How to stop eating alone
Despite having roommates, Queen St. W. resident Zenon Godzyk usually eats his meals alone. But on this Thursday evening, he’s in the company of a dozen other diners who are collectively feasting on a three-course meal of jambalaya, roasted root vegetable soup and braised chicken thighs.
Godzyk comes here to the Stop, a community food centre at Lansdowne and Davenport Aves., once or twice a week to participate in its community kitchen programs. The drop-in group of participants this Thursday evening, who run the gamut of ages, backgrounds (Eritrean, Latin American, French) and abilities (former cooks, kitchen newbies) come together to prepare meals under the guidance of community kitchen leader Hussein Silva. Afterwards, they dive into the efforts by breaking the bread they just baked together.
Godzyk prefers the company of community kitchen meals consumed at the Stop over his usual independent dining routine at home. “You take your time because you’re talking with somebody,” he says. “You’re enjoying somebody’s company and then you have more time to enjoy the food.”
Godzyk’s solo eating experiences, when he’s not at the Stop, are becoming increasingly common. The latest census data from 2016 shows that more Canadians are living alone, and likely dining alone, than ever before. One-person households account for 28.2 per cent of all households in Canada — the highest rate ever, while a 2013 study of American respondents showed that 47 per cent of eating occasions happen alone.
The latest Canada’s Food Guide update reinforces the importance of eating with others. “When eating alone, it’s more likely that you’re going to ‘gorge it down,’ so to speak, or you’re going to be experiencing distracted eating like eating in front of the TV or the computer or while driving,” says registered dietitian Mosadi Brown. “With that, there’s an increased risk of things like emotional eating and obesity for those that tend to not be mindful around food.”
Lunchtime is also the busiest hour at the Children’s Storefront, a non-profit drop-in centre at Bloor St. W. and Shaw St. that has become a popular spot among neighbourhood parents and caregivers for its dining program: a healthy vegetarian lunch served from Tuesday to Friday, affordably priced at $6 for an adult serving and $3 for kids.
Chef Rosa Parsons prepares these meals in a city-certified kitchen in the basement of the Children’s Storefront. On a recent Thursday, the lunch of the day was a fragrant coconut curry with vegetables and tofu, served on brown rice and accompanied by a simple salad of arugula, cucumber, tomatoes and roasted sweet potato. As the day’s main offering is simmering, Parsons works ahead to roll out sheets of fresh pasta that will be served for a future lunch: an impressive effort for a $6 meal.
Helen Foster and her one-year-old daughter, Emma, are regulars at the Children’s Storefront. “A lot of the kids actually eat better and more when there are other kids at the table,” says Foster. “When everyone else is sitting here together, it becomes an activity.”
Heather Ashmore sits across the table from Foster and her daughter, helping a two-year-old and three-year-old enjoy their lunches. As a caregiver, Ashmore used to work out of her clients’ homes. “Nannying can be an isolating job,” she says. But the neutral zone of the Children’s Storefront gives her the opportunity to not only care for unrelated children as part of a nannyshare agreement, but it also allows her to socialize with other parents and caregivers.
As Ashmore’s charges finish up their meals and head back to the play area, Children’s Storefront director Roona Maloney helps to wipe down a high chair. Maloney, who has been with the centre since 2004, has witnessed how food has brought together parents, caregivers, and children alike. “Sitting down for a meal, you’re in engaged in the pleasure of having your tummy filled,” Maloney says. “When you’re relaxed, you share more. And I feel like that’s almost always true at a kitchen table.”