Since I have been at Waterloo, I’ve been learning a lot. And not just about international relations. Since I have been living here, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of community- particularly when it comes to meals.
I’ll give you a little background.
I moved in with a girl that I found on a grad-housing board. She’s great- but she is busy and until last week, we didn’t even have a couch, let alone a kitchen table. So, without any kind of common sitting space, and not knowing each other very well, my roommate and I have had good talks in the kitchen and in passing, and while making meals if we both happen to be home at the same time- but we have not sat down and ate together.
So, sometimes I eat alone at my desk in my room…sadly, watching ‘The Hills’ on mtv.ca – don’t judge- we don’t have cable! Cooking for one person isn’t very fun either- I cook healthy, but boring and easy dinners.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom because there have been a number of days that I have been lucky to have friends to have dinner with. One night I met Lauren G at Bomber, another night Laur came over and we ate dinner and drank wine on my floor, Steph, Jus and Steeper and I have met twice for meals and that has been good for my soul. Last weekend, Amanda had everyone over to her place for a birthday dinner- and the night before that Sim, Nik, Amanda and I made dinner and pie together after apple picking. Tonight, I had a really nice dinner with two girls from my program in between two events related to our collective research. It was particularly cool, because we had a chance to talk about the upcoming provincial election- a topic few people are overly interested in.
I tell you all this because I don’t think it’s good for a person to eat alone. All enjoyment is removed from the process of preparing a meal for just one’s self- for me, mostly because I am tired, rushing in from a long day, and eating simply becomes a necessity- and when I eat by myself, it is a stark reminder that I am alone.
Tomorrow night some of my girl friends are coming over for dinner and I can’t wait. Eating together provides a forum for good conversation and for nourishment for more than just the body. Whether it’s been a great week or a terrible week, there is something about gathering together that feels as though we are doing something that we are meant to do.
We live in a culture where individualism is valued and praised. We have a certain amount of respect for those who don’t need to depend on anyone, who live a sort of “Marlboro man” type existence. I think we have somehow fooled ourselves by assuming that leading an unassisted life is glamourous. It’s not glamourous- and while you may have less dishes to wash, it’s sad.
I have never really thought about the impact of eating alone, or even really spending a significant amount of time alone before because I have never experienced it. I have always lived with groups of friends, at camp, in tree planting communities or with my family. But, I bet a lot of people have never really known anything else. I imagine that there must be a myriad of people out there who work all day and come home to empty houses, or even people who come home to their spouses, but might as well live in an empty house. Loneliness is the pandemic of North America.
Political scientist Robert Putnam in his provocative work, “Bowling Alone” discusses the significant decrease in American’s involvement in team activities or sports (voluntary organizations or civil society). The idea behind his title, is that while numerically MORE Americans are bowling, less people are bowling in teams- they just go to the bowling alley and bowl alone. His work focuses on the implications of this in the marco political sphere- but I think my point is also demonstrated.
A lot of people probably go home and eat alone after they finish bowling alone.
I realize that I am so lucky to have people to share my life with- and a lot of my meals. Around the table (or on the floor) we can share about our day, remember that the world doesn’t revolve around us- and most importantly just BE with each other. I am also reminded of the countless people that maybe don’t have friends to keep them company or to cook for. I want to try to be more mindful of people that might be lonely in this way- and I want to invite them to my house for dinner- because I am positive that it would be better than any episode of ‘The Hills’ ever could be.