About this Blog

Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

I created this blog in 2009 when I began working at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. My work at this organization opened my eyes to food justice issues in America, and I had a strong desire to better understand the difficulties many people face when trying to access healthy food on a limited budget. So, I embarked on my own Food Stamp Challenge, living on $31/week as a vegan. I used this blog to chronicle my experience.

While my Food Stamp Challenge project has come to an end, you can see what I learned from it by reading the Greatest Hits posts linked to the right side of the page. Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.

Stay Hungry,


Sunday, July 26, 2009

On Eating Alone

The social aspect of eating is an incredibly complex and, to me, interesting element of the food access equation. So far I have written about negative group eating culture, but what about eating alone? I live by myself, so I wind up eating alone most of the time. I thought this was worth investigating.

In general I find that I don't mind eating alone. In some regards it has helped me to be healthier.
I have complete control over the food that is in my apartment. There is no one else here to buy foods that will sabotage me; none of that "I don't buy this crap but it is in the house so I wind up eating it" excuse. My will power only has to go as far as the grocery store or Farmers' Mark, and that is not too hard. I am also free of all of the possible negative social pressures that are a part of eating with other people. No one offers me junk food at home, no one indulges in bad eating habits in front of me thus tempting me to do the same.

When I eat by myself, I am alone with the food I chose to buy and my eating habits, for better or for worse. This weekend I have had some very positive social eating experiences, and it made me realize that eating alone may not be all it is cracked up to be.

When I eat alone, there is no negative social eating pressure, but there is no positive social eating pressure either. Solo eating is also somewhat depressing. It becomes cruder. All the ritual and fanfare is sucked out and it becomes more about filling the belly than enjoying cuisine. When I'm alone, for example, I sometimes eat out of the pan because I don't want to wash an extra plate. Wow. That is so depressingly practical, to eat with more consideration for the dishes that will need to be washed than the eating experience itself.

I also tend to read or flip through a catalogue while I eat when I am alone. That means I am distracted and not focusing on my food in a way that will help me register that I am full.

I get lazy too. I won't heat leftovers up sometimes, I'll just eat them cold. They are much less satisfying that way. So, when I am done eating I still feel unfulfilled because the eating experience has not been pleasurable, and I go back for more regardless of weather or not I need more food. When I am alone I am more likely to "graze" through an entire mealworth of food. I'll eat standing up. I'll eat with the fridge door open. I would never do that kind of thing if I didn't live and eat alone.

This weekend's eating experiences were different. Quite healthy in fact.

The first positive experience happened on Friday night. After I loaded up on produce from the Farmers' Market, I hit the kitchen and started cooking for two. I made kale in a sauce of garlic, cumin, and tomatoes. I made a salad of various colorful tomatoes with red onion, cracked pepper, and lemon basil. I steamed some brown rice in Miso broth, and then my friend Rashi arrived. We ate and chatted. It was leisurely and social. I noticed that I ate much more slowly because I was focused more on catching up with my friend than I was on shoveling food into my mouth. Rashi is a slow and patient eater, and I found myself matching her pace. She did not go back for seconds after her plate was clean, and so neither did I.

If she had not been there I would have engaged in one of my bad eating-alone food habits: eating more as I pack up the food and wash the dishes. Since I cook in bulk portions most of the time, there is always a lot of food around on cooking days. I find that as I return to the counter to wash my dishes and put all that extra food in Tupperware containers I tend to eat a few more spoonfuls of everything. Before I know it I have eaten too much.

The second good eating experience happened yesterday. I ate a delicious and healthy lunch with a family and their friends at a lovely beach house. The eating environment was very pleasant; we were outside on a terrace near the ocean, about 10 of us gathered around the table. People were quite relaxed and happy. There were bowls of salad, fruit, vegetables, and burger condiments all over the table. Again, the pace of eating was slower because everyone was chatting. I was also aware that everyone at the table ate very reasonable portions and didn't continually go back for more. I followed their lead. Eating more food, in most cases, required asking others at the table to pass the food around. If I was going to eat more fruit salad, everyone was going to notice; I had to announce it with a loud "Could you please pass me the fruit?" I found this simple fact deterred me from eating too much. If the other 10 people at the table have totally stopped eating and you are continually asking them to pass you more food, you feel embarassed. In this case the social pressure was not about over eating, it was about reasonable portions and eating slowly.

This meal really made me realize how positive eating around a table with ones family can be if your family members have healthy, reasonable eating habits. Especially when it comes to small children, eating as a family can be a crucial teaching environment about food consumption. This page from the Washington State University offers a good breakdown of the pros and cons of eating together with one's family.

My own experience suggests that while eating alone can be beneficial for me, it is also probably a good idea to make an effort to eat with others more often. It will slow me down and allow me to observe and hopefully adopt the positive eating habits of others. I also understand how a single low-income senior citizen living alone on food stamps might wind up with some eating habits that reflect a lonely, depressing eating environment. Or, how a 10 year old girl who is put in front of the television with a bag of chips before dinner might eat the whole thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment