National charity, FoodCycle, has released a research report and statistics highlighting how ‘community dining’ is the answer to tackling loneliness and food insecurity.
Written by social eating and community food systems expert, Dr Marsha Smith of Coventry University and supported by a survey of 2,000 people*, the ‘Your Place at the Table’ report shows why eating together is important in sustaining not just the physical body, but in creating the sense of belonging that underpins a healthy society and highlights why everyone should be invited to take ‘a place at the table’, regardless of income or status.
The survey found that near to 2 in 3 agree that not enough is being done by local councils to promote community dining projects. It also highlighted that we are a nation of solo diners, with 24% saying that they eat alone every day of the week, Yet, one in two believe mental health is benefited by eating together. In terms of hurdles to finding social connection, it found that 96% of the population have not heard of community dining projects but near to one in two would attend if one was available in their area.
As we approach 16th January aka Blue Monday – often a time associated with feelings of poor mental health – the report found that “anchor organisations at the heart of delivering services to communities” like FoodCycle “will help us build more resilience into our society”. It also said, during a time of crisis in the UK “the value of being able to eat with others, to share food, to feed people and to build social connections is particularly significant.”
Why is community dining so good for us?
1. Eating together in groups is about more than food – shared mealtimes are social activities that deliver health and environmental benefits.
2. People feel welcome and cared for and it’s an opportunity to make and meet friends.
3. It builds community and social resilience, in ways that are enjoyable and destigmatising.
4. The benefits aren’t just for those eating, volunteers gain too, giving them an opportunity to contribute to their community.
This is backed up by FoodCycle’s annual survey conducted in December 2022 of over 870 FoodCycle guests, which found that:
1. 87% of guests say that FoodCycle makes them feel part of their community
2. 81% say that attending a FoodCycle meal makes them feel less lonely
3. 86% said they feel happier after coming to a FoodCycle meal
4. 84% said they have made friends at a FoodCycle meal
Crucially “social isolation and loneliness are viewed as contributing to poorer general health and being closely linked with food poverty.” Therefore, FoodCycle’s model of community dining is “not just about eating together but also creates spaces and places for people to go, and to be. Fundamentally, eating together and with others not only provides the physical sustenance we need to survive but it also tethers people to a shared reality when their day-to-day life can be stressful or lonely.”
Finally, the report found that “FoodCycle creates moments of commensality showing that they are responding to people’s need to socialise in warm, welcoming, social spaces. Sitting and eating a nutritious hot meal and having time to digest food in a relaxed, warm, and comfortable setting is something everyone cherishes. For people experiencing hardships, this need is even greater. Mealtimes are not about the making the world a better place as much as making a place for better worlds.”
Dr Marsha Smith says
“FoodCycle Projects offering opportunities to eat with others should be viewed as anchor organisations at the heart of delivering services to communities, and many more of them are needed.”
FoodCycle meals are open to all, and guests range from low-income families, people affected by homelessness, people who are lonely and[VM1] those who cannot afford to buy food. No questions asked, you can just turn up and take a seat.
FoodCycle is calling for local authorities, businesses and volunteers to come forward and help ensure that as many communities as possible have access to a FoodCycle meal. You can read the full report and all recommendations here. To get involved in other ways, visit foodcycle.org.uk
*Survey conducted by Vital Research between 25th November 2022 – 28th November 2022 and comprised of 2,000 UK adults.
Mary McGrath MBE, FoodCycle CEO and Dr Marsha Smith are both available as spokespeople, as well as regional volunteers and FoodCycle team members.