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Food for thoughtful connections

In a world with more than 7,000 languages, the way we connect sounds different for everyone. But there is one language that is in many ways universal – food!

Connecting through food dates back to the Greek Empire when dining as a group was much more about enjoying good company that it was about the cuisine. But like many of us these days, Brisbane resident Albert Ross now eats for convenience, instead of the company.

"My days are always so busy, running between meetings, visiting clients and checking my emails so I usually just eat on the go," Albert said.

"There are so many cafes just down the road from my office, so it's pretty easy to pick up a salad to eat in the back of an Uber or a sandwich to eat at my desk for lunch."

"Very occasionally, I will have a client dinner during the week, but I usually just have takeaway instead."

Albert works in a busy city office, he's got an impressive job title, a constantly ringing phone and a jam-packed schedule, but admits he's never felt lonelier.

"I liked the idea of living alone and the independence it gives me, but there is just something about sitting down to eat dinner in an empty room, at an empty table that doesn't feel right."

"I grew up in a busy and chaotic household, but we always came together for dinner."

Connecting over a good meal or a shared drink

Eating alone, particularly at dinner time, seems to be the growing trend. The Sydney Morning Herald reports 40% of bookings in the hospitality industry are for solo dining, and many venues are even offering menus for one now.

While for some, eating alone is a quiet indulgence or a rare treat, for other’s it’s a missed opportunity to connect with loved ones.

“Cooking as a family or with friends and loved ones brings us together because we are able to share our culture and heritage through food and give each other nourishment,” Aaron Sanchez, TV chef recently shared.

“Coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in almost every place in the world.”

Mealtimes are often a place to discuss our days, weeks, life in general or current affairs - topics that allow us to form deeper and stronger connections with others.

The more often we are having these conversations over a meal, the more likely we are to feel happy and satisfied with our lives too.

But it seems eating food isn’t the only way to connecting, preparing a meal helps too.

“Being able to make a dish and share that with the people you love is one of the most universal concepts because it’s at the root of our survival.” Aaron said.

“This idea of carrying on the legacy and sharing recipes that have been in our family for generations is something that is so incredibly special.

Its no wonder that cooking shows top the ratings in many countries. Making food together is love, fellowship, storytelling, competition and deliciousness all rolled into one.

Making new friends

We know food is the centre piece for almost every gathering of family and friends, but it’s a simple way to connect with new people too. One Finnish restaurant has discovered just how powerful a shared meal can be for new friendships.

Helsinki's Take In is a space for those who have ordered take-away but don't necessarily fancy eating it alone.

"The is a restaurant without a kitchen, but we have access to 20 kitchens' menus," Lotta Wikman, General Manager, told the UK magazine Monocle.

"What you do is you come in and sit down at a table, open the app and swipe through…You can open up any one of their menus, pick what you want and hey presto, a while later the food arrives at your table."

"You can order from about 20 of the most popular candle dining restaurants…and some select fine dining restaurants that are around the city."

After watching hundreds of solo diners exchange numbers, join tables together and even organise weekly dinner meet ups, the Finnish organisation is committed to creating a culture that appreciates the importance of company over a meal.

"I think the key thing is that people these days are busy and they're not necessarily that willing to compromise in the little free time that they do have." Lotta said.

"We wanted it to be a really sort of enticing and easy experience for people…we just want to be a living room in the city, so if you just want to pop in for a drink and you don't want to order any food, that is absolutely fine too."

Eating together virtually

While the Finnish capital may be a little out of our reach, we've still got at least three opportunities everyday to reconnect with the people in our lives – breakfast, lunch and dinner. And you don’t need to have family or friends living nearby either!

Leading research company, Instinct and Reason (owner David Donnelly is on the Be Someone For Someone Research Advisory Committee) recently published a global study which showed Australians are THE population to be most interested in virtual dinner parties identifying that more than half of all Australians considered replacing their extended family catch ups with an online gathering during COVID-19.
Restrictions may be easing, but a virtual dinner party is still a great way to reconnect with long-distance friends and family. Why not start by choosing one night a week for a family dinner? Or getting your friends together for a monthly happy hour drink? You might be surprised just how connected and supported you feel, without having to even leave your room!

At Be Someone For Someone, we're determined to tackle loneliness and we’re keen to showcase as many examples of how people are doing this together. Please share your photos and videos of your dinners together, virtually or otherwise with us on social media, remembering to tag @besomeoneforsomeone.

If you’re interested in discovering other simple ways of connecting and supporting each other, our Let’s 5 Loneliness campaign is full of great ideas.