I did not grow up in a household where grace was said before meals. My dad was an atheist although he sometimes would attend the Methodist and Unitarian churches. But he not only would not have tolerated grace being said, he would have made fun of you if you suggested doing it. My mom was Presbyterian, but that was pretty much a Sunday thing and an opportunity for her to sing in the choir. When I married, I converted to Catholicism and we said a very standard, rote prayer before each meal. It went "Bless us o Lord in these gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen." That was it. Short and sweet, and we all recited it together. But I never found that saying those words really touched me or made me feel thankful for the food I was about to eat.
When I eat most of the time now, I don't give a lot of thought to the food I'm eating. I cook up a batch of food for the week usually and then just pull something I made previously out of the refrigerator to microwave and eat. Then while I'm eating it, I'll watch TV or read a book. For breakfast, I like to watch the previous evening's Colbert. For dinner, I generally watch the evening news. And for lunch, I'll read a book. That's my meals.
But then, during lunch of all things, I started reading The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, PhD. Although not a religious book in the standard sense, it gave me a new appreciation for people who make a sincere effort to say grace before each meal. It made me realize they are on to something. Of course, it doesn't have to be grace; it can be meditation.
In the book, Will Tuttle talks about the interconnectiveness that we all have to all other life and to the physical world through food. For example, when we eat an apple, we are not just eating an apple. There is water in that apple that came from the clouds above, which got the water from the rivers and streams below. There is the earth, the very soil that the apple tree grew in. There are the worms and the microbes that inhabit that soil that make it fertile for us to eat. There are the farmworkers who picked that apple and their families. And their livelihood and standard of living is all based on what we're willing to pay for that apple when we go to the grocery store. And so on and so on.
Basically, he is pointing out that everything, both living and nonliving, is interconnected. But how many times do we stop to think about that and be thankful for that?
He also talks about the intimacy of food. Food is very personal. I mean really, shouldn't we consider anything that we put into our bodies to be personal, to be an intimate part of us? What we eat affects how healthy we are. What we eat affects the mood we're in. What we eat affects our enjoyment of life. What we eat affects our relationships with others and with the world around us. In other words, it's a very personal thing. Our very being and who we are is affected by the food we eat.
So, the question is, how often do we stop and reflect on that? When taken seriously, I think the religious idea of saying grace or a prayer before eating is an attempt to get us to do just that. But it doesn't have to be religious. While the religious may have been on to something by proclaiming that grace should be said, all of us might stop and meditate on our food. Maybe not before every meal. Maybe when making the meal or maybe when planning the week's menu or maybe in the morning before we start to do anything else (that's my favorite time to meditate). But spiritually, I think it's good to stop and think about the interconnectiveness of all life and of all things.
It's good to be thankful for the diverse bounty of food that we have. It's good to be thankful for the farm workers who toil to deliver us food. It's also good though to question in our meditations if farm workers are fairly compensated for their labors and what is our role in that interconnected picture. There can be some tough questions without clear cut answers that we come up with. But by doing it, it helps us to become aware. It helps us to be in the moment.
And I think that's the first step in understanding and in appreciation. And if we're honest with ourselves, it can be the first step toward reconciliation with our part in that interconnected web.