During the holidays, talk is often of feasting. Even as a former chef with decades of experience raising plants and animals, I choose not to get into conversations about dietary choices — vegan, carnivore, and everything in between. I prefer to ask: What fed you today, and were you thankful?
Connecting to something larger than ourselves is the delicious benefit we receive when we step into a state of gratitude, a deep-felt sense of appreciation. We understand what is larger than the reach of our arms and the strength of our hands when we acknowledge the gift of life that feeds us: the plants and animals that share our world.
When we enter as participants in this web of life, we are changed by it. Research shows gratitude has the power to heal. Even on a short-term basis, feeling grateful tends to build qualities of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness that make us better people. So consider the healing benefits of living in a state of fundamental thankfulness. To live that way opens us to awe and beauty.
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We can begin our journey to gratitude by gently shifting our perspective every time we sit for a meal or prepare food.
Eating is a reciprocity that we experience multiple times each day. Being mindful of it opens us to a greater understanding of our place in this complex world. Simply reflect on the beauty of the lives given to become ingredients that feed us — seeds from stalks of rice or wheat, fruits of blossoms, flesh from furred, feathered, and finned beings.
Author Erica Bauermeister refers to the mystery of life feeding life in her book, The School of Essential Ingredients: “Every time we prepare food, we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab — or maybe just stop the mold that’s growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It’s a basic equation, and if we pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re likely to miss the other important lesson, which is to give respect to both sides of the equation.”
Creation myths abound of how plants and animals and people arrived and how they sustained each other. Indigenous people were instructed to reciprocate, such as by gifting cornmeal or a piece of one’s hair for a plants’ sustenance. Hunters would dance before a hunt to honor the life of the animal and call forth its spirit.
For most people today, dealing with busy days and consumer culture, intimacy with our food is often lost.
Becoming gratefully aware of our interdependence with all living things increases as we ponder the essence of what we are consuming.
Consider a carrot. Does it surprise you that it could become brightly colored while growing underground? Do you feel in alignment with nourishing minerals rising up its stalk similarly to your own flowing blood? How big might it have grown had it not been plucked from the ground? Who else would it have fed?
A breath of gratitude taken to heart is an instantaneous connector.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Indeed, gratitude shifts us from takers to makers, from disconnected to participating as a miraculous piece of the whole.