Remember that old fashioned custom of pausing a moment and giving thanks before putting food in your mouth?
I’ll admit right here that I have forgotten to do this for ….. well, years! I have at various times in my life attempted to acknowledge the blessing of having food on the table. But it wasn’t something I was religiously raised with so it was never really ‘in my body’. Therefore, it was easy to forget to do it, even though it only takes a moment.
Recently while travelling, I was sitting at the gate in the Phoenix airport. A young African-American man, maybe in his twenties, jostled himself into the seat next to me. He was talking on his phone (thankfully using headphones), had his carry-on bag, a fragrant take-away container and a cup of coffee (thankfully with a lid on it). Out of the corner of my eye I was observing this, hoping he wouldn’t spill something my direction as he got himself settled. He smiled and nodded at me. Although I smiled back, I quickly looked to see if there were other seats available as I prefer not to sit next to people when they are eating, especially when I’m about to board a plane. Alas, the waiting area was full with no spare seats for me to move to. So, I continued to monitor his movements of setting things on the floor, untangling his headphone cord from his baggage and taking the lid off of his take-away dinner. At this point, he says to whoever he is talking to on the phone, “Just hang on a minute, I have to give thanks for my food.” He closed his eyes and for the next sixty seconds of silence, he cradled his meal with a tender embrace and went within to give thanks. When he was finished, he said to his friend, “Ok, I’m back,” and proceeded to eat ravishingly.
At the time, it made a deep impression on me. Wow. My judgement (previously unbeknownst to me but revealed then) was that this young man was disconnected from his immediate surroundings, just barely making it to the gate in time to catch his flight, preparing to gobble his food down with no awareness of the people around him. And, yet, here he was present enough to recognise that he was being given sustenance, even in the form of airport take-away food. My judgement flared into view.
A few minutes later we were instructed to get in line according to our priority boarding. He ended up in a parallel line to me so I was able to unobtrusively continue to observe him. He started a conversation with the people in line with him and I found him to be engaged, interested and interesting, and sincere in his expression of wonder and appreciation of the people he was talking with. As we boarded the flight I found myself thinking, or perhaps at this point I was still pondering, on this guy and particularly my judgement. I knew his innate practise of giving thanks for his food had touched my heart but it quickly became obscured by my judgement being revealed to me and off I went into my mind.
The flight from Phoenix took me to LAX to connect with my international flight back home to Australia. I had allowed plenty of time in between my connecting flights and I had been in and out of LAX airport so much in recent years, I knew there was a good fresh, whole food restaurant, once I got through security. I headed there and bought my meal. As I stood looking for a place to eat, a family vacated a larger table and I pulled a chair up to the corner to eat my salad. A few minutes later a woman, dressed in a traditional Middle Eastern outfit, approached me and asked if I minded if she shared my table. As she settled in we exchanged some typical airport small talk and then she said, “Excuse me for a moment.” Much to my surprise, she proceeded to give thanks for her food. I returned to my book. Needless to say, this brought back my experience of only a few hours earlier in a different airport.
I haven’t actually been around or even observed anyone ‘giving thanks’ for their food in a long time. I suppose it is the fast-paced nature of society that no longer accommodates that pause-moment. For those of us living in first world countries, perhaps we also just take the next meal for granted. How many of you actually ever experienced real hunger? I mean I’m always grateful that I’ve never had to go to bed hungry. I always appreciate that I have easy access to good healthy whole food. But I never take that pause-moment to give thanks for what I am about to receive. And now here I was, constellated with two people who had the awareness and took the time even while transiting through airports to pause and give thanks for their food.
I thought at the time, this is a practice I want to bring into my life. But then I boarded the plane for a thirteen-hour flight to Australia in which neither meal I received had anything edible in it! I had ordered vegan and gluten free but alas, that was just too much for them to accommodate. So, it didn’t even occur to me to give thanks. Haha
And then this morning, ten days after returning home, as I was eating my favourite breakfast, poached eggs on a bed of kale, complete with turmeric and black pepper, I remembered both of these people who I had encountered while travelling. I stopped and gave thanks for the delicious, healthy, nutritious meal I had before me. In acknowledging the food I was about to eat, I understood that I was giving thanks as well as asking that the food would nourish my body and my soul.
As I write this blog, I am wondering if it is a practice I can, or rather if I will, establish for myself, not for show, but as a brief moment of inner awareness, of giving thanks for what I am about to receive and in doing so, perhaps increasing the nutritional value.
For further contemplation about food, you may find this article about hidden attitudes towards food interesting.
Gayle Cue loves writing about life, reflecting on every day miracles and pondering on the big picture.
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