Life in the UK seems to be becoming increasingly a solo mission, and our eating habits are one of the many aspects of life affected. The contemporary food industry is geared to people eating alone with big supermarkets, such as Tesco, increasing their solo-dining ranges rapidly. It is not a rare sight to see single portion packets of vegetables, mini bottles of wine and one-portion ready meals lined up on shelves. Ignoring the obvious environmental issues with this, such as increased single use plastic packaging, is this a problem? Surely in our busy and hectic lives this saves us a lot of stress?
The issue is that we are a social species; the size and quality of our social networks have been found time and again to relate to many aspects of our wellbeing, from the strength of our immune system to life satisfaction. A large study of adults across the UK found that those who eat alone are likely to have a smaller network of people they could reach out to for emotional and financial support. Therefore it is no surprise that the same study found that those who reported to never eat their evening meals with others were less happy and satisfied with their life than those who do. In fact a low level of social eating has been found to be one of the most important factors for low wellbeing in the UK. Over a quarter of adults reported eating most of their meals alone, and this was even worse for those who were unemployed, sick or disabled.
Foodhall is a community centre which opened in 2015 which tries to tackle these issues by using social eating as a means to increase social connections and therefore wellbeing. Volunteers collect leftover food from supermarkets and cook inclusive meals for the community. If a person can’t afford to pay a donation for the meal they can help in other ways (such as washing up!) and no one is ever turned away for lack of money. When I went down to find out more about the project the thing which really struck me was how people from different walks of life were all sitting around the same table and eating their lunch together. It is a place where there are no service-providers and service-users, everyone gives help when they can and is given help when they need it. It is inspiring to see how a shared drive to bring humans back together has led to such a lovely inclusive atmosphere. This is something I believe can benefit everyone and I truly felt the power of human connection by the simple act of a stranger smiling and waving goodbye as I left.
Although Foodhall’s main focus is using food to bring people together there are also many other projects going on, such as pottery workshops, bikes repair classes, a Foodhall magazine and regular music nights. There are loads of volunteering opportunities and loads going on, so get down and get involved! Visit their website to find out more: www.foodhallproject.org