On Eating Alone

In Pop-Culture on February 17, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Feeding oneself is a topic that often stirs anxiety among college students. For many, it is a question of what they will eat. However, for most it is a question of with whom. Logistically speaking, we college students tend to eat 3-4 meals a day and taking into account varying schedules and the limited Rolodex of potential dining companions a first-semester freshman can have, chances are every now and then you’re going to be eating some of your meals alone.

Despite this truth, eating by oneself remains one of the final frontiers that many students are too uncomfortable to cross. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that one’s freshman year (or at least mine) is sprinkled with bouts of social awkwardness and eating alone is seen by some as an indication of a person who is unable to put themselves out there. However, it puzzles me to think that it is acceptable to wake up disheveled in a bathroom, the taste of the previous night still lingering in your mouth, yet eating by oneself is taboo.

Admittedly, I went to college with many of these same predispositions. In high school, the times that I had to eat alone were exclusively in the comfort of my own home and eaten either leaning against the refrigerator or in the company of a television program or a good book. At college, when faced with a long night at the library or an instance in which no one else’s schedule coincided with mine, I would eat my meal hidden behind a copy of the NY Times, not getting past the headlines.

Although isolating in their own regard, many of these solitary meals were not devoid of all interaction. It was during these meals that I struck-up conversation with the many foreign students and listened to their wistful descriptions of home, and heartily commiserated with them about how much better the food we grew up with was. I became friendly with the man whose front teeth point in opposite directions and refers to me as “chief” while not charging me for extra chicken on my salad. At the organic cafe, I continually try to figure out if the girl behind the counter with the pierced nose and off-kilter smile who calls by my first name, is flirting me, and I assure myself that she is. (She’s not)

~ ~ ~

Several weeks ago I found myself in San Francisco, standing before a restaurant touted as one of the originators of the farm-to-table movement. I was hungry and more notably, by myself. It was noon, and considering that my dinner the previous night consisted of inexpensive tacos from La Taqueria in the Mission District—I recommend the lengua (braised tongue) variety topped with their salsa verde and guacamole–and that my itinerary for the day entailed exploring the city by foot while the person I was staying with was at work, I deemed it acceptable to treat myself to a nice lunch.

Peering past the reception desk, I saw that the room was filled with large groups of raucous businessmen enjoying their 3 Martini lunch (both figuratively and literally), and I became even more aware of how much I would stick out.

Though perhaps spurred initially by the rumblings coming from my stomach, I pushed past the glass doors and entered the restaurant, thinking that if I were to comfortably dine out by myself, I could consider it somewhat of a personal victory.

Too young to sit at the bar with the other solo diners, the maître d’ sat me at a table off to the side of the commotion and handed me a menu. Remembering the frustrations of the waiters and waitresses I worked with over the summer at receiving a table for one, as it was assumed the bill would be 50% of the usual total if the 2-top had been filled, my server approached the table and began describing the specials. Her demeanor was warm and put to rest any uneasiness I may have had. Our interaction, I noticed, was more intimate than typical because of the one-on-one nature of the conversation; we talked at length about the specific farms that each ingredient came from, and based almost solely on her recommendations, I ordered a variety of dishes.

Having no one in front of me to focus my gaze, I let my eyes wander and engaged in an activity referred to by a friend as “people watching.” I again looked at the tables of men in suits from which deep belly laughs rose to the ceiling like smoke off a campfire. One of the men blotted his white shirt with a napkin and asked, as if to question the entire room, “Vodka doesn’t stain, boys?” The men assured him it does not and raised their glasses in a bacchanal fashion, toasting the fact that they had not been drinking darker spirits.

The food was nothing short of incredible. By focusing solely on the food in front of me, I was able to become more acutely aware of the nuances in flavor and texture of each dish. As if someone turned up the gradient level, flavors seemed brighter and smells more pungent. Minutes flew by and I remained completely immersed in the food. When the last plate was finished, I ordered coffee, not yet ready to return to reality.

Reflecting back on that lunch, one of the better meals of my life, I realize that it was not special merely because of the food. It was special because it was the first time that instead of eating alone, I had an opportunity truly dine with myself.

~   ~   ~

It is with all of these thoughts that I comfortably sat down in the dining hall tonight and ate my meal by myself. There aren’t that many nuances in the food to speak of, but there definitely is some good people watching to be had.

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  1. Hi Andrew – Excellent blog – please keep me up to date with your writings

    Regards

    Ian

  2. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and test again here frequently. I’m reasonably certain I’ll be told many new stuff proper here! Best of luck for the following!

  3. I attend a small liberal arts school and I frequently see students shoveling down their plate of food in order to escape the humiliation of eating alone. Learning to eat alone amidst what seems to be a carnival of euphoric college students allows one to view the campus hub from a more retrospective point view. I’ve learned from and laughed at conversations that I would have obliviously disregarded if I were enveloped in another. In addition, I’ve learned to be more patience with people by simply observing their idiosyncrasies as they eat. Dining alone lets one enjoy the texture and taste of their food more carefully, but also illuminates the unseen aspects of college culture shielded by constant socialization. Thanks for elucidating the importance of learning to eat alone!

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