In today’s fast-paced world, the act of sharing a meal with others is becoming increasingly rare. We find ourselves consuming nearly half of our weekly meals alone, opting for quick and convenient on-the-go options rather than taking the time to sit down with others and eat together. However, research and historical evidence suggest that communal eating has deep-rooted benefits for our well-being, fostering social connections, and promoting a sense of community.
Throughout history, food has been more than just sustenance; it has been a ritual that brings people together. The saying “to break bread together” emphasises the power of food to build relationships, resolve conflicts, and strengthen communities. Across various cultures, sharing food is a way to remember and honour those who have passed away, as seen in offerings of food at grave sites in places like Thailand.
Despite the historical significance of communal eating, it is increasingly becoming an exception rather than the norm. The advent of food delivery apps and our busy lifestyles have contributed to the decline of shared meals. Breakfast on-the-go, desk lunches, and ordering in favourite meals have all replaced the time-honoured tradition of sitting down together for a meal. This shift in behaviour not only affects our social lives but also has an impact on our dietary habits. On-the-go eating tends to involve less nutritious food choices with lower vegetable and whole-grain content, leading to a lack of mindfulness in our eating habits.
A study conducted by The Big Lunch in collaboration with the University of Oxford found that the more people eat with others, the happier and more satisfied they tend to be with their lives. Communal eating nurtures social bonds, promotes a sense of belonging, and enhances overall well-being. Yet, the study also revealed a startling statistic: over 70% of respondents had never shared a meal with their neighbours or local community members. This disconnection between individuals and their communities has led to a fragmentation of society, as highlighted in research commissioned by The Eden Project in the UK.
The Eden Project’s research found that more than half of people in the UK feel distant from their neighbours, with one in five individuals having never spoken to their neighbours. The lack of social connections has been linked to adverse effects on mental and physical health, stunting productivity, shortening lives, and imposing a significant economic burden on society. In contrast, studies investigating the healthiest and longest-living communities worldwide identify social connectedness as a crucial factor in promoting well-being.
In Australia, researchers have recognised the profound impact of social eating on health. Strong social connections have been shown to positively influence mental and physical well-being, reduce feelings of depression, and improve overall mental health. Additionally, being socially connected can lead to better blood sugar control and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It is clear that the benefits of communal eating go beyond satisfying our physical hunger. Sharing a meal is an opportunity to nourish our relationships and nurture a sense of belonging. While it is essential to embrace moments of solitude, incorporating communal eating into our lives can have a transformative effect on our overall well-being.
The Big Lunch initiative, founded by The Eden Project in 2009, aims to counter the disconnection in neighbourhoods and communities. It encourages people to come together once a year to share a meal, fostering social bonds and promoting a sense of unity.
In conclusion, communal eating has been an integral part of our human story, promoting social connections and fostering a sense of community. The decline of this tradition in modern times, driven by convenience culture and busy lifestyles, may have unintended consequences for our well-being. Research suggests that eating with others contributes to happiness and satisfaction with life, while the absence of social connections can have adverse effects on mental and physical health. By making an effort to share meals occasionally with colleagues, friends, or neighbours, we can enrich our lives, strengthen our communities, and reap the countless benefits of breaking bread together.
If this article has inspired you to think about your own unique situation and, more importantly, what you and your family are going through right now, please contact your advice professional.
This information does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any person. Before making a decision, you should consider whether it is appropriate in light of your particular objectives, financial situation or needs.