Review: Bless This Food by Adrian Butash

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For the gifts we are about to receive…

Are you tired of hearing the same grace said across your table meal after meal? Are you (like me) uncomfortable with the thanks-around-the-table “game” at the holidays and looking for something new? Or maybe you’re just curious about how other cultures state their mealtime thanks. Either way, Adrian Butash has written the book for you.

When I received the review-copy offer for Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World (aff.link), my reason for accepting was the last one: I love learning about other cultures and was really looking forward to reading about how the act of saying grace or blessings over a meal has changed over the years and in different areas of the world.

Included in Bless This Food are 150 graces (titled as Prayers) though not all fit the format you or I might be accustomed to, nor would I call all them directly food-related (which–for me–raises the question of why include them at all), as well as 2 sign language blessings and the phrase “bless this food” translated into 18 languages other than English. Got young ones at the Thanksgiving table this year? See who can guess which phrase is which language as a way to keep them busy while the grown-ups chat!

Butash claims that the sharing of meals and the gratitude that it instills is a universal experience that we can all relate to. He even goes so far, in the Introduction, to claim that giving thanks for food is the very first gratitude we feel as human beings in the instant we are first fed outside of our mother’s wombs. While I understand his point about an infant’s satisfaction of a full tummy, I’ve seen more than my fair share of toddlers and older being taught through much repetition the importance of saying (and feeling!) ‘Thank you’ that I raise an eyebrow to the idea that gratitude is a concept born within us. Still, it’s an interesting talking point and you lose nothing by jumping straight into the blessings/prayers that make up the meat of the book.

I suppose it’s no big surprise that the lion’s share of the blessings are from the Judeo-Christian point of view, but as the book continues it’s loosely chronological catalog of graces I was happy to see the Bible verses give way to different cultures and (translated) languages. More so than the prayers themselves, I found the notes that accompany most of them the real gems of the book and see these as a great jumping-off point for someone interested in doing their own comparative religion/culture studies.

In picking my favorite prayer to share from Bless This Food, for quite a while I thought it would be a Walt Whitman exerpt until, that is, I came to Prayer 91 by Luisah Teish, a professional storyteller from New Orleans (from her website) and (according to Butash) “a priestess of Oshun, the Yoruba (West Africa) goddess of love, art, and sensuality.”

Prayer 91

All that I have comes from my Mother!
I give myself over to this pot.
My thoughts are on the good,
the healing properties of this food.
My hands are balanced, I season well!

I give myself over to this pot.
Life is being given to me.
I commit to sharing, I feed others.
I feed She Who Feeds Me.

I give myself over to this gift.
I adorn this table with food.
I invite lovers and friends to come share.
I thank you for this gift.
All that I have comes from my Mother!

–Luisah Teish
(page 110, Bless This Food)

In my mind I think of that one as the blessing of the hostess or cook and the ideas it fosters are similar to what I felt the first time I saw Like Water for Chocolate. And what a great wish from one cook to another: season well! Hell, not just cooks, add some delightful seasoning to your life in and out of the kitchen.

So whether you’re looking for a new twist on the Thanksgiving blessing next week (for my U.S. readers, at least) or you prefer your gratitude in private and want some new mulling material, Bless This Food might just be worth a look.

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