It’s lunch time. You take a moment, grab a bite to eat and sit by yourself to enjoy it. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
According to a Dalhousie University study released in May, about 67 per cent of Canadians munch on their breakfast solo, and 58 per cent eat lunch alone.
Ryerson grad Ambreen Khan wants more people to eat together.
“If you take a city like Toronto, and if you had everyone eat with another person, whether that’s a coworker or whether that’s a stranger or a friend, it just helps build that sense of community,” Khan said. “It makes the city seem smaller.”
Khan is the CEO of Momentify, an app that helps pair people for activities like eating a meal or grabbing coffee.
Studies have linked social eating to mental wellbeing. The Vanier Institute of the Family links eating family meals with improved mental health and better educational achievements in youth.
Eating alone is “the norm”
Khan said when she was at Ryerson, she and her friends would wait for each other to finish class just so they could eat together. When that wasn’t a possibility, they’d often eat alone and study.
Sarah Virgilio, a second-year Ryerson child and youth care student, said she likes eating with others, but often has lunch by herself.
For Virgilio, that means “some time to myself and just relaxing — watching a video or something while eating.”
Khan said eating alone is seen as normal and that people would rarely think to join someone who was eating alone.
Research Khan and her team conducted for Momentify, which is still under development, found that people are particularly keen to use the app for casual meetups, such as coffee breaks. Eating meals with strangers seems too intimate for many.
Young people too busy to eat at home
Shaw Quan, a third-year photography student, lives close to Ryerson. He’ll often bike home and eat with others.
“I think I’m pretty social, so I like to spend time with people,” he said.
Unlike Quan, many respondents to the Dalhousie survey say they can’t find the time to eat at home, especially young people.
Fifty-one per cent of respondents born after 1996 said they’re too busy with work to prepare or eat meals at home. In Canada, 26 per cent of all respondents said they felt that way.
The survey asked respondents if they anticipated eating breakfast outside the home more often in the coming year.
People with low levels of income and education were most likely to say yes.
A third of respondents to the Dalhousie survey reported feeling guilty they couldn’t spend more time cooking.
Social media distraction
Khan said people often eat alone because they’re busy or distracted by their phones.
“It’s so much easier to pull out your phone if you’re waiting at a bus stop than to turn to the person next to you and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”
She said people should be mindful of opportunities in which they can be social or meet new people so they can make a human connection.