Research highlights the health benefits of dining with others
Do you ever eat alone while working at your computer? Have you had the experience of heating up a favorite frozen meal in the microwave, then dining solo while watching TV? Or while driving, is dashboard dining between errands typical for you? Eating alone is a way of life with which many of us are all too familiar. It is so common, in fact, that the French coined the term “vagabond eating” (manager n’porte de quand) to describe our often isolated, mindless munching. Americans are paying a big price for their secluded eating, for what cookbook author Marion Cunningham describes as “a motel life,” meaning going in, going out, then grabbing something to eat alone. “When you eat this way, you don’t create deep connections,” says Cunningham, “and you miss the opportunity to get to know about the people you’re living with when you don’t sit around the table and share yourself around food.”
What We Pay for Eating Alone
Solo dining brings more than disconnection: it encourages obesity. These findings are in line with a study about social nourishment and the weight of children by Harvard researchers published in Archives of Family Medicine. When they looked at the eating habits of more than 16,000 boys and girls aged 9 to 14, those who ate dinner with their families all or most days were more likely to consume more fruits and vegetables and less soda, artery-clogging fried and high-fat food, and sugar-laden food. Not surprisingly, the study also revealed that while 43 percent ate dinner with their families daily, the older the child, the less often s/he was likely to share family fare. With one in five American kids being overweight and still more suffering from obesity, such studies suggest a solution to the growing girth of both adolescents and adults—America’s #1 public health problem.
The Social Solution
For thousands of generations, human beings shared food and eating with others as a member of a tribe and around a campfire. Such a “social dining” heritage is the antithesis of the solo dining so many of us experience today.