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President’s Choice and john st. on the startling data around eating alone and the use of Alan Watts’ ‘The Dream of Life’ in this beautiful ad

Your Shot: A Philosophical Call to Arms to Eat Together

Smartphones are one of the best and worst things about the 21st century. On the one hand you have this little box of endless knowledge at your fingerprints, capable of interacting with our nearest and dearest all around the world. And yet, according to data, over 40% of adults feel lonely. In the last 50 years, rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States and a survey of 20,000 adults revealed that almost half of them reported feeling alone, left out or isolated. It’s been argued that social media (a byproduct of smartphones) has played its role in that loneliness. Scrolling through an endless stream of people living their #bestlife while you sit with your pants around your ankles in a dingy toilet cubicle can have a negative effect on one’s mind. And so, for the third iteration of its ‘Eat Together’ movement, Canadian food brand President’s Choice, is encouraging us to put down our phones in favour of eating – and communication – with the ones we love. The centrepiece of the campaign, which was created by john st., is a beauty of a film, directed by Revolver Films Reynald Gresset and voiced with philosopher Alan Watts’ ‘The Dream of Life’. LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with Cheryl Grishkewich, vice president, marketing at President’s Choice, and the team at john st. to find out more.

LBB> What kind of research informed this idea? Were there any findings that you found particularly interesting or shocking? 
john st> Today, over 40% of adults report feeling lonely. Despite the fact that we all carry around devices which give us the ability to interact with people around the world, we have never felt lonelier. And loneliness is said to be one of the biggest health epidemics we are facing today – it’s more deadly than smoking and obesity and has massive impacts on mental health.
At its root, loneliness is the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections. Humans are inherently social beings, yet as we grow up, our lives become more individualised. Today, even eating has become a solitary activity. In fact, 42% of meals eaten are eaten alone (up from 38% in 2012). Further, 58% of Canadians report eating lunch alone.
With eating together declining, and the rate of loneliness rising, we challenged ourselves to play a role in helping to solve the social issue of loneliness one shared meal at a time. 
Although the cultural tension we tap into varies from year to year, this research was the catalyst for the Eat Together movement from the start.
Cheryl> We continue to see the trend of increased loneliness and increased isolation. Last year, Oxford Economics revealed that eating alone has a stronger link to being unhappy than any other factor except mental illness and we are highly affected by this research. As one of Canada’s most trusted brands, we feel that we can make a positive impact on the happiness of Canadians by our commitment to the movement of gathering people back to the table to enjoy a meal and connect with one another.

LBB> What was the strategic thinking behind launching this campaign in the new year?
john st> We’ve consistently launched the Eat Together message at the beginning of the year for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the time of year when we feel most compelled to connect and be together with the ones we love. More importantly, it’s a time of reflection. We’re optimistic for the year ahead and thinking about how we can better ourselves.
Cheryl> This year’s film was inspired by the constant drive to pursue incredible moments, and the realisation that our best moments in life naturally happen when we’re eating together with the people we love.

LBB> Tell us about the inspiration behind using Alan Watts’ The Dream of Life? Did this inform the idea or was it something you came across later? 
john st> As a society, we’re spending more and more time trying to live this idea of a ‘best life’. And as a result, we’re focusing less on simply enjoying the one we’re already living. We wanted to remind people that some of the best moments in life happen when you’re around the table, surrounded by the people you love. And Watts’ thought experiment is such a beautiful articulation of that thought. This idea that happiness is so much closer than we think.

LBB> Cheryl, what were your thoughts when john st. first presented the idea of using Alan Watts’ The Dream of Life? 
Cheryl> We felt the words of Alan Watts were very powerful and relevant to our Eat Together movement. The Dream of Life was recorded back in 1964 and his words were relevant then and we feel even more relevant now.  

LBB> Why was it the perfect fit for this campaign? 
Cheryl> The words of Alan Watts are incredibly moving and articulate this big idea of wanting to chase our dreams yet realising that we have our best moments in life when spending time with the people we love. The Alan Watts foundation was very supportive of the Eat Together movement and were pleased to lend his voice to encourage people to connect with one another through the simple act of sharing a meal.
john st> One of the things we loved most about this particular piece of audio is that the message is as relevant today as it was when it was recorded over half a century ago. It’s timeless. And it’s something you can interpret and connect with whether you’re in your 20s or 80s. 

LBB> A lot of viewers may not be familiar with the passage and its history – with that in mind, why does it still have the power to stand alone without that connection? 
john st> You don’t need to be familiar with Alan Watts to feel the power of his words. While we knew there would be a lot of people who would be hearing him for the first time, we were very excited to have the chance to introduce him to a new generation. And hopefully inspire them to hear more.

LBB> There’s a lot of imagery in the film to demonstrate people’s attempts to impress on social media, etc. How did you come up with the scenes you wanted to portray here?
john st> In a nutshell, we scrolled through our Instagram feeds. It was all the things we’re so used to seeing in our phones that don’t look anything like our real lives – a world that we can’t stop staring at, that for most of us doesn’t exist. We wanted people to recognise the scenes next time they scrolled themselves, and think twice about the reality of what they’re looking at.

LBB> Excessive phone use is such a topical conversation at the moment, with apps like Headspace helping us step away from them at certain times. I wondered, how do you deal with the issue (if you feel the need to)? Advertising / marketing are both high pressure jobs that can require long hours and late emails, etc…
john st> It’s easy to get caught up in a routine of constantly checking your phone, especially when you’re constantly getting email notifications at all hours of the day. But more and more, we’re seeing people take breaks from social media to get some perspective, and cut down the amount of time they spend on their phones. Social media can be great at times, most definitely, but it’s important to take a step back and look at it for what it is, and think about what exactly you’re looking at. And taking what you’re seeing with a grain of salt.
Cheryl> It’s all about balance and placing a priority on the things that really matter. That’s why I believe so strongly in more time spent at the table sharing a meal with the ones you love. Eating together with your family provides an opportunity to have a conversation, share a laugh, ask advice and the list goes on from there. When we eat together, we leave the table healthier and happier, something I know we are all trying to have more of in our lives.

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