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Half of All Meals Now Eaten Alone

16:09Ciaran McCormick

A new study has illuminated some shocking statistics on the eating habits of British people. 34% of us do not eat a single meal with anyone else in a given week. Overall, half of all meals are eaten alone. This speaks to the isolated and insular nature of modern lives, where social interaction has been outsourced to the online world. We are also more time-poor because of the increasing exploitation of working hours and greater family and domestic pressures. This dangerous cocktail of social trends has led to these lonely eating habits.


The study of 2,000 UK adults was commissioned by The Big Lunch, an organisation that encourages communities to host lunches together. It plays on our nostalgia, with bunting and images of village spirit that are so alien in 2016. They worked with Oxford Professor of Psychology Robin Dumar who believes that eating alone is having a dangerous impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. He said “taking the time to sit down together over a meal helps create social networks that in turn have profound effects on our physical and mental health, our happiness and wellbeing, and even our sense of purpose in life.”


I have written previously on research that showed that 1 in 5 people felt unloved in the previous two weeks. Shockingly, in that study 1 in 2 people said that they do not have a single close friend to share their troubles and enjoy the good times. There is a national epidemic of loneliness. This is commonly seen as affecting mostly elderly people, but it actually cuts across all lines of society.


However, eating alone is quite a complex issue. I have some experience in the area as I live in a shared house with people I barely see. Indeed, I haven’t shared a meal with any of them in the whole  eight months I have lived in my current place. My attitude to lunch is somewhat different as I either eat with work friends or take it outside to somewhere with fresh air. However, the desk lunch is a tragic illness that plagues workplaces up and down the country.

We must also not stigmatise eating alone when it is done with confidence and out of choice. Eating alone in a restaurant or visiting a bar or cinema without other people is seen as desperate, lonely and depressing. It can actually be an empowering experience. However, this research shows that many people do not have the luxury of this choice and are forced to eat alone. They have been stripped of companionship and basic human fulfilment by their work pressures and our fragmented society.

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