Ideally, eating is a social event. For me, meals are better shared with someone, and savored with conversation and companionship. Many of my meals however are eaten in solitude. I have friends who are happy to eat a bowl of cereal or ice cream for dinner when they are alone, but that doesn’t suit me. Years ago I read a great book by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin about what people choose to eat when they eat alone, and found many stories I could relate to as well as many good ideas for recipes.
For me, eating alone can bring up a wide range of feelings. There is guilt over what I may have chosen to eat, shame if I don’t feel I deserve this degree of effort, enjoyment of a good meal, well prepared, and loneliness because, well, because I am eating alone. Eating breakfast or lunch alone don’t bother me at all; those meals don’t have the same emotional associations, but I grew up in a house where we ate dinner together every night, and though some of those meals were more of a nightmare than a dream, they instilled in me a strong belief that dinner time is family time, and dining alone just feels wrong.
I often end up cooking and eating while watching something on Netflix. I think people assume that trained chefs eat and prepare elaborate food all the time, but I prefer simple meals whether just for me or for company. I try to plan, to shop ahead, and make healthy choices, but when I am alone, when no one is watching, when I am feeling sad, or angry or lonely those well planned meals often get postponed and substituted with something that feels comforting. Unfortunately the effects are temporary, and once I recover from my food induced fog, I feel worse than ever. I have also come to realize that once I’ve eaten it doesn’t matter that much what I had, it is the anticipation that is the exciting part. Lately I have been using that understanding to talk myself off the ledge of buttery pasta, or bad take out food. I eat better, and less when I eat with other humans.
And so I sigh, eat my perfectly cooked chicken with some nice roasted kale, and realize that it is company I crave, not grilled rib eye with truffle mashed potatoes and buttered haricots verts with lemon zest, well OK, maybe a little.