RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Restaurants on February 14th will be packed with couples ordering a pre-fixe Valentine's Day dinner menu. Maybe there's complimentary champagne, perhaps a chocolate-dipped strawberry or two. And while this can be a nice way to spend an evening, for sure, there can also be a certain joy in dining alone. Dan Pashman, the host of the podcast "The Sporkful," is joining us to talk about the art of solo dining. Welcome back to the show, Dan.
DAN PASHMAN: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: OK. So, we're talking about dining alone today. Why do it? What are the benefits of eating by yourself do you think?
PASHMAN: Well, I mean, for one, you can have as much or as little conversation as you like - chat with the staff or sit quietly and read or connect with the rest of the universe via your cell phone. Plus, a lot of restaurants like solo diners because they presume those people are really there for the food. So, if you do start talking to a server or bartender, you'll often end up getting special treatment.
MARTIN: I love this because this actually does happen to me. I was living in Berlin for a year or so and used to go to this little pizza place around the corner. And after a while, I, of course, become a regular. They start giving me free wine, free desserts. But at the same time, I kept showing up night after night and you do start to get these glances, right, like, oh, here she is again by herself. No friends.
PASHMAN: Well, I'm your friend, Rachel, first of all. I'll write a letter to the pizzeria.
MARTIN: Thank you.
PASHMAN: But beyond that, you know, I think a lot of people probably feel the same way. But I don't think that you should. And if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Deepak Chopra. OK. I called him up to ask him about eating alone and here's the first thing he said:
DEEPAK CHOPRA: I like to make a distinction between solitude and being alone. Alone signifies loneliness, whereas solitude means really connecting with yourself.
MARTIN: And interesting - I mean, solitude, it makes it sound like you're choosing it.
PASHMAN: That's right. And you're not alone because you're with yourself. But the concern with eating in solitude is that sometimes you don't give the food the attention it deserves. I mean, I think most of us have had the experience of rushing through a distracted meal and immediately realizing we have no recollection of what we just ate. Deepak Chopra says there's a way to approach eating in solitude to have the most powerful possible experience.
CHOPRA: Sit down quietly. Take a few deep breaths. Experience gratitude for the abundance of the universe. And then enjoy the food with full awareness and in silence. Feel your body. Feel the sensations that are aroused without forcing anything. And monitor your level of hunger and don't treat your body as a garbage can.
MARTIN: That's a really interesting point, because I do find that when I eat by myself, I will eat that entire prosciutto arugula pizza.
PASHMAN: That's right. And not only will you eat more but you'll actually sense less. And that's why that I think it's important to have this approach of awareness. Be aware not only of what you're eating and seeing and smelling and tasting but also aware of how full you are.
MARTIN: I love it. Be present, be mindful. Use it as a meditation.
PASHMAN: Exactly. You know, and I actually tried some of these techniques. Right after speaking with Deepak, I went to my own local pizza parlor, which it's a small place and it was a lunch rush, so maybe not the best environment for a transcendental pizza experience. But I really made a point of having total awareness of the pizza, and not just the taste but the smell, the varying textures of the crust, the sight of the tiny tributaries of sauce and melted cheese flowing together. I didn't read. I didn't look at my phone. I got two work calls while I was eating and I told the people I'd call them back. And it was really, really great. And the pizza made such an impression that hours later I could still summon the experience through my sense memory. So, I mean, it was like I was eating pizza all day.
MARTIN: I mean, I have to ask: what do you do with your eyes when you're being really focused on - are you just looking at the pizza? Are you people watching?
PASHMAN: Well, if you wanted to take Deepak's advice, I would think you'd do one of two things. Either you look at the food and observe the colors, observe the textures, but also sometimes I like to eat with my eyes closed. Because then you can put total focus on the taste.
MARTIN: Lessons for food, lessons for life. Dan Pashman is the host of the podcast "The Sporkful." You can find it at Sporkful.com. Happy eating, Dan.
PASHMAN: You too, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAXIMUM CONSUMPTION")
THE KINKS: (Singing) I'll have clam chowder followed by beef steak on rye, pumpkin pie with cream and coffee. I want a green salad on the side, don't forget the French fries. Pizza pie, garlic and anchovy. I keep burning up calories, as fast as I keep putting them down...
MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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