The dining table is the stage for much of the theatre in our lives. It’s where we tell stories. It’s where things happen that become stories. The drama can be in the events before the main course or after dessert. Sometimes the story is not about what was said during the meal, it’s about what wasn’t said across the table.
We know that how we feel about certain food reflects who we are, but who we choose to dine with also reveals a little bit about ourselves.
More and more people around the world are eating alone. In Amsterdam, there’s a restaurant that only serves tables for one. The same in Japan; the difference being that you eat alone in a cubicle!
A 2012 study in America by the Hartman Group revealed that 46% of all eating done by adults was done solo. In previous decades this may constitute eating in front of the television, whereas now it is more likely in front of a computer. When we eat alone in front of a screen (usually at work), we are focused on the “mechanics of eating”. We don’t give much thought about how our food tastes and are transfixed on the task at hand. We prioritize focus over feasting.
Fortunately, dinner is still a communal meal in America, even if our smartphones join us at the dinner table. But in countries where a high number of people find themselves dining solo, they have come up with unusual ways to connect with others over a meal.
In South Korea, there is a trend where people tune into live Internet shows where they watch other people eat. Sangyoub Park, a sociologist at Washburn University, explained in an article on NPR that a possible explanation was that people didn’t want to eat alone and found comfort sharing a meal with someone else – even if that person was online. In Japan, you can prop your phone on a bowl and talk to an anime character while you enjoy a bowl of ramen.
My preference is to dine with people whose company I enjoy. Life’s too short to break bread with people you have no interest in spending time with, and I’ll happily go solo when required. However, there’s nothing better than a meal with friends and family. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person, or a table of 20. They can be 4 or 84 years old. You’ve got to take the opportunity when it comes your way. It’s a great time to re-connect, to empathize, to relive old memories and create new ones. It’s one thing that gets even more important as you get older.