Let’s Grab a Meal Sometime: Observations from My Time Eating Alone at Foco

One writer reflects on insights gained while dining solo.

by Jayanth Uppaluri | 3/9/22 2:20am

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by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

I’ve eaten alone at Foco in pretty much every place you can imagine, from the long tables on dark side to the couches on the 2nd floor. On most weekdays, you’ll see me blissfully chowing down on my bowls of pasta and salad at some random corner of the cafeteria, with no other students around me and no computer or notebooks to indicate that I am working. You might ask whether this practice is out of necessity, but it’s not — I actually enjoy eating alone.

This practice shouldn’t be something to brag about, and yet, it is relatively uncommon here at Dartmouth. When I’ve shared how often I eat alone at Foco, I’ve received reactions with various states of shock. One person told me I’m one of the bravest students at Dartmouth; another told me I was a psychopath who needed serious help. Most wondered why I didn’t just take my meals back to my room.  

Lest you think these reactions come just from the people I know, students would commonly air their shock about seeing their peers eating alone at Foco on the now-defunct Librex. While most students voiced encouragement for their peers, there weren’t a lot of people who admitted to eating alone either — most people believe it is taboo.

This isn’t just something I’ve heard, it’s something I’ve seen in action. When I sit at a long table during the peak dinner hours, I will often see people avoid the spots next to me once they notice I am eating alone, even when it is hard to find a seat. As a short, scrawny, unaffiliated NARP, I don’t exactly give off threatening vibes, so it must be the powerful aura given off by my solitary status that drives others away.

Yet, given enough time sitting at a table alone, you begin to blend into the greater Foco environment, and it is at this stage where I’ve had the most fun watching the chaos unfold. You can obviously get a good laugh out of the person who accidentally sprays themselves with soda from the freestyle machines or that one kid who hasn’t quite figured out how to use the waffle maker.  

I’ve also learned about some Foco hacks from my time as an onlooker. For example, I discovered the meal-enhancing nature of the salad bar when I noticed another student drop cherry tomatoes into her pasta, and I learned of the existence of pesto at the sandwich station from another person’s pasta bowl. Foco is a place of many secrets, if one only knows where to look.

Foco also has a tendency to bring out closely held secrets. I’ve unintentionally heard about breakups, friend-group drama, gripes about annoying classmates and much more from people who I don’t know and might never see again. I guarantee that if some of my fellow students noticed the unassuming stranger munching on his cookie nearby, they might take the volume down a notch.

Funny observations aside, why are people so afraid of eating alone? I think this opinion speaks to the pervasiveness of the extroverted mindset that defines our campus. Part of this mentality includes the emphasis on going out to fraternities multiple times a week, but it also includes an emphasis on getting meals with people at all times. This is not just for the social aspect, but for the perception of participating in the community. Just like how no student wants to admit that they didn’t go out on a big weekend, nobody wants to be the person sitting alone while everyone else is seemingly having fun with their friends.

As a social butterfly myself, I see this argument and can empathize with it. Yet, as I see it, eating alone in Foco is a way of participating within a communal activity at Dartmouth. When you make that decision to sit in the middle of Foco with no company but a plate of food, you simultaneously place yourself as an actor — albeit an insignificant one — within an important area of Dartmouth. This stands in comparison to a dinner in your room, where you are isolated from the greater community. In my opinion, there is value in both of these situations, and I will eat back in my room on days when I am tapped out.

However, on those days when I’m craving some community, but not ready to have a long conversation with a friend, I get my meal and watch the madness of Foco unfold. I treasure these moments of chaotic solitude, which brings me to the final, and most important aspect of eating in Foco. I’ve often sat at my spot on the long table, only to hear someone calling my name from a booth. Dartmouth has a small student body, meaning that while you might start a meal alone, there’s a high chance you’ll finish it with someone else.

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