Michele Roberts finds meals for one a chore

Eating alone can be very bad for you. Meals are best when shared with others

One of the pleasures of living alone is doing what you like whenever you like. You can eat exactly what you want when you're hungry and not feel obliged to slap supper on the table at set times, day in and day out. Many women, however, usually older ones who have dedicated their lives to serving others, say that it's not worth cooking meals just for themselves. To them, food is something you give to others as a symbol of your love. Food is, crucially, something to share.

My mother has cracked this one. Aged 84, widowed three years ago, she recognises that eating alone can feel bleak and that it's easy to slip into not feeding yourself adequately. So she continues to hold frequent lunch and dinner parties for neighbours and friends, just as she did when Dad was alive. A good Frenchwoman, she scorns the English predilection for pre-prepared stuff. She cooks from scratch. She often does the catering for village festivities, whether it's 200 pancakes on

Shrove Tuesday, bread-and-cheese lunches for the Catholics and

Anglicans of the parish, cream teas for the Brownies and Guides. She emerges from the kitchen to run everything: she chairs all the committees, makes fundraising speeches, likes nothing better than a passionate discussion about religion or politics.

I remember once being invited to talk to a feminist writers' group at a village hall. Downstairs, the Women's Institute was holding a harvest festival display of fruit, flowers and vegetables. Upstairs, their daughters were engaged in heartfelt debate about "the grammar of desire". I wanted to belong in both places; not to have to choose. Mum would have run up and down between the two. I have learned, at last, that it's possible to integrate mind and body, body and soul, as I've also learned that we need new words, new concepts, new images, with which

to express ourselves. Women can think, eat, write, love and cook.

We don't have to be split down the middle any more in the way that patriarchal hierarchies used to dictate we should be.

I need solitude for writing but, come the evening, I want to party. I want to feast, which doesn't mean excess, just delicious things to eat. So, like my mother, I invite my friends round as often as possible. Yes, cooking for people you love induces bliss: spiritual, gastronomical, emotional. Last weekend, at the local farmers' market, I admired pumpkins and squashes, wild mushrooms, rainbow chard, red-and-white-striped, tulip-shaped radicchie, freshly picked chestnuts and walnuts. The butcher displayed deer. The fishmonger offered shark. On Saturday night, I cooked pumpkin, chestnut and sage soup, grilled sliced fennel and courgettes with mint, garlic and lemon, and calves' liver in Cognac. Pudding: jewel-like blueberries and raspberries. As Milton said: no fear lest dinner cool.

This article first appeared in the 01 November 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Dictator of Downing St