A new study reveals the lonely eating habits of the UK, finding that 34 per cent of us can go a whole week without eating a meal alongside someone else.
The research, commissioned by The Big Lunch, also shows that a third of weekday evening meals are eaten in isolation, and the average adult eats 10 meals out of 21 alone every week.
Busy lives and hectic work schedules are the main causes of this solitary dining trend. Yet the study also shows that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their life and feel happy.
More than two thirds (69 per cent) of those questioned had never shared a meal with any of their neighbours, 37 per cent had never eaten with a community group, while a fifth of people said it had been over six months since they had shared a meal with their parents.
More than half the workers questioned rarely or never eat lunch with their colleagues, with a large workload the most common obstacle to the communal work lunch. The average weekday lunch is wolfed down in just 12 minutes.
The study also revealed that, although 57 per cent regularly eat an evening meal with other people during the week, nearly a fifth said this was a rare occurrence. This is in spite of the majority of respondents claiming that eating with others made them feel closer to each other.
Little wonder then that two thirds of us admit there are certain people in our lives that we know we should make the effort to spend more time with.
One in eight of those questioned said it had been more than six months since they’d shared a lunch with friends or family – either at their home or in a café, pub or restaurant. And a fifth of those questioned hadn’t eaten an evening meal out with a good friend or family member for more than six months.
Even when living with others, the opportunity to sit down together and enjoy a meal can be rare – 21 per cent said their routine means they eat their evening meal at a different time to others in their household.
Those over age 55 are most likely to eat alone – one in four in this age group said an evening meal with others wasn’t a usual occurrence.
The Big Lunch – an idea from the Eden Project made possible by the Big Lottery Fund – worked with Oxford University Professor of Psychology, Robin Dunbar, on the study, which aims to shine a light on the UK’s mealtimes and how often we eat with others.
Professor Dunbar commented:
“The act of eating together triggers the endorphin system in the brain and endorphins play an important role in social bonding in humans. Taking the time to sit down together over a meal helps create social networks that in turn have profound effects on our physical and mental health, our happiness and wellbeing, and even our sense of purpose in life. But this study shows that, in the UK, we are becoming less socially engaged, with almost 50 per cent of meals eaten alone each week. 70 per cent of those questioned said they did not feel especially engaged with their local community, yet eating together did result in people feeling emotionally closer to each other. In these increasingly fraught times, when community cohesion is ever more important, making time for and joining in communal meals is perhaps the single most important thing we can do – both for our own health and wellbeing and for that of the wider community.”
Peter Stewart of The Big Lunch commented:
“The Big Lunch wanted to examine how often people eat with others. The amount of solitary meals eaten each week is shocking, especially as the study shows that sharing food helps feelings of closeness and friendship. The Big Lunch is about bringing people together to have lunch – to make new friends, share stories, to have fun, and form bonds that last. For most people in the UK, a network of potential friends exists right on the doorstep. An act as simple as joining us on Sunday June 12 to share a meal can bring boundless joy.”