Taking Time to Say Grace

Grace over meals isn’t something I normally think about. It’s not something I normally see others doing. In fact it has become such a rarity that it tends to make me uncomfortable seeing others say grace over their meals in public. I was only prompted to think deeply about the practice of grace after attending Duke Divinity School professor Norman Wirzba’s talk. Professor Wirzba challenged us to think why a practice that in its nature is simply meant to help us reflect and give thanks produces such negative reactions from those on the outside. As he suggests, it can be viewed as dogmatic and imposing, but I also think it causes us discomfort simply because it is so out of the norm. Our movement away from the practice of grace may be in part due to the fact that we are less traditional and more secularized, but it also demonstrates the country’s commodification of food. We expect food to be cheaply and abundantly available, so why give thanks? The tie between religion and food helped us to appreciate food as a gift that we receive as a result of the labor of others and often the life of an animal. To be sure, we do not need religion to reflect upon and appreciate the journey our food went through to reach our table, but quiet acts of reflection like grace seem like such a simple way to reconnect to the world.

According to Wirzba, our modern economy has turned food from a gift we receive through labor and resources to commodity that is produced by money. We as individuals buy food to put on our tables. It is a solitary process that simply involves the exchange of goods. We have become impatient and so far removed from the process of growing and producing food that we don’t need to think about how it got to us other than through our money. I admit that I am often guilty of this thoughtlessness as I walk into a grocery store with a list and my budget. I don’t view the food I buy as a gift so much as I see it as another cost I have to incur.

Often our food system prioritizes short-sightedness in environmental, humane, and labor practices in the service of cheap, abundant food. A lack of focus on the people who produce the food arises due to the notion that money produces food. Food is a communal effort that involves more labor and resources than we often imagine. I think this removal becomes much more dangerous when we think how it informs our decisions. It allows us the luxury to support an unsustainable food system that places our immediate desires over the health of the planet and the well-being of animals.

Now that I think more deeply about grace and its ability to connect us to not only our food, but our community and the earth, it doesn’t seem like such a strange practice. I like to think that I live my life in a thoughtful way. I actively work to be an informed consumer and citizen. Why should I not then also take the time to appreciate each meal for the labor and resources that it required. While I still don’t say a religious grace over each of my meals, I’ve become much better at mindfulness. I now try not to simply consume my food, but to appreciate it for the gift and the nourishment it provides me, while recognizing the often long journey it took to get to my table.