is entirely dependent on the individual eating it. One of the best ways to facilitate conversation and to learn about another person is to share a meal with them. Food is about connection and a continuation of tradition, but in a way, it’s also not. In its simplest form, food is well, food.
Eating alone makes it easier to truly enjoy the food you’re eating for what it is. You don’t get caught up in that date you’re on, or in a heated discussion with one of your friends, and while these are usually best facilitated over food, sometimes you need a reset, a reminder of what we as humans have transformed from a physiological need into one of the greatest and most pleasurable experiences around. To eat is to be alive, and we all need a reminder of that every once in a while right?
So I implore you, go to your favorite restaurant, sit down and just listen to the music. Think about what makes the food so good, get distracted by listening to the conversation of the couple next to you, and just take in the aliveness of it all. Take a chance to see what it’s like to be an outsider looking into the chaos of human life, and then feel comfort in the fact that you’re not. Then all that’s left is to enjoy your meal.