I grew up on a farm. Many times I’ve been asked, “How could you eat a cow that you knew?” The answer is: reverently.
I might wonder the reverse: How can we enjoy our meals when we don’t know where they come from?
Food was not only something our family ate, it was something we did. We turned over the soil in the garden, mixed in composted manure, prepared the rows and planted the seeds. We protected the tender green shoots from groundhogs and bunnies and yanked out the lamb’s quarters that threatened to overtake the harvest. We pulled perfect carrots from the soil, brushed off the visible dirt—well, most of it anyway— and ate them right there.
In the spring we sat under heat lamps with fuzzy yellow baby chicks cupped in our hands. As the chicks grew we laughed at their awkward adolescent stage—half yellow fuzz and half white feathers. Later, my brothers and I plucked those white feathers from their steaming carcasses just days before they would be our dinner.
Many times I sat down to a meal created entirely on our farm. My mother would say, “Run to the garden and get some green onions.” Minutes later I’d eat the perfect plump onions dipped in salt along with cobs of corn plucked from the stalk just before going into the pot.
Perhaps the zero degrees of separation between us and our food led our family to say grace every night. Every night. We respected the food we had nurtured so carefully.
Today grace has fallen out of favour.
Some people, rightfully, don’t want to impose religious beliefs on others. Some families just don’t sit down to eat together. For some, a moment for gratitude happens once a year at Thanksgiving, to much eye-rolling from family members.
I think that it is time to recapture our awareness and our awe of food.
These days food comes to us effortlessly. We don’t see the soil blended to loamy perfection for seeding. We don’t suffer anguish over crops lost to weather or insect invasions. We don’t know how calf saliva feels on the hand after hand-feeding grain through the barnyard fence. We don’t slip on gum rubber boots and grab shovels to muck out the pens. Food appears on our plate, and all we have to do is drive to the grocery store. There are many degrees of separation between us and the source of our food. The greater the distance, the less awe.
I invite you to sit down at your table tonight and look at your plate and marvel.
Imagine the first sprigs of your green beans bursting through the seed pods. Picture your potatoes dug out of the ground with a pitchfork while dirt falls to earth through the tines. Honour the animal that grazed in a grassy pasture and huddle through the rain. Look at your plate and be amazed. And, no matter what you believe, take a moment for gratitude.
If you don’t know what to say, “Wow! We get to eat tonight,” will do.