Archive for November 26th, 2008

Grace Before Meals…and After

Sharon November 26th, 2008

Most Americans will soon be sitting down to one of the most formal meals they’ll enjoy this year, and many of them will say a grace or blessing before their meal.  And as no other time of year, we are forced to ask – to whom are we grateful?

The answer, of course, depends on the meal we are serving.  For some of us, the links that tie our grace to our food are fairly clear.  I’m visiting family in Coastal Massachusetts whose ties to the turkey are quite direct – it was raised at my farm, by me, Eric and the kids.  Its feed was grown 20 miles from me, on a farm that has raised grain quite literally since the American revolution.  Onions and squash came from my mother and step-mother’s community garden, cranberries from Cape Cod, potatoes from a farm in nearby Maine.  

Other items came from the supermarket or other sites in the industrial food system, and have more complex chains of gratitude - we can thank the trucker who hauled the sweet potatoes from North Carolina alongside with the farmer that grew them and the migrant laborers who harvested them; the manufacturer who built the equipment that transforms corn into its constituent parts and thus produced the corn syrup that flavors the ginger ale (lest you think that ours is a super-pure crunchy thanksgiving) in the kids’ Shirley Temples (its a Grandmother thing), the farmer who grew the corn on this, his third straight year of corn on that soil, the genetic engineer who bred the corn and inserted the genes into it and the congressman who voted to subsidize corn.  But should we?  Certainly, their labor is inscribed in our food, and they are owed something.  But was it worthy of grace?

The problem with saying grace is that it can get you into tricky places.  For those who believe that God is involved in all of this, it gets trickier still.  Faiths may have theological differences, some quite major, but most of us agree that there’s a partnership of sorts with God involved.  That is, we thank the farmer who grows the food, and we thank forth God who brings forth bread from the earth.  We thank the vintner who made the wine, and God who sent the rains.  At the end of the day, most theists will be thanking God for the food – and thus, implicating God in the food.

But it isn’t always clear that we should be grateful for the food we have – sure, we should recognize that we are fortunate to have full bellies in a world of hunger.  But is there no more than that?  Do we have the right to a world in which we are truly grateful for our food, because it comes from sources that enrich us, and serve our interests?  If we believe that God is a participant in our works, does it matter whether those works are good ones?  Do the things that enchain us to the sources of our food create reciprocal obligations in us?  Might we not have an obligation to make sure that everyone who deserves gratitude is thanked, and thus, that we understand our food’s origin in a new and deeper way?

That’s no easy proposition, and I don’t claim that simple solutions are readily available.  But if our grace is to be something other than simple rote, something that might call down genuine Grace upon us, or give us a sense of a life filled with grace, we are going to have to find a way, not just to spend a few moments being thankful, but to create something worthy of appreciation.

 Happy Thanksgiving, to them that are celebrating.