Recently, a friend from high school told me about how, during midterms, she and her peers buy bottles of Soylent in bulk and drink them to replace daily meals. Both of us come from homes where food is a means of catching up and staying close. Fast forward to college, and both of us mutually agreed that in some regard, life would be easier if we did not have to eat. How did we go from setting the table to scarfing down peanut butter to make up for lost meals?
It’s fairly safe to say that most of us don’t think taking time to eat is worth it, often translating into meals spent alone to save time. Today, 82 percent of college students say that they would eat healthier if time were not an issue, and the average American eats 1 out of 5 meals alone in the car. Preparing meals and eating them with others does not take priority against endless to-do lists. Despite this newfound rush, in her book “Eating Together,” Alice Julier identifies social eating as an important part of fostering positive relationships, passing down cultural values and even encouraging a more diverse and inclusive world. No matter where we come from or what we believe in, everyone needs to eat.
We often mock first-years incapable of surviving Dewick without an entourage, but perhaps this dining hall monophobia is healthier than eating alone. For those over the age of 65, eating alone can be indicative of serious health issues like extreme weight loss, malnourishment and depression. While eating alone is not as hazardous for the younger population, it poses similar threats to overall nutrition. Whether it be undereating or overeating, our habits worsen when no one is watching.
In the long-standing tradition of broke college students, we arrive at school expecting to forgo the food pyramid for noodles. Eating is often expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. On-campus co-ops like Crafts House eat dinner together every night, with each member spending only $20 per week to cover all meals; this is only possible in a cooperative living situation. We should all question why there aren’t more on-campus spaces that prepare and eat food in an effort to build community.
During the school year, time seems almost as scarce as money. For some, eating is an annoying interruption from studying. Others reward productivity with sugary treats. In both approaches, eating is time lost to our greater goals in life and certainly not a priority. It is critical to all of our healths that we challenge this standard — that we make plates for ourselves even when we feel we don’t ‘deserve’ them, and that we take time to eat even when Easy-Mac seems like the only option.
If you are what you eat, then the average college student is nothing but a walking, talking, ‘socially liberal’ pack of insta-noodles. No one could be blamed for eating cheap and suspiciously delicious foods in a four-year drought of time and money. However, to stay physically and mentally healthy, it’s critical that we remove stress from the table and use mealtime to build community. It doesn’t have to be a feast — how about next time you find yourself hastily gulping a Pop-Tart, you consider inviting a friend?