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Cooking Away Loneliness

Photo credit: Ciara Menzies

Soul Food Advent Blog Series 2018: 'Room at the Table'

Guest blogger: Zoë Anderson

How many meals do you eat a day?

If it’s 3, I think that is 3 daily opportunities you have to overcome loneliness.

In my first semester of uni, I was lonely. I had signed up for societies, had a growing Facebook friends list, had some fresher’s friend’s numbers in my phone – ‘girl from anthropology’, ‘tall guy’. I was surrounded by people, really lovely people who I now consider my best friends. But I still felt lonely, never fully rooted or settled.

It’s only looking back that I realise - every day I would fill my day with people; coffee meet ups, walking to lectures, parties, but would then come home to my kitchen, cook a meal and take it back to my bedroom to eat alone.

Consistently eating alone makes us feel lonely.

There’s something about food around the dinner table: mutually appreciating taste, a time together set apart from the rest of the day in which we can’t be on our phone or working because we need both hands for our cutlery. It can be a time for genuine conversation; about politics, faith, funny stories, our worries, the everyday normal stuff, just catching up.

Eating together makes us feel rooted, it makes us feel at home.

I come from a big farming family on the Isle of Man, Dad always pours the water, Mum sits in the same seat every week, us four siblings have the same argument over where we sit every single meal time. There’s always random people round the table, rarely just the 6 of us, some people I’d have never met, other more regulars. Mum would just invite people she’d seen that day over to eat together, not an organised dinner party, just mutually eating dinner. Her motto was ‘if I’m going to cook for 6, why not cook for 12?’

We forget how much something so routine impacts out day, our sense of belonging, our significance to people. The fact that consistently eating alone can make us feel so lonely shows the power of meals. We can use the dinner table to combat loneliness.

So how do we do this? As poor and busy students?

One idea that my flat mates and I do is each cook one night of the week Monday to Friday. This means that a) you only have to cook once a week, b) you only have to pay for one meal and c) you eat together. That is 30 minutes of your day sat in someone’s company. We’ve started trying to intentionally invite others to join us, what’s another portion to cook?

So what are the things that stop us from doing this? Two things that have stopped me in the past, are time and money.

Firstly, time.

During deadline time, when you turn up to the library fully aware that all three meals are going to be consumed in that one building, this is where The Art of Tupperware can come in. Why not take it in turns to bring a spare Tupperware of food to the library, meet your friend on the ground floor and take a 30-minute break to share your lunch.Spending time with friends doesn’t need to be something we have to schedule in, another stress. It fits into life. 3 times a day.

Secondly, money.

You may ask, how am I expected to feed the whole of Edinburgh on a student budget. You’d be surprised how cheap you can cook if you keep it vegetarian and simple. In my first year, I invited 12 random friends who didn’t know each other, round for dinner, it was early days so they probably found it a little odd...but I’m guessing they were probably feeling lonely as well. Anyway I managed to cook them all a 3 course meal for just £20.

I have also mastered the 20p a portion dahl – just fry some onions, add some lentils, tins of tomatoes, veg, spices, cover it in stock and cook for 40 minutes. You could feed 10 people with that. Or 5 friends on 5 different lunch dates. Just tonight I managed to feed all 15 speakers dahl for £2.50. That’s the price of one coffee!

Cooking for people shouldn’t be stressful, time consuming and expensive – sharing food could just be part of daily life.

So to conclude…

Loneliness is all around, especially in the hustle and bustle of a city, of university. We are surrounded by people but often feeling so alone. Now change happens when passion becomes habit. So, I challenge you to try and make it your habit to share your meals with people.

That person you sit by in the library every day but don’t know their name. Your flat mate who is out and about, constantly busy. That neighbour who is probably in the room next door also eating alone.

Give it a try. I can guarantee it’s not going to make people lonelier.

We have 3 opportunities a day to combat loneliness.

So get inviting. Get cooking. Get eating.

Open up your home. Open up your fridge. Open up your heart.


Zoë Anderson is part of the International Justice Mission (IJM) team; working throughout Scotland to mobilise volunteers, students and youth in championing the work of justice within their own spheres. Growing up in a big, open-doored, farming family in the Isle of Man, and with a love for people and cooking, she passionately believes that the work of justice can begin around the dinner table in its facilitating of relationships, ideas and compassion.

As a global organisation who protect the poor from violence throughout the developing world, IJM are built on compassion, their teams making up the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. Since studying Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, and latterly working at the Scottish Parliament, Zoë now spends her time helping others explore how they can join IJM's mission...usually over food.

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