I recently finished Jenni Ferrari-Adler’s collection of personal stories that all talk about the experience of eating alone. Some are joyful, some more wistful. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book, however, is how intimately familiar you become with the authors. They confess their most bizarre solo-eating habits; things you normally only know about a significant other or best friend. I found myself nodding in agreement with the stories; my own neuroses about dining solo reflected back at me from the page. It made me contemplate: what does it mean to me to eat alone?
First, I looked up “alone” in my thesaurus. The words that shot back at me all conveyed a similar theme: forlorn, forsaken, friendless, separated, neglected, abandoned. Offended at first, as much as I’d like to rail against society and say, “Nay! Ordering a table for one is a liberating and necessary experience!”; I must admit that given the option, I’d take eating with a crowd over a solo meal any day.
Growing up, one of my greatest fears was to spend a meal alone. In fact, I could not throw myself so much as an imaginary tea party without inviting the neighborhood kids. Once, I was brought to literal tears at a McDonald’s in Hartford, CT, after I saw a man my father’s age sit down and consume his Big Mac, alone. I blame my peculiarity on my mother, as we are all wont to do. She, in true Italian fashion, demanded the presence of the entire family around the dinner table every single night. Sundays and holidays (big and small) were celebrated with elaborate meals that included most of the extended family, even those relatives we rarely speak to any other day of the year. For over 20 years of my life: every meal I ever sat down to eat, had an audience.
However, since moving away and becoming a young, urban, working woman (hah!), I have frequently found myself home, alone, with no one to even provide background noise to my nightly meal of Trader Joe’s Frozen Vegetable Medley. I would like to say that it is when I’m totally alone that I concoct my most creative dishes, because, heck, I want to treat myself. Sadly, that’s not the case. While I am not necessarily of the mind that you need to be cooking for someone to make the meal meaningful, it sure does help. So when I’m alone, I’ll usually stand in front of the refrigerator and scan its contents and multiple bottles of barbecue sauce (don’t ask). I’ll generally either opt to skip the meal all-together and head straight for dessert, or I’ll craft a dish that is almost too embarrassing to describe. Let’s just say, my roommates would not be surprised to find me standing over the kitchen sink, a plate of cold noodles to my right, a plate of peanut butter-and-honeyed toast to my left, all while spooning a mix of avocado, cheese, and salsa into my mouth. I suppose I could be eating Ring-Dings and curly fries, but still… a meal does not leftover spaghetti and guacamole make.
It is my new goal this fall to begin cooking for myself, by myself. I am a table for one, an individual pizza, a single serving; and I am my own audience.
I encourage all you readers to leave a comment and confess your most embarrassing, hilarious, and/or disconcerting stories of eating with one.