ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Considering how much time we spend dating online, shopping online, pretty much everything else, we are increasingly alone, and that's especially true when it comes to eating. A new report from the Food Marketing Institute documents just how many meals we eat on our own. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: There was a time when people did not own up to eating alone, but those days seem to be gone - long gone if you ask millennial Sophie Moscop (ph).
SOPHIE MOSCOP: Well, I eat breakfast alone. When I was working, I ate my lunches alone and if I was working late enough, I ate dinner alone at my desk.
AUBREY: It may sound lonely, but Moscop is in good company. The Hartman Group, a market research firm, finds in a survey that for American adults, 46 percent of all eating occasions - that's meals and snacks - are undertaken alone. Here's Hartman's CEO, Laurie Demeritt.
LAURIE DEMERITT: So almost half of all of our eating is being done in isolation from other folks.
AUBREY: Wow, that's a lot. Were you surprised?
DEMERITT: We were surprised. When you look at that number, it seems pretty astounding.
AUBREY: So what's behind this? Most significant is the fact that more people eat alone because more people live alone. Single households now account for 27 percent of all U.S. households. And another reason for many people - meal time has given way to continuous snacking. People don't take the time to sit down and eat. They just grab and go. That's what Sophie Moscop and her mother, Susan (ph), were doing when I met up with them at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Where are you guys headed?
SUSAN: New York.
AUBREY: And so you're waiting for your train?
AUBREY: And you've decided to have a quick meal?
SUSAN: Yes because we missed lunch completely.
AUBREY: Forget knives and forks or a sit-down meal. They had plastic containers of sushi - on their laps.
So what's on your plate here?
SUSAN: I have two kinds of sushi - a cucumber roll and a shrimp tempura roll.
AUBREY: Demeritt says as the grab-and-go culture goes, the fixed thinking about three square meals a day and what foods you're supposed to eat when is becoming passe.
DEMERITT: Maybe a smoothie and a bar represents lunch today.
AUBREY: And there's evidence that people eat less when they eat alone, which could be a good thing. But there are other changes going on too. Laurie Demeritt says even when we do have eating companions, we may not be talking to them. Instead, many of us are on our mobile devices.
DEMERITT: We might be in a room with other people but we were in this semi-alone state while we consumed the food.
AUBREY: Sort of alone together, if you will.
AUBREY: Across the train station, I talk to a group of 20-something business consultants who are sitting at the same table eating burgers and dogs from Shake Shack as they wait for a train.
BROOKS PALLEN: I do not like to eat alone. It's a nice time to be social.
AUBREY: That's Brooks Pallen (ph). He says when he was a kid, there was an expectation of eating together.
PALLEN: Family meals, yeah. Pretty much, like, seven nights a week, it's everybody sit down and do it at the dinner table.
AUBREY: But looking around this table, it's not exactly the same picture. These guys are tethered to their phones. Pallen's colleague, Frank Tsao (ph), says mealtime can be a good time to catch up.
FRANK TSAO: You could be, you know, messaging people on your phone. You could be social networking.
AUBREY: Which also means if you're eating alone today, it does not mean that you're on your own or that you're lonely. So what's been lost or gained with these changes in our eating habits? Well, as my teenage son might text, IDK. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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