Solo eating

Burger time at Stax - not Burger #4 (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Burger time at Stax – not Burger #4 (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Apparently, eating solo is an underrated thing, just as open-plan offices are an overrated thing.

I don’t always take Sunday Life magazines to heart, but this juxtaposition spoke to me recently.

Maybe it is nothing more than the fact that, to me, open-plan and solo eating present two ends of the sociability spectrum.

The thing I actually want to talk about in this post is how I agree that eating solo is an underrated activity.

I ate solo the other day.

It was meant to be a group lunch, a buzzy affair of catch-ups and re-meetings. Instead, I sat alone, with no-one else in the cafe space at all.

After an initial few minutes of shuffling about, looking awkward at being alone and wondering if – gasp – anyone might see me alone, I chilled. In fact, I chilled right out and didn’t want to leave the solitude at the end of the lunchbreak.

It was a much-needed break from the constancy of stimulation + distraction of the open-plan, as well as my semi-permanent checking of the phone + Twitter. The only thing that would’ve made it perfect was a swathe of green to rest my eyes.

I’d forgotten how much I like having time in the day that is my own. No waiting for anyone, feeling like anyone’s waiting for me, or trying to stay too mindful of the time that has passed.

It helped that lunch was delicious: Cafe Stax Burger #4 (you can’t go wrong) and good coffee.

I used to eat alone with regularity when I was a research fellow. This was because my fieldwork and conference trips involved fair amounts of solo-time. I’d meet up with other delegates or colleagues for sure, but I liked down time that didn’t involve small talk and worrying what someone else might want or having to be somewhere else. It takes time to ‘un-dross’ my head, and get down to letting the creative and vaguely interesting idea filter through.

When I was eating alone, however, there was never the temptation to be alone. As with the #shutupandwrite dynamic, being in the busy mix of things is somehow conducive to productive thought and connections. I often write notes or ideas down when eating alone, distilling conversations I’ve had through the day. Most often, I didn’t have a laptop with me on those fieldtrips (unheard of, I know), so the dependency on pen and paper also brought forth different ways of thinking about things.

On an intellectual and sometimes emotional level, then, eating alone can be a big plus. Coming from a family where food and sociability is inextricably linked, however, eating alone has its poignant side. Sharing food is a big part of meal-times, and being unable to do so does feel odd.

This nostalgia for a time when I ate alone was also remembering a time when we hadn’t yet started a family. The constancy of domestic demands, as enjoyable as many of them can be, means taking time out to be alone is a rare event. I’m thinking that solo lunching every so often – not at my work-desk! – may be a restorative and worthwhile thing.


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