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Join Your Neighbors for a Really, Really Big Lunch

By Krislyn Placide - April 10, 2012

Think of “The Big Lunch” as the world’s biggest block party.

Last year, the event brought nearly 2 million people across the United Kingdom out of doors to have lunch in their communities—literally. Taking over neighborhood streets, parks, and other open spaces, they partook in food, games, and music, enjoying everything from a street choir to celebrity performances.

The Eden Project, a U.K.-based organization dedicated to social and environmental progress, started The Big Lunch in 2009 as a way to combat growing social isolation in British communities. But this kind of event could be helpful on our side of the Atlantic as well. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey showed that although few Americans are truly socially isolated, we’ve seen a decline in both the size and diversity of “core discussion networks”—the group of people that one confides in regularly. A second article from 2009, published in Psychology Today, points to linkages between social isolation, depression, and addiction.

To the founders of the Big Lunch project, the obvious solution to such a deep sociological problem was simply to bring people together, at a minimum, for “a one-day get together” each year. “The Big Lunch is a chance for neighbors from different generations and backgrounds to hear each other out and share stories, skills and interests,” the project’s website says. “We call this phenomenon ‘human warming.’”

For those wishing to replicate the event, which takes place this year on Sunday, June 3, the Big Lunch website provides downloadable posters and flyers to ease the planning process, as well as recipes and entertainment ideas. Anyone can plan a Big Lunch event—organizers can populate their garden with a few tables and chairs for a few close families, or cordon off the street so that the whole neighborhood can participate. This year, The Big Lunch coincides with Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, the 60th year of her reign, so even Buckingham Palace has announced that The Big Lunch will be part of the celebration.

Even though The Big Lunch is a U.K. initiative, the organization encourages communities around the world to participate. Hosting one of these events can be both inexpensive and environmentally friendly. From serving food grown in the backyard to creating DIY decorations, hosting a Big Lunch offers opportunities for friends, neighbors, and even everyday strangers to get together without breaking the bank.

Krislyn Placide is a student at Northwestern University and an intern with the Center for a New American Dream. 

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