This gratitude ritual has the power to transform our meals.
My Catholic roots run deep, as I was raised on the rural side of the French-speaking province of Québec by Baby Boomers whose very existence was the direct result of religion’s pervasive presence in culture. My father was 13th of 17 children while my mother was the youngest of 11. Yet, we never said grace — a prayer called “le bénédicité” in French — at the dinner table. None of my friends’ families did either, save for my friend Tasnime who once mentioned that her Indian grandfather insisted on it. To me, it was a quaint ritual I had only seen on television. There was not even a little prayer before we shared massive a holiday feast with my mother’s side of the family after the Easter church service. I suspect that, as the church’s grip on Québec loosened in the 1960s and 1970s, saying grace was an easy ritual to abandon: people were hungry for social change and increasingly in a hurry to eat.
The first time I was drawn into prayer before a meal thus felt a little awkward. I was visiting my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s grandmother in Manitoba for the first time. I feared that, as the novel guest around the table, I would be called upon to say grace. Thankfully, Oma as the elder did the deed herself. I thought it felt nice to enjoy that thoughtful, quiet pause before digging into our food and busy conversation.
But that was it. Although my mother-in-law often prepares elaborate meals, saying grace did not carry on as a family tradition from my husband’s Oma to his family. Some people even start eating before everyone is seated — a shocking habit to me!
Now I’m starting to think we are missing out on an important ritual and that my family needs to introduce a moment of gratitude before we eat.
It doesn’t have to be a religious affair! Personally, I do not believe in a single “Lord” who gives us our daily bread. I prefer the idea of making space and time at my table to acknowledge the resources that have gone into making our shared meal. We are nourished of course by the effort of the people who cooked and who earned the money to buy food. We also wouldn’t have that food without the backbreaking work of those laborers who grow the plants we eat and stock the markets where we shop. We have something to eat thanks the warm rays of the sun, the awesomeness of photosynthesis, the genius of irrigation, and the robustness of the roads and vehicles that transport the ingredients of our meals.
As Thich Nhat Hanh often insisted, we are interbeings intimately connected to each other. The importance of nourishment through food is yet another demonstration of our interconnectedness. We can only exist with each other, even when we seem to be alone.
Taking a minute, once per day, with our heads bowed, to acknowledge and appreciate the miracle of life seems like one of those habits that we need to emphasize in this day and age.
Please share your grace rituals, if any, in the comments. I would appreciate the inspiration.
Brigitte Gemme is a vegan food educator, meal planner, and coach. After a PhD in sociology of higher education and a 15-year career in research management, she got impatient with the slow pace of planet-friendly change and decided to help individuals live a gentler life. If you need help deciding what’s for dinner, check out her meal plans at VeganFamilyKitchen.com. If you need personal guidance and accountability to embrace a gentler lifestyle, consider signing up for a free week with her on coach.me using coupon code BRIGITTEWEEK. Brigitte loves nothing more than helping more people eat more plants.