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Lonely planet: Rebuilding community connection through food

By Community Food Centres Canada

If you were following the news a few weeks ago, you might have seen this headline: Britain appoints minister for loneliness amid growing isolation.

The story of loneliness is unfolding in many countries. And it’s affecting our health. Studies show that loneliness increases a person’s likelihood of developing a host of serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, and dementia. A 2015 meta-analysis by researchers at Brigham Young University found that loneliness and social isolation are as deadly as risk factors like obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity. Diet-related illnesses already place a huge cost burden on our heath-care system. Add loneliness to the mix and the crisis grows.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg provides some historical context in a New York Times piece. In it, he writes that the proportion of lonely people is not much different now than it was 50 or 60 years ago – that we are not, in fact, living through an epidemic of loneliness. What does concern him is the disproportionate negative effect loneliness has on people who are already experiencing marginalization because of income, race, or immigration status. It’s them, he says, that we should focus on helping.

Food can provide a pathway to change. After all, we all need to eat. Producing, preparing and consuming food together has been a cornerstone of community-building across cultures for as long as human history. It’s one of the primary ways we share our history, our values, our culture.

We may not be facing a loneliness epidemic, but we are eating alone more. That may not be a big deal if you’re grabbing a quick lunch on the way back to the office, before picking up your kids and heading off to a playdate. But when you’re spending all your monthly income on rent and transportation, you can’t afford to participate in society in the ways many Canadians take for granted. Just being in a room with people doesn’t necessarily make you feel less lonely – in fact, in can have the opposite effect. So Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations focus on creating ways for people to participate, contribute, provide leadership, and have their voices and perspectives heard.

Our society’s loneliness problem won’t be solved in a lab, or in a minister’s office. It’s by investing in places and programs that bring communities together, and give people ways to contribute, that we can bring people together. Want to play a role? Make a donation that supports places that bring people together around good food. Volunteer. Or share this story with your friends. There’s lots we can do together.

 

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