I’m always the type to be found eating alone.
Not because I have thirty minute lunchbreaks where I have to scoff a sandwich down in ten minutes, but because it’s an activity that gives me comfort. In many cultures, eating alone is considered a social stigma. Korean culture, for example, holds the belief that eating should be a social activity that strengthens relationships through food, the thought of eating alone seems almost strange. I believe this cultural attitude is why content such as muk-bang (an online broadcast where the host eats large quantities of food while interacting with their audience) have become so popular. So people don’t have to feel that awkwardness of eating alone. I’ve noticed this in my own life through the jeering glances of others seeing me enjoy a bibimbap alone with a million side dishes in front of me. Yes, all that food is for me.
This inspired me to start this series titled, In Praise of Eating Alone, where I explore the worlds of other people who eat alone on a frequent basis.
Today I found myself observing Phoebe in the confines of ACME, an Italian-Asian fusion restaurant found in Rushcutter’s Bay. She’s caught in a pool of powder blue. The plates, the walls and the tiny conversations of ACME knit themselves into a blanket for her. For someone who travelled to New York to eat at fine-dining restaurants by herself and a book, eating alone isn’t new to her. A scroll through her Instagram will reveal meal after solitary meal accompanied with a book of some kind. She jokes that she should start an Instagram with the handle @girldinesalonewithabook. It’s not a bad idea.
She enjoys her way through a starter of three potatoes, two mains of coffee fettucine and pigs head macaroni with black truffle, and ends it with a dessert of coconut rice cream and white chocolate. Throughout the four courses, there’s a real connection between her and the food. “When I’m eating alone, I can concentrate. I can concentrate on eating and tasting the food at my own pace. I also tend to read while I eat and there’s just something about doing such a solitary activity while being surrounded by people that helps me concentrate on what I’m doing,” she says.
Uninterrupted and blanketed by the ambiance, it’s the perfect setting to enjoy and appreciate every flavour. It’s almost as if time has slowed down for her to take in the moment. “There is something vaguely luxurious about eating alone, not in the sense of luxury as exclusionary, but in the sense that you’re spending time in a way that’s much slower,” she says, “and being alone forces you to feel that.” The old adage, “time flies when you’re having fun,” comes into mind here, but for someone whose two loves are food and books, Phoebe wonders why time doesn’t fly during these moments that bring her joy.
In a world that is constantly telling us to keep up or we’ll fall behind, finding time to slow down can be daunting. But we need that time to concentrate on ourselves – and that’s not difficult to find when you’re eating alone. There’s a certain Zen in that concentration between ourselves and food that lets us to listen to our thoughts, read a book or take in the poetry of the moment. For Phoebe, it’s not anti-social, it’s peace. It’s finding the time to remember how your heart beats against your ribcage or to forget the pressures of living for an hour. So after my observation of Phoebe I can only say this… In praise of eating alone, in praise of concentrating on the moment and in praise of the pleasure and luxury of slowing down time for yourself, and only yourself.